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City of Oye!

By Nickunj Malik - Aug 23,2017 - Last updated at Aug 23,2017

All the major cities of India have gone through a name change and since I have not visited my home country for sometime, it takes me a while to connect the old with the new. So, Bombay is now Mumbai, Madras is Chennai, Bangalore is Bengaluru and Calcutta, also known as the “City of Joy”, has been renamed Kolkata. But I am glad to report that Chandigarh, that original “City of Oye!” is still called Chandigarh. 

We all know that this joint capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana was designed in the year 1949, by the Swiss French architect Le Corbusier, making it the best planned city in post independent India. But what most people are unaware of is that other than the perfectly landscaped Rose Garden, Rock Garden and Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh is also famous for coining the word “Oye!”

Well, if one has to stick to pure facts, Punjabis always used the term “Oye!” instead of saying “excuse me”, “sorry”, or “beg your pardon” to catch the eye of a waiter, petrol pump attendant, nurse, gardener or even a stranger. It was a rather uncouth manner of communication, I agree, but it worked. Somewhere along the way, the inhabitants of Chandigarh took it upon themselves to upgrade this expression and make it a part of regular mainstream conversation.

It is difficult to pinpoint when this happened exactly because when I took admission in the local college here, more than three decades ago, “Oye!” was still doing the job of “hey listen!” and had not gained its multifaceted respectability. But by the time I graduated, its popularity had multiplied manifold, and it was perfectly acceptable to supplement any question or answer with this all encompassing and generic exclamation. 

So it could be used in a variety of random ways: for instance, if I dropped my bag, I said “Oye!” in surprise, when I informed my friend that she had gained weight, she responded with “Oye!” if it started raining suddenly, a lot of people would blurt out a loud “Oye!” and when our car jolted over a speed bump, everyone inside the vehicle shouted “Oye!” in unison. 

The phrase reached its zenith of prominence when several songs with “Oye! Oye!” in its lyrics were launched in Bollywood. Suddenly, people were even dancing to it. Actually, there was also a movie called “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye” which did not do very well at the box office, but here I digress. 

I had been meaning to revisit Chandigarh for quite sometime but somehow the trip did not materialise until last week. A lot of my school and college friends who have settled down in the city over the years, had by now, become quite tired of inviting me. So, when I drove down from Delhi eventually, the first couple of days I did not notify them and did the university and campus visits by myself, quietly mumbling “Oye!” at all the changes. 

On day three, I called up several of them. 

“Guess what? I’m in Chandigarh,” I greeted. 

“Oye!” was the response. 

“When did you arrive?” they questioned. 

“Two days ago,” I said. 

“Oye!” they sounded angry. 

“I did not want to bother you,” I explained. 

“We can meet if you are free,” I suggested. 

“Don’t worry. We will make ourselves free, we are having a reunion tonight, it’s decided, one of us will pick you up at seven,” they instructed. 

 

“Oye!” I exclaimed in delight.

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Comments

Started with a beautiful turn of a phrase and dwelling on the word that bridges the distance between East and the West,of India that is.Oye indeed.

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