By Uma Sudhir
“You remember Aamir Khan’s real name in `3 Idiots‘? Wangdu. You can call me by that name.”
That was the young reporter of `Business Bhutan’ offering me an easy way out of struggling to pronounce Phuntsho Wangdi. Aamir Khan was Phunsukh Wangdu in `3 Idiots‘. Once again Bollywood had come to the rescue.
An otherwise overhyped industry, but it must get credit where it is due. Its hugely unacknowledged service in creating a virtual cultural continuum between people, sometimes so diverse and different, for whom this becomes a common chord. That always comes as a pleasant surprise when you are talking to a person from another country, an alien language and unfamiliar sociocultural set-up and suddenly when you discover a common passion or at least common ground in familiarity with or love for Bollywood and then it gets easier to go forward from there.
To my surprise though, there was more than just Bollywood that connected me and Wangdi. He not only spoke Hindustani Hindi, as do most others in Bhutan, he spoke Tamil as well. As I found out, he was a huge fan of Rajinikanth and Vijay and had a personal collection of more than 200 Tamil films at home. His friends in Bhutan love the films, he told me.
I had heard of Superstar’s fans in Japan but Bhutan was new. Wangdi had graduated from a college in Tambaram, on the outskirts of Chennai and his love for the land of Rajini and Vijay, had only grown several times more with the fond memories he has of nalla Madras.
Wangdi says he has family, not related by blood or marriage, `back home’ in Chennai. That is the `akka’ (elder sister) who had reluctantly rented out a room to him, succumbing to his persistence, when he got sick of the hostel food. The same lady soon adopted him as a brother, sent him regular supply of sambar and rasam, always with piping hot rice and even nursed him to health when he fell ill. Now he calls her at least once a week and it was obvious it was a treasured relationship that transcended nationality, language, culture.
What I discovered is that for most people in Bhutan, the connection with India is almost umblical. After all, everything from needles to clothes to rice comes from India. And they identify so much with India and its people that for them it seems a mere extension of their own land and people. An affection from across the border, most of India and Indians are probably, unfortunately, largely, oblivious to.