Hearing Marathi in Brunei is almost like a shock, it’s so rare. The moment a doctor at JPMC came to know that I am from Maharashtra, she asked if I spoke Marathi. So glad was she at the opportunity, she deliberately spoke in Marathi throughout the consultation. Later, I bumped into her at a restaurant and voila, she told me that she has found eight Maharashtrian families — all on a WhatsApp group. We too were added to it. We all were so starving for the language that we soon made a rule that whatever is shared in the WhatsApp group must be related to being a Maharashtrian.
This busy doctor couple took the lead in arranging our first Marathi get-together in Bandar in their beautifully decorated residence. The oil town Seria does have few Marathi people. However, they are too far away for a meet up in Bandar. Potluck dishes were planned and each family brought two homemade Maharashtrian foods. The most popular dish turned out to be patwadi: steamed thin square pieces of seasoned gram dal batter soaked in a curry made of onion and dry coconut. Kothimbir wadi (coriander and gram flour deep fried cakes) was also a favourite among everyone, given that coriander is only sold available in local weekend market and is not something one gets frozen.
While sipping the cold and freshly made panh (raw mango pulped drink), we got introduced to each other. The longest someone had been in Brunei was 20 years and the shortest was 2 years.
I liked how most of us introduced ourselves. Some went over 5 minutes and it was almost like an icebreaker speech. Some introductions rose curiosity and they were asked more to share. One of chose to not work in Brunei even after having worked in a world-class institution in Singapore. The other newly arrived better half shared her aspiration for wanting to work in Brunei. She was given quickly offered advice where to look for work too but also was told that she has entered Brunei at a wrong time. Two vets worked at two different hatcheries and then we came to know that their job required them to live in jungles far away from where at times it’s difficult to get a wi-fi signal. There was a long discussion about hormones in chickens — and some teaching too: one of them thought hens were injected with hormones. The hens grow quickly in size partly because they are stripped of a sexual activity. The reproductions take place from a single carefully selected parental breed source.
Having a get together in a comfortable home makes everyone feel at home. The women and men got into two groups without any prior planning. The topic at every Indian’s heart is cricket and politics. So as not to be an exception to it, these Marathi men too soon found themselves loitering on a veranda in host’s house and over drinks and starters of vegetable and chicken bhajji, discussing them. It tuned out that the host was the first to begin a cricket club in Brunei. The women gathered around the dining table and talked about health, children and maids. (Have you ever noticed that the places selected to gather around often dictates the topic of discussion.)
The food was eaten and leftovers immediately sorted out to take home. So thoughtful of hosts that they had already bought a pile of boxes!
Unlike games, singing is one thing that can happen in groups without any preparations. Although the host had given an indication to the group in group messages, most of us were ill-prepared. So we shared a few marathi songs and sang them as a group. We also got to know the singing talents in our group! It was interesting that irrespective of the age group, some songs such as gomu sangtine, dajiba, valhavre nakva, everyone had heard of! That is what classical songs mean. One of us was an exception to us and sincerely had prepared for the occasion. He read out many poems of Marathi poets; Mardhekar and Surve and brought a distinct flavour to this gathering. Of course, we did not forget the evergreen Hindi oldies too!
We all decided to have an exclusive marathi gathering every two months. Next up: A BBQ at a beach in mid-May.