Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mind your language

I still remember my first day in Chennai, when a coconut vendor looked straight in my eyes and asked "Tamil terima?" - (You know Tamil?). Unfortunately, my ears still accustomed to hearing words in Hindi, deciphered this as - तमिल तेरी माँ ?? I was a bit outraged, as in Hindi any phrase with the words "तेरी माँ", is not taken very kindly. Looking at the expression on my face, my cousin who was accompanying me, intervened saying  "Teriyada" (Don't know!) Now I was totally bewildered. Was a stranger's abusing me with a word with "तेरी माँ" something not enough that my cousin had to complement him by saying तमिल तेरी अदा !!
It was only later when my cousin explained me the phrases with their correct translations that I realized my folly.
But such bloopers are not new to me, as a second generation Bengali brought up in U.P., I have seen many such unenviable situations arise around me. I still remember laughing to splits when my grand mother shot back to a rickshaw-puller, who was merely asking for some change, by saying "मेरे पास टूटा पैसा नहीं है बाबा, केवल गोटा पैसा है !!" - None of the money that I have is broken, all are intact !
Then we had lot of enthusiastic aunties, who would always love to 'surprize' us with their superior skills in the queens language. Now those were the times, when we did not have Tata sky beaming english lessons straight to our drawing rooms. I still remember our next door neighbour Mrs Jalota, who never got her plurals right, instruct her son "बेटा मेज़ पर बनानें रक्खें हैं, खा लेना." - Son, there are some bananas on the table for you. She also had a way of emphasising things by attaching the prefix "All over India" to it. So whenever there was a power cut it was an All over India power cut, whenever it rained, it rained All over India and so on...
Few days back it was my kid who surprized me. My daughter, almost of five years now, walked up to me with a sad look on her face and said, " I think my teacher thinks that I am a Deer!". Trying to keep my face straight and showing concern, I asked her why, to which she replied "well, she keeps telling me, 'come here dear!, sit down dear!". Of course I do not blame her, because the homophones can have a befuddling effect on even grown-ups at times, and she is just a child.


zephyr said...

Such bloopers are common in a multi-lingual country like India. and when one needs to interact with vendors, autowallahs and the like, it is better to have a local interpreter along :)

JB said...

hahahahha. Very sweet post. Now that I am in Melbourne, I am re-learning English. AND to think it is Australia's first language. My baby's been ill for the last three days and all of us have had a couple of sleepless nights...this made me smile. Thanks.

Gautam said...

Zephyr, being multilingual has its rewards, and this is a small price we have to pay for it :)

JB, have fun learning Australian English!