Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our National Language

A quiet man of  dignified  disposition can tolerate the occasional lack of enthusiasm towards his vocal exercises by friends and baby cousins. It, however, hurts him to the core, when each attempt he makes at a particular activity is greeted by loud peals of merriment, people delightedly gripping the back of their ears and and rudely uttering 'What, What?'. I refer of course to the language of North India, often wrongly called our national language and my perfectly sincere attempts to flawlessly render it. It seems to me that there is some sort of conspiracy among regular speakers  to make yours truly most uncomfortable when he attempts to blend in and speak this language.
I will narrate a couple of incidents to demonstrate my problem.

Incident One:
I am in college and have just scrambled into our under capacity lift with a bunch of my classmates. The only fellow who is not my classmate is the shady looking lift man who is smelling of urine. He opens his mouth and utters "Kaunsaa mala" . I reply with dignity "Chauthaa mala" which is indeed perfectly right for our classroom is on the fourth floor. Imagine my shock when my classmates begin to laugh like silly schoolgirls, one of them even collapsing to the floor. The unimpressed lift-man aggressively repeats his question and and my sprawled out classmate replies "Chaar malaa, bhaiyya" in what I consider to be an uncouth tone of voice. Yet the ill smelling lift man instantly lifts his grubby finger and punches that '4' button and we are on our way. My attempts to obtain an explanation from my fickle minded classmates are in vain. They merely look at each other repeating the words I uttered in unnecessarily European accents and burst into laughter again.

Incident Two:
I have been dragged kicking and screaming by Sanya to watch a Bollywood film. The film surprises me; it is suspenseful and exciting. The next day, in office, I  inform my workmates of my pleasant experience; I decide to surprise them by speaking the language itself. I begin at lunch; they listen with  foolish smiles. As my narrative advances their smiles appear to be growing wider and more foolish.  Eventually, I reach a point where I am quoting someone, so I begin, "वह बोला..... "

And the unrestrained expression of mirth begins. One particular chap, by the name of Rabi, is so delighted  that for the rest of the meal (spanning the period of a half hour) he looks periodically at my face at bursts into snorts of laughter. And is my face contorted into  ludicrous clown expressions? Is it reciting verses from Russell Peter? Is it magically transformed into Rowan Atkinson's face? Oh no. It is the same staid solemn face of Andrew, periodically shoving some Vistaar vegetable into the oral orifice. The only connection I could make is that my  two worded incomplete quote was somehow very very funny. And I'm at a loss to understand why.

When automen fail to understand my directions, it is because of a misunderstanding  on a level more fundamental  than language.  A fork in the road is approaching, I indicate my desire to turn right by saying 'right' , I repeat it after a few metres and just before the turning, I again repeat it. Yet when the turning comes, he turns round and roars "kahaa -- left???" ..Don't tell me that it's my language which is at fault here.

Mind you, when it suits people to appreciate my language, they understand just fine. Not so long ago, I was accosted by criminals with an interest in smartphones. I asked them their names, what they did for a living, where they were from and concluded with  a sound lecture on morality. Unfortunately, just as I was driving my point home, Sanya Kedar chose to phone me and the sight of my shiny,  new(and now vibrating) Samsung Wave 2 was too much for them. They snatched it, the ghastly chaps, and I haven't heard of them since. But I can assure you, if you happen to be bandying your smartphone about at 10:30 pm on a dark deserted Turner Road, you may meet Ajay and co just like I did. If you do, stop them and ask them if they remember me. They will reply in the affirmative. And there, there will be your proof that I speak this language just fine.

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