I have lived most of my life in Tamil Nadu and I have never had any issues with language. I mean, I can talk Tamil as well as the next guy, read a bit of it and write enough to get me in trouble. I have never had issues, since wherever I went, I could easily manage with English, Hindi or most often Tamil. So, all my life I have never known what it is like to be spoken to by someone in a language you don’t know.
Suddenly that’s changed. I find myself in the middle of (nowhere actually) a place where I know not what they are saying. Sure, I can manage with Hindi, but there are people who don’t understand it. And I’ll tell you what, I don’t like the feeling one bit. Not knowing what someone is saying to you is pissing off.
Why am I writing this all of a sudden. Well, this morning a respectable looking lady asked me directions in Kannada. Well, all I understood was that she was asking for directions. I knew the place she was inquiring about, but then didn’t know how to make conversation. So instead of telling her “Go to that bus stop. Take bus 45 and you’ll be there”, I shrug. Now, I am a decent chap, and I feel bad about this. Now, if she has left it at that, I would have been relieved. But then she asks again quoting another landmark, she hopes I will know. I know this too, but then I don’t know how to tell her in Kannada. Also, worth mentioning is the fact that I was rushing to office. I can’t bring myself to shrug a second time. So, I point to the bus stop and mutter something, no one can understand, and flee from the place. Poor lady, must have been wondering what she said, that made me rush. It was embarrassing.
The second incident happened barely 13 hours later (the number of hours I work these days). I am in a bus back home, when some hot shot two wheeler decides to do some stunt in front of the bus. Now, the conductor getts annoyed and starts saying something. I turn back to see him , and eye meets eye. Suddenly, he takes I am interested in what he is saying and goes on and on with his discourse of which I don’t have the slightest of clue. I dare not tell him “Kannada Gotthilla” (I don’t know Kannada (The only phrase I know in Kannada) ), for the fear that he will punch me in my face. All I managed was to smile at him, turn my gaze away and never look in his direction again. And on the walk back home, I realised, how difficult it must be for people who don’t know the local languge in any place.