sweetkharacoffee

I Wish I Was Back In Babelore

Posted in FrontPage, Literary Lapses by Jayasri on April 19, 2014

Some years ago, I was walking into the Conference Room in Vidhana Soudha to cover the press conference of the Chief Minister,  H.D.Kumaraswamy,  while speaking on the cell with a cousin. I spoke in Tamil, and  after a few minutes  I hung up, and found myself a chair. A journalist from another newspaper slid into the seat next to mine, said hello and asked, in Kannada, “Madam how come you are speaking  the Konga bhasha? ”  I replied that’s because I was a Konga. He had the grace to blush, and mumbled his apologies but he was also surprised to learn I am not Kannadiga.

I told him there was no need to apologize, as he had no way of knowing this , but couldn’t  resist telling him that I was quite conversant in 75 per cent of  South Indian languages. At home the lingua franca is Tamil, but it’s simply impossible not to pick up some Telugu when you have seven uncles and six aunts who were born and raised in Nellore, and argued ( they call it conversation) in the only language in which mythological movies must be watched.  My second language at school was Kannada, and  it was also generally the language in which I played, but  there never was any occasion to learn  even a smattering of Malayalam.

Now everyone knows, or has often lamented the  penchant of many Kannadigas to deny their language, and  reams have been written about the Kannadiga pride in displaying  ignorance of their own language. When two Malayalis or two Andhraites meet, the happily lapse into their language, whereas the Kannadiga , so the common complaint goes,  will lapse into English.

This was the theme  of  friend   Sandhya Mendonca’s blog a couple of days ago- in which she pointed out that many Indians are bilingual, and  can switch between the languages with great felicity.  I have always been amused to see my father and his five siblings communicate – one pair of his sisters would speak to each other in Dharwad Kannada, my dad and his elder brother  too spoke to each other in Dharwad Kannada, and the other two sisters spoke Tamil to each other. But if the pairs broke up,  Tamil was the medium!

I  enjoy  my GP Rajaratnam and Kailasam in Kannada, I can identify a  Bharatiyar gem or two in Tamil , and  as for Telugu,  there is no greater joy than to watch the movie Mayabazar and soak in the romance of  Lahiri Lahiri or laugh till I get stitches in my sides at Vivaha Bhojanambu. I find Thyagaraja and Purandardasa equally epiphanic in their respective languages,  and despite a limited understanding of literary Tamil, I enjoy the occasional Rajaji’s Korai Onrum Illai  for the voice of MS,  and  take a guilty , childish pleasure in  parodied  renderings of K. B. Sundarambal’s  Avvaiyar songs. And of course,  knowing Kannada has been a great boon- I have taught myself to read  my grandfather’s Telugu translation of Valmiki Ramayana, since the scripts are similar.

My life has changed in the last five years, and I now live in a place where knowing 75 per cent of South Indian languages has been of little help.  The husband speaks Malayalam, the 25 per cent that I never  learnt!

Which means,  we are now a 100 per cent English speaking family. And I have begun to recognize that  it takes a lot of effort to learn a new language, never mind the comforting “its very easy,  just like Tamil,” etc.   I was on the plane to visit  cousin Meenakshi in Minnesota a few months back, and it turned out I was the only desi among the 30 odd passengers on the tiny plane. both onward and the return flight. It was any icy winter morning, on the return flight, and we were delayed an hour  while the plane and the tarmac got a wash. I passed a good deal of the time thinking I could say things in four languages (including Hindi) to anyone on the plane, and no one would even know  that  they were getting gibberish of four kinds!

Which brings us to my present peeve. In order to speak lustily and for long in Kannada, Tamil, or  even Telugu, I need to call friends and family back home in India, or here in the US.  There are reasons why when I hear these three languages in this wonderful land  that I currently call home , I  turn away, move to another aisle, or pretend I am not there at all.  Experience is a great teacher. I mostly blame the knol khol pyramid at the Korean store, Lotte’  Plaza where you can buy  dosakai  (Mangaluru Southekai) under a  gantry sign that  loudly declares “DOSAKAI).

There is a lot of Telugu to be encountered at  say  Lotte’ ,  COSTCO, or Walmart, and  Tamil, and much Malayalam. Kannada, on the other hand, is  rarely heard.  So I could barely conceal my delight when I heard this urgently pregnant  woman  contemplating the knol khol in her hand, and wondering, loudly, “idu knol khol allva?”

Too excited to  consider that it might be a bad idea, I  cheerfully volunteered, “howdu, idu knol kholenay“, because I had asked myself the same question when I first visited  this store. One can never be sure of  our familiar veggies  knol khol, seemebadnekai that goes by the exotic name of chayote, in this country . They tend to be giant sized, and most of the time, quite tasteless . I long for  the pungent “aroma” of  a radish simmering in the sambhar nearly as much as I pine for a  chinwag in Kannada. With someone sitting by me, on the same couch. Not over telephone .

Well, the upshot of my  interjection was that we were soon talking about Uma theatre, Bull Temple, Gandhi Bazar, and so on, and exchanged phone numbers. . A couple of weeks later, she called, and asked if i was interested  in a project. I am mortified to say I failed to see through her  jargon and  was in denial when the husband said it sounded like an Amway scam. I asked for more details, and found out, indeed, that it was Amway. I  told her I wasn’t interested, and forbade husband from every mentioning this episode again, if he wanted  his parippu prathaman

So you see,  I can’t be blamed for  being wary of  Kannada- speaking pregnant women on the loose in   Herndon Halli, and  turning to   FB, youtube and my  small library of Kannada books  to my regular fix.  The important thing is to know  you may take me out of Kannada, but you cannot take Kannada out of me. On this cliche’d note,  I end, yearning deeply for my Babelore!

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9 Responses

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  1. Balaji Cousik said, on April 19, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Good one Jayasri, being multilingual myself, agree with you, of course with some minor differences, has helped me in my line of work to better the rapport or sometimes soothe a new, wet behind the ear and lost soul, just landed. Also the times I’d to resort to answering pesky marketing calls on the land line, same # but a different person, they trying to outsmart me, so each call answer in a different language till the time they delete the # from their data! Even come across a lot of palatur doras and patelas, who give a look like, ‘Who let you in?’ and the accent.

  2. Sumana Gowda said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    Needless to say, Bangalore and some Bangaloreans are missing you too!

    • Jayasri said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      why dont you come over and share my couch.and a Kannada chinwag?

  3. sandhya mendonca said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    nothing sounds as sweet as the native tongue. especially when one is away for long. tip for future encounters with knol kholamma: tell her firmly that while you would like to meet, but it has to be without any business strings attached. don’t be too harsh on her for trying her luck; if she’s worthy of being a friend, she’ll agree to stop the spiel and stick to basavanagudi banter.

    • Jayasri said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      Hehe Sandhya, luckily haven’t bumped into the Amway couple, expect for one time at COSTCO, a big place to buy stuff in bulk. That one time, we changed aisles, something very easy to do. Many knol khols, meanwhile have been bought and sambhar made since then!

  4. radi said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    This piece i love….bang on. It’s hard to feel so cheated when you want some home feeling from fellow Indians, who quickly shred you to pieces with their direct marketing enticement. `How dare they?’ is all you can feel.
    radi

    • Jayasri said, on April 19, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      we saw that couple a few months later in COSTCO, and definitely moved to another aisle!

  5. Chandrika said, on April 28, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Howdu Jayasri, I agree with you…Tamil and Telugu jasti jana idare, jasti maatu kelisutte, Kannada ne kammi. Just to let you know that I am back in Pittsburgh after a five-month stay at LA. Visit me sometime, I am not going anywhere till October 2014, am at home.

    • Jayasri said, on April 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Chandrika, back home after enjoying grandmahood? Great!. Thanks for commenting here! Surely, will keep in mind. Next time we’ll visit you and Edukondalavada !!


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