Language woes

Ever asked a friend to teach you a phrase in their mother tongue? If not, you should try it, I do this all the time! But be warned, you will NEVER be able to use this phrase in a conversation because:

  1. Your friend will go out of their way to pick the RANDOMEST of phrases.
  2. Seldom will they make any sense.

Just the other day, I took Uber Pool (Yeah, I’m cheap! I also care about the Environment!) and the driver was an old, chirpy American woman. As a normal Uber ride would go, we got chatting and I told her I was from India. She said, “Oh! Back when I was in college at UCSD, all my room-mates were Indian and Pakistani! They taught me a little Hindi!”. “Oh wow! Let’s hear some of your Hindi, then?”, I asked. “Danda leke marungi!”, she exclaimed. “Arre bidu, sab chalta hai!”. She then paused and said, “I’m afraid, that’s all I remember”. I looked at her, and could genuinely feel the remorse she felt at having forgotten more such amazingly incoherent phrases. I decided I wanted to help and added “Patli gali leke cut le” to her dictionary.

When I tell my Desi friends, I predominantly spoke in Marathi and Hindi back in my hometown, the Marathi and Tamil phrases I get to hear make me forget what coherence is. Articulation goes for a toss too. “Shenaat pay ghatla” was the first phrase one of my very good friends was taught. “My boyfriend is Marathi, and he taught me this” she said. Roughly translated, it means “I put my foot in cow-dung”.

“Thayir Saadham!” one guy yelled, as soon as I told him I was Tamil. “Rombave Nalla”, “Naan oru dharava sonna, Nooru dharava sonna mari!” Now that last phrase right there, let that catch your attention. It’s a long phrase, has too many syllables and is of course, one of Rajnikanth’s popular dialogues. I was curious how this guy learnt that dialogue and rendered it with such impeccable ease! “I took a long long time to learn this, my friend was determined that I learn it!”, he said. This friend, clearly, had gone out of their way teaching our common acquaintance the most bizarre Tamil phrases I have heard in the entirety of my life! I don’t even want  to reiterate those here.

My own sister and mother are no better. At least what my mother taught me wasn’t as utterly useless as what my sister taught me. I feel, I am the only one in my family to speak the least languages, and pay dearly for it. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”, she taught me to say during our trip to Paris, a couple years ago. When translated to English, it means “Will you sleep with me tonight?”. Amma taught me something less brutal. Amma speaks 6 languages, 2 of which I can only understand, but not speak. “Undal oranganom, orangiyal unnanom”, which in Malayalam means, “If you eat, you should sleep (afterwards), if you sleep, you should eat (afterwards)!” Of course, I am never going to be able to use them, but these are the phrases I use whenever I meet a somebody who speaks Malayalam or French. For my Telugu friends, I have a standard poem that I recite, mercilessly messing up the sequence of the lines and the pronunciations –  “Bujji meka bujji meka eda kelthivi? Rajagaru thotalona meta kelthini, Rajagaru thotalona emi chesthivi? Thotamaali kotta pona turr manthini!” Don’t even bother about the translation. Recite these exact lines the next time you meet your Telugu friend and watch them wince. Works every time. (Poem courtesy my mami, who is Telugu).

Anyway, I think I have come to terms with my inability to speak more than 4 languages. If you’d like to teach me random phrases in your mother tongue or any foreign languages you speak, I’d be happy to learn!

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