Something I’m very ashamed of is, though I’ve spent a little over three years here now, I don’t know the language at all. It’s very strange -- usually you can’t avoid picking up a few bits and pieces here and there. After living in Hyderabad for two years I could roughly gauge what people were saying to me, and could nod my head sagely and say “wonkay” (aubergine.)
But over here, it almost seems like I’ve formed a mental block because of all the people telling me what scum I am for not knowing the language.
Three months into my stay here, I went to a doctor near my house and as I walked into the room, he asked me something in Kannada. I said “excuse me?” and “I beg your pardon” two or three times before I realized that he was speaking to me in Kannada so I explained to him that I’m Bengali and don’t know the language. To which he demanded to know how long I’d been here, why I had come to Bangalore, and why my husband had come. By then it was already 10-15 minutes into my sitting with the doctor and he had yet to ask what ailed me. (Not too much to expect from a doctor methinks -- I presume even people from Bangalore don’t make appointments with doctors to discuss the erosion of local culture.) He concluded the little interview with “you should learn Kannada if you want to stay here. It’s not nice to talk to people in another language if you want their help.” Or something to that effect. I was a hair’s breadth from walking out, but felt too ill and had waited too long so I stayed put and took it quietly. I felt a great urge to ask him if I should give him the consultation charge in rupees or Kannada money, but again, I was too sick to care about anything much.
On some level, I quite agree with some of what this guy was saying, though expecting someone to speak fluent Kannada after living here for 3 months is ridiculous, it IS true that there’s no excuse for not knowing it three YEARS down the line. In the last three years I’ve been lectured by autodrivers and a few others that I should learn if I want to stay here. I feel too sometimes, that since we’ve all but settled here and might eventually bring up little thingies here as well, it would be nice if we could communicate with people better and understand the lyrics of the songs apart from the part where it goes:
“Oh daarrrrlling, please-a come-u/I lou you maximum-u!”(I’m not kidding.)
People here feel very aggrieved about talking in Hindi and dismiss the national language argument as a lot of twaddle. I only wish to make them understand that Hindi is not my mother tongue either, and in fact is a language I don’t speak very well, and only use it to make myself understood. So it’s not like I’m any less uncomfortable than the delivery boy who I say “Ekdom bhul-bhal jinish laata hai” to. Now if I had spoken to them in Bengali, arrogantly assuming they’d understand…THAT would be obnoxious and deserving of a full lecture.
Anyhow, I hope the xenophobes here will forgive me for making one last observation from MY point of view. I lived most of my life in Calcutta and wasn’t too put out when I had to converse with people in Hindi and English when they didn’t know Bengali.(In fact I have a relative back in Cal who insists on conversing in the most outlandish Hindi if she realizes a shop-assistant or such like is non-Bengali. So it happens that often the man will talk to her in faintly accented Bengali and she'll battle on in the most excruciating Hindi). It didn’t occur to me (because that’s how it is in Cal) to feel hostile towards them because of it, or imply that they should learn Bengali (and make it snappy) if they wanted to be treated decently there. If the non-Bengalis spoke Bengali it pleased us enormously, but that’s as far as it went.
But anyway, in Rome do as the Romans. This is not Calcutta. I shall now switch on Sun TV and try to emulate the hefty heroine doing complicated gyrations in the rain. Then maybe I can reach out to my Bangalore brethren with the universal language of dance! (dramatic stamp of the foot and snap of the fingers.)