Unity in diversity, The triumphant banner of post Independence India! With some 30(?) states and innumerable no. of languages, things can get confusing at times .
Take me for instance, i was born a malayalee hence i speak Malayalam, but because of my father's frequent transfers to all corners of India, i cannot read or write Malayalam! But we settled down in Bangalore some ten years back, so i can read and write Kannada but cannot speak intelligent Kannada if a gun were held to my head! Add to that a semester of Marathi in third grade and Hindi speaking abilities that deteriorated due to my extended stay in South India, So here i am trying to communicate using the greatest of British imports ENGLISH!
Thankfully though I'm not alone in this linguistic paradox. I didn't even have to look too far.My cousin Aashish who is a doctor, was born in Nigeria,studied in Yemen, high school in kerala and finally mbbs in Nepal. Heaven alone knows the languages he's proficient in!
He recently took up a job in Kottayam, Kerela (Mallu heartland) . He can utter mallu theri (swear words) like a seasoned expert and knows the nuances of the language like a sahityakaran(litterateur) , yet he cannot write or read malayalam! A recipe for disaster!
His job involved playing apprentice to the far more experienced MD and basically just watching and learning as well as doing the odd jobs that only a doctor could do. His opinion would be called for during interesting scenarios as well as suggestions when the situation arose.
So, on this particular day a lady walks into the consulting room and produces a letter of some sort . The MD takes a long look at it, reading all the way to the bottom and then re-read it again, his eye-brows knitted together in concentration. He seemed perplexed! He tosses over the letter to Aashish and says
"Do you concur?"
My cousin was taken aback by this 'StarTrek' sounding command by his superior.
So he hurried to take a look at this sacred piece of parchment that had caused
such a harried reaction in his all knowing teacher. To his dismay, no matter how hard he tried he couldn't get an inkling of what was written, Because it was written in Malayalam . Panic struck him, thick and fast. He had to save face somehow! His very job could be at stake! So he put forth a very vague sounding.....
"Interesting case sir, the standard procedure would suffice for this patient, but we must proceed
The MD's face was as impassive as ever, was this some kind of in-hospital test? my cousin wondered. The MD took a deep breath and ventured..
"Aashish, would you care to explain to the lady about her illness"
'I am done for, certainly!' thought Aashish. He took a deep breath, called upon his lucky stars and let his mouth do all the thinking and talking.
"Ma'am you have a common illness, nothing to worry about, take the prescribed tablets as the chemist orders and you will be fine in no time. A lot of rest, a whole lot of nutritious food, and you'll be back in the pick of health in no time!!"
My cousin sat back in an air of triumph and satisfaction. But the MD looked as bewildered as ever, The patient who was even more confused, had a question or two to ask, She was cut short by the MD,
"Madam would you care to step outside for a moment, we need to discuss your case at length"
Aashish's throat went dry, the customary 100 lashes ancient slaves received seemed inviting, confessing the truth seemed the only way out. As he geared up to defend himself, the impatient and angry MD spoke up...
"What in Christ's name was written in that piece of paper? I cannot read a word of Malayalam!!! I was looking to you for a hint or a suggestion of some sort. But you were more incomprehensible than a doctor's handwriting!"
My cousin heaved a huge sigh of relief and explained how he was in the same predicament!! The two had a hearty laugh and finally had to rely on the lowly nurse to provide a solution. It turned out that the MD had himself studied abroad and was part of the linguistic diaspora that could speak certain languages but couldn't read or write it!!
It is such diversity and interesting intricacies that are unique to being an Indian. Nowhere else would such interesting situations arise! Call it a blessing or a curse but we Indians are forever destined to be Lost in Translation!!