Thursday, June 24, 2010

English ain’t the only funny language…

Who hasn’t guffawed at the age old Tamilian-Punjabi joke- ‘Tamil Terima?’ to which the infuriated Punjabi replies, ‘Punjabi tera baap!’ But, come on, in a country with as many as 22 recognized languages, miscommunication is but inevitable! Add to that numerous dialects, about 847 of them recognized! Misunderstanding is also, but a natural consequence. Yet, what do we do, when a phrase that has multiple meanings in different languages is thrown at us and we are caught unawares??? Well, I was in one of those sticky and terribly embarrassing situations and all I could do was gape and stare…

About 3 years ago, a young journalist came from cosmopolitan Bangalore to slightly conservative Hyderabad. She wore well-fitting jeans, a short pink top, had her shades drawn up on her head and the wedding Chura jingling along. That was me! Anticipating that I would get a day or two settle down before the madness of news catches up with me, I settled down in the CNN-IBN Hyderabad bureau. As journalists, we have this natural instinct to look up at the right television screen at the exact time when an important piece of news breaks. (Those of you who have ever visited a TV media house will know that at the very minimum 6 TVs will be on at any point of time- spieling content from different news channels.)

So, within seconds I was on my toes, running helter-skelter for information and shots and of course, those all elusive bytes… After all, Taslima Nasreen had been beaten up by some Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) activists. With the ever resourceful Venkatesh (my camera person) I managed to get the first bits of information. A couple of phone-ins later, Venkatesh went to get some shots and Raju (another camera person) and I headed to the Police Commissioners Office. Back in Bangalore, the police commissioner’s office is spread over a sprawling couple of acres and boasts of heritage buildings. It was always a pleasure to visit that place- especially on a hot sunny day- the shade from the numerous trees and the juice at the canteen- oh! It was absolutely delightful! Hyderabad, however, has one tall building for the Police Commissioner’s office and my handbag, even the camera bag was checked before we entered under the Door Framed Metal Detectors (DFMD’s- another marked departure from my experience in Bangalore).

Raju and I walked towards the conference room on the 3rd floor. I was about to enter when the then Police Commissioner, Balwinder Singh ji, looked at me, at the door of the room and saw the mike in my hand. (I had spoken to him a little earlier). Given that the Commissioner had looked away from the table, the room full of reporters (almost all of them were men- another difference from the Bangalore reporting scene I noticed) looked over their shoulders to see me enter. Mr. Singh then proceeded to say, “Randi, Randi Shwetal Garu”. The smile on my face vanished almost instantly and I stopped dead in my tracks. What did this man think he was saying? I thought. That too on camera and in front of the entire journalist community; he is the police commissioner for God’s Sake!!! He can’t abuse me and get away. Within a minute all these thoughts and more flashed through my mind. That’s when he repeated himself, “Randi Shwetal Garu”. Now I was furious and it showed on my face. Raju had already gone ahead and was setting up the camera. He came back and smiled and said, “Aaiye Shwetal ji. Woh aapko aandar aane ko bol rahe hain.” As I walked in and everyone’s face turned to the Police Commissioner once again, Raju nudged me and said, Randi means ‘Please Come In’ in Telugu. It is a word used with lots of respect. I resisted heaving a huge sigh of relief, Respect!!! And here I was, furious, cause I only knew the Hindi connotation of the word!

When I got home later that night, I was in splits of laughter… shaken and stirred by the cultural differences and the experiences it can gift us. I’ve stayed in Hyderabad long enough now to know that rape in Telugu doesn’t have the same connotation as it does in English, but, for some reason, I have never been able to say Randi even as a mark of utmost respect…

8 comments:

airborne said...

We fell apart laughing when a project manager invited his boss into the conference room!
We had no friggin' idea that it was a sign of respect then! :D

Slaith said...

I agree the subtle differences in language sometimes have a lot of gravity for trouble. When the same word means different. TAke the word bekommen(becoming) in German. It means to get in GErman. So you might end p saying I want to become a kabab. Cannibals find a lot of use for people who say such things

Suti said...

Undi is a good word in Telugu - in fact Choodalani Undi is a decent Chiranjeevi starrer.

Shwetal said...

Thank you all for your comments. :)

Roshmi Sinha said...

Ha! Ha!

Well... in Pune... if you were to board a ladies special bus... then don't be surprised if/when the bus conductor starts screaming: “Fuck the mahila” every time the bus stopped!

The Marathis have realized ‘faktha’ means ‘only’ and the clarion call 'to make love' to all the ladies in the bus was actually a warning to keep away from the ladies special!

Shwetal said...

@Roshmi,Tell me about it! being a Maharastrian myself and having studied in Pune, I've heard a lot of that one!!! :D
It never ceases to give a good laugh!

Slaith said...

@roshmi hehe. Fuck the mahilas. That's the best one I've heard

g2 said...

hehe... A lot of people had a similar experience... A lot of actually called me up and asked me(being a telugu speaking person) what is the meaning of "randi"