Friday, 30 October 2009

‘Left’ enlightened

Bangalore Mirror. Monday 02 November 2009.

The city’s rather exuberant traffic has given me more than a fair share of Bangalore Bombaatness to revel in. The timing of something that happened recently, still cracks me up.

Fade in: RT Nagar traffic junction just after the Hebbal flyover. I was among the first line of vehicles. Having just caught up with my friend soon after my recent return, I was relying on the movement of other motorists around me instead of paying attention to the traffic lights ahead.

As engines started to rev., I pushed the pedal and inched forward before noticing that the green light was still off. A good few vehicles had sped past and I hesitated, though way ahead of the stop line.

As a driver still outsmarted by continually reformed and ill-marked roads, my perplexity was mounting to near panic. My friend had gone completely quiet and I was effectively solo.

Never to be beaten, this is what ensued between me and the policeman who sprung up from nowhere.

Me: (pointing to the lights) ‘not working?’
The policeman was now by the side of my car. I lowered the window.
Me: Sorry sir, lights out of order?
PC: (Huffing and all worked up, yet thoroughly pleasant) No madam! This no America. You not go to straight.

From the corner of my eye I see my friend turning maroon. I continue earnestly.

For the life of me, I have still not figured out why I felt the need to level my English with this man’s.

Me: Sorry sir. I was looking for green light (pointing up ahead). No red light also. Other people all going.
PC: (still panting) No. No. This no America! Here you not look front! All here. You look LEFT !

America? Left?!! My confusion was beyond gauge. My car is almost at the centre of the crossroads. My friend is bursting at the ears, her eyes fixed ahead and lips dangerously stretched. This has to end fast!

My resolve turned to steel. After attaining a driver’s license despite relentless trials and inexplicable agony at the hands of the notoriously stringent licensing authority of London, I was not about to get myself a police entry in India just because a traffic light can’t be kept functional at one of the busiest junctions of Bangalore!

I persisted with this enthusiastic English-speaking police constable, who was simply too amusing to offend and, I insist, way too nice to try.

Hoping to strike a comfortable chord, in my now (very slightly accented and shamefully) amateurish Kannada, I persevered.

Me: But Sir… I no… naanu America ...?! sigh! ... Leftalli enidhe? Traffic lights front alli idhe, alla.
PC: Iyaaa! Light no work! You look LEFT!

Again! Left?!

Me: (Beyond confused now and struggling with the ever-so-composed stance). Sir, leftalli en idhe?
PC:I’ madam! ‘I on left’!

Silence... My friend is really worrying me now. Just how stupid could I get! What was I thinking looking for the traffic lights ahead to guide me, when I should have been peering LEFT, trying to locate the friendly policeman directing traffic from some invisible gap between crowds of people constantly moving under the shade of trees lining the under-re-construction pavement! Preposterous.

Me: (dumbfounded and attempting a hasty exit) Ah! Aithu aithu. Thumba thanks Sir. Hogla?
PC: (In Kannada! Finally! And as pleasant and as breathless) hogi, hogi.
Fade out.

We drove off, my friend lifting her shaking frame, every pore, the darkest shade of red I’ve seen on any human. Had my charming tete-a-tete carried on a sentence further, we most certainly would have been booked, albeit for a different offence.

Relieved at being let off, incredulous laughter burst forth and tears streamed down flushed cheeks. But just how close were we really?

The malfunctioning traffic lights were relegated to the miscellaneous as we somehow got embroiled in an intense discussion on how today, more than ever, proficiency in a particular language, defines a person’s self-worth.

To me, as a domicile of the state, being conversant in Kannada is paramount to my sense of belonging and pride in being a Bangalorean – specially now, that the lack of practice shows.

To the friendly policeman, speaking in English with me was his moment of prestige. I am not sure what lead to his (flawed) assumption that I was accustomed to American ways, as I was turned out just as casually cosmopolitan as anyone else of my background. Also, I had not spoken a word to him until then, to give away any accent – my English (or demeanour, for that matter), thankfully, bears no British influence.

Whatever it was, he slighted my valiant attempts at claiming my rights to the vernacular, while he flourished his modest linguistic prowess over a language (imported, essentially) he clearly looks up to.

A complete win-win situation, nevertheless. We both got our fill. Comedy was rife and Kannada ferver, however battered, reigned. Happy Rajyotsava, readergale :)


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Moon hydrograde Earth and other Article-ations.

Bangalore Mirror. Friday Oct 23, 2009.

With all this talk about Chandrayaan finding water on the Moon and others finding ways to challenge its potability on Earth and still others ever more determined to blast the last rocks there to squeeze out whatever it can from the regolith, the gushing vision of life-saving hydrant pouring down from the heavens above, for the time being, stays hypothetic.

Wonder what a vaastu expert’s take would be on this. To which direction of the orient would the moon be of us earthlings? Whatever the order there, Mr (or Ms depending on your parent culture) Moon has been quite a talking point nevertheless. And with my little boy on the watch, the cosmic forces always point to one plane – entertainment. There must have been some strong lunar vibrations even on that day then, when on his first solo net crawl, he happened to land on a web page on, who else but moon-man, Neil Armstrong!

That week at school, the topic of exploration in English was the Articles, a, an and the. We had completed an extensive worksheet and other exercises, by the end of which my son was quite a little master of their usage.

This is what beat me. Son in front of laptop, laments in high pitch: “This is wrong. He does not even know about Articles!" Puzzled, I looked at the screen. In bold italics was a flash image of Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon: That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

My little boy was still frowning. He couldn’t have. My 2-day old Master of Articles couldn’t have! He exasperated, “which man mamma, and why is the man kind, anyway?” Sigh!

But however the little guy understood it, the fact remained: Mr Armstrong, astronaut of astronomical significance, physical visitor to an astrological site, first man on the moon, indeed seemed to have missed an Article! Not the particular kind NASA would provide but the one indefinitely used in a singular context and preceding a consonant sound in a sentence articulated by English speaking earthlings - blame it on ghore mangal dosh !

My task for the day, now, was this: distract my impressionable child from the grammatical gaffe* of the first man to land on the moon and do Planet Earth proud. I had to impress upon him, instead, the greatness this man had achieved in completing a mission that would reconfigure the course of space travel and scientific scope thereof (40 years hence we have found semblance of water! mangal less, mangal‘maye’ more like).

Astrospeak or agnostspeak, I would have to reiterate that at seven ‘he’, my son, would have to be absolutely sure of his a, an and the. To rocket to the moon, he would have to simply wait ‘for ages’ until he ‘grew up’ – by which time, of course, I would not have to worry about how he would quench his thirst up there.

At that precise moment though, I had to answer the question, “ ... and why is the man kind, anyway?” Yin was not in supply and Yan would have to be spared for someone older. So I immediately agreed that as per what was taught in school that week, in omitting the Big A, Mr Armstrong indeed seemed to have uttered a contradiction as his opening statement to Moon. I have to say that the three inch smile beaming up at me was worth three times as many lunar landings!

But he is little, see? So information had to be trickled gently. And only what he would soak in without any explosion, could be imparted. Suffice to say, I survive. As does (thankfully) his grammar teacher at school.

*There really was no error. Bad radio transmission blotted out the quickly uttered ‘a’ before ‘man’ in the first half of Armstrong’s line (