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July 8, 2008

Somalia, Sholay and Islam ...

or, let's go to MelBUN!

Clichés have an irritating habit of being bloody true. Beyond laughing at other accents – including the Indian non-accent – and enjoying Peter Russel who disdainfully rips apart almost all tongues, I really had not realized the true import of the phrase “lost in translation”. Till last afternoon when due to my own stupidity, I roamed around for 15 minutes in a cab when I was just a block from our house in Melbourne (we are in an area called Flemington).

I am NEVER going to ridicule people who go abroad and give up their native accents. Hours have I spent laughing at people who go the US or another Western country and develop a nasal twang. Or for that matter at Partner who was rapidly losing his Australian accent and would sound Indian, almost. I have an awesomely pronounced Indian accent and though I speak good English – and Aussies speak ‘Australian’ NOT English – my interactions and conversations with people have been bloody interesting. For one, despite knowing English I can convey MORE through sign language than I can through words!!!

I am being forced to attach an ‘i’ to my vowels and though I think I am doing a horrible job at saying words the Aussie way, people here seem to understand almost anything better than desi accents. Hrmph. Since I cannot keep up with this longer and even the last four days have been enough to make me forget HOW a word is pronounced, think I will have to change the accents of the people around. Let’s see. People don’t understand when I say I’m living in MelBOURNE… unless I say it’s ‘MelBUN’. Why not spell like that as well?

So I got into this cab yesterday and asked the dude to take me to ‘Sturt’ street. He took me to Stop street or something like that and we were both lost. Since I was VERY nervous, I chattered a mile-a-minute and despite pronouncing everything in a way he couldn’t understand, we got talking. He was from Somalia, works 10 hours and has four children. The oldest is 8 and the youngest is a year-and-a-half. “We are creating an African village here,” he said laughing. If his candidness at that was refreshing – couldn't help but think of Narender Modi’s, “Hum paanch, hamare pachchis?” (We five, our 25, alluding to Islam allowing four fives and five kids off each wife) – what was to follow knocked my socks off. When I told him I was from India, he beamed in the rear view mirror and said, “I used to watch a lot of Indian movies in Somalia. I love the one where they toss a coin to decide everything. Sholaiye it was called. Jugnu was a good movie too.” So what if Melbournians don’t understand my accent, Bollywood is conquering the world!

Laughing at yourself is an art, it shows humility and shows you are neither scared nor ashamed to be yourself. It’s something I can do only when I am very comfortable with the people around. Hmm. There are some who just can’t see the lighter side of life and take everything too seriously. Like the Pakistani boy who sat next to me on the Bangkok-to-Melbourne leg of my flight. “Do you know Quaid-e-Azam?” he asked. I didn't and he mocked me saying he knew Gandhi and was shocked that I didn’t know “Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.” Well I ‘knew’ Jinnah but my general knowledge being sucky, didn’t know he was called Quaid-e-Azam (great leader). My history books (sadly) didn't teach me to look at him that way. THEN the kid asked if I liked poetry. I refused again since I really don’t understand poetry and was playing sudoku and didn’t want to be disturbed. THEN he asked if I knew Prophet Muhammad. I said yes I did and the dude launched into some Urdu shaayeri. By now I had had enough conversation and asked him why he was insisting on TEACHING me about Muhammad. “As a Muslim it’s my duty to spread the message of Islam.” To those who might not be interested? Why?

That incident apart, it’s been an interesting four days. It’s amusing at times, at times worrying, the way India is perceived. At times, there’s nothing to do but accept that we are ‘like this only’. As we argued over Partner wearing the seat belt, Partner’s 16-year-old piped in, “Do you have seat belts in India?” To my ‘of course yes’, he was rather surprised and said, “But why? People sit on top of trains there!” Well, I told him that India is trying to patent seat-belts for on-top-of-the-train rides and he nearly believed it. *grin* But then maybe we should, seat belts and double decker trains. India 2050. What say?

PS: It’s like old days right now, notes in diary and then typing them out later; will be more regular once I have my own computer. How’s everyone?


Kiran Sawhney said...

Awesome Jhoomur. Your blogs are always refreshing. In fact I was missing them when you were giving long gaps.
You know you are my inspiration to start my own blog.
Not just inspiration I keep coming back to your blog to see how i can improve mine.
Keep them coming dude

Mystique said...

aha, ahaha. the great Indian accent. Not mush to say here, really expect that I enjoyed this post.....
true, Bollywood cinema gets everywhere, some people have been known to worship shah rukh khan.....

DewdropDream said...

I had a load of Europeans in my class to contend with when I landed here. I think it tooks us all two weeks to simply understand each other's accents. And of course, people pestering us Indians all the time to teach them 'Indian dancing' (What are we supposed to do? Give them lessons in kathak and bharatnatyam etc?!).

Interestingly, bunch of my firang friends watched 'Mohabbatein' and were SO critical of the skimpy outfits the female leads wore... we found it really surprising, given the perception that westerners are more open to such things.

And you just wait till you have to go back to India. Despite everything you WILL be asked 'What's the time difference between here and there?' people will try and 'put-on' fake aussie accents, you'll get loads of taanas about how you're not Indian anymore... bah!! Still, if you don't have anyone saying 'Say Hi to all the white chicks/guys there' it's something to celebrate! :D

Keep posting more often, it's nice to read your observations

Silvara said...

Hahaha...already experiencing a bit of the Melbun cultcha ey?

Anonymous said...

Hey JB,

Just wanna say all the best with this new challenge in your life.

And it's true, your blog just keeps getting better and better, I love reading your posts these days...keep the travel going and I look forward to reading your stories :)


Maxim said...

LOL !My stage tech gig at a stadium had me working downstairs from a dance studio . Every time an Amroo needed direction to event occurring in the dance studio , I would just say 'Dance' the desi/brit way (with the mystical ‘ah’ vowel). I would mysteriously end up bumping into that same chap 5 minutes later, climbing the stairs with a scowl on the face. It took me a while to realize that they were interpreting my directions as "Down" instead of dance.The next few hours witnessed a more animated me with pre-emptive pointing and miming away to glory before even croaking a single word out!

Over Rated said...

Oh once you get the accent right, be ready for those "Your English is really good" type of compliments. People never stop assuming. Americans and Australians don't realize that they no one is speaking the queens english these days. Not even the queen.

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