Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When I Don't Understand..

Long angry post ahead. Not meant to offend anybody, but seriously- we got to do something about this!

Communication- is everything. Social beings that we are, it is of supreme importance that we understand what is being relayed to us, and in turn be understood.

I have been in many, many situations where- I have failed to grasp what was said to me- in a language that I can follow (and subsequently, made a fool of myself). I have also been in situations where I was unable to fathom what was told to me, because of a language barrier. Like- one fine day, I was travelling in a bus in Mumbai- it was one of the first times that I was travelling alone, and I was trying to appear cool, calm and composed. My Hindi- is okay (though my accent makes people go bunny laugh) so I was all, ‘Okay, girl, you can do this’, when the conductor went ‘blahblahblhablah’ in Marathi. Now, I can follow Marathi if it is spoken slowly. This was a little too fast for me, and I immediately got flustered. My face became blank, and I was suddenly embarrassed- for no reason, I realize now. And that is when everybody around you looks at you and goes ‘tsk, tsk’. Anyway, I requested him to talk to me in Hindi (“Mala Marathi yet nahi”) and finally I got my ticket and all was well. I knew that this was okay- because I was not staying in Mumbai indefinitely; I would be going back to my comfort zone of Chennai in a few days’ time.

 So, fast forward to Chennai. Today. I was out with a friend who spoke absolutely no Tamil. We were stuck in a traffic deadlock-like situation. We couldn’t move in front or reverse. We were blocking, and being blocked by vehicles all around us- in a very, very narrow lane. Slowly, the easing process was being carried out by some good samaritans. It was hot, there was a lot of tension in the air. I was upset, my friend was pissed- at the foolhardy state we had gotten ourselves into, and we were surrounded by people who were going ‘vanga, vanga, vanga’. I have been there, so I could fully empathize with my friend when he wore the blank mask that I only remember too well from my experiences. Like every situation, there was some good and some bad to this one too. Folks who guessed the language barrier immediately switched to broken Hindi ‘idar front come..’ and so on. And when I opened my mouth, they immediately went, ‘oh, sister, Tamil a neenga!’ and we were good. There was a bad side too, like I mentioned: Localites, who smirk at you, who pass comments at you assuming you don’t apprehend, who abuse you for no reason other than the fact that you do not understand what the hell is happening! Today, we were fine. But I think of folks who face this every single day. Folks, who never deserve to be spoken to as such, who go through this hassle oh so often! Men and women who are smart, accomplished, achievers- scowling in frustration, because they do not get what is being said to them! It is such sadness. It made me very, very angry.

I have friends who have their own defense mechanism to counter this. They hang around with ONLY Hindi speaking folks. They seize power in numbers. They tried and failed to learn the language- and now they have a smattering of phrases that they use in auto repeat mode. They have this high-and-mighty look when they talk to people they don’t know, attempting to scare the strangers into not messing around with them. They cannot take the strain of communicating with a world that doesn’t bother to give two hoots about them, so in the end, they ALL unanimously say- we HATE Chennai.

Such sadness.

There is no escape route to this. Mentalities will never change. Low borns (not by caste, creed or race- but by thought) will always be low borns. And my city will forever be the city that raises an ‘Oh NO! They have posted you in Chennai? You are so screwed dude!’ reaction.

Preventive action for visitors would be- to learn the language. Atleast- learn to identify the swear words and show them the finger- or shut them up with another equally dirty word. Learn the basic phrases- so that people don’t take you for a ride. I have a friend from Delhi who speaks such amazing Tamil- that he picked in less than a year. I have heard him blast someone who tried to make an ass of him-in Tamil- and I have never felt more proud. He was lucky to have had somebody who took the time and effort to teach him- bless her. Not everybody is as lucky.

Tamil IS the language of our land. It IS the language of our ancestors- it does have a rich heritage, and our works are incomparable. I am proud of it. BUT. Creating a generation of kids who cannot follow Hindi- by making Tamil the only permissible second language- is folly. If one tries to make TN/ Chennai a country in itself, like this, yes- one might succeed at it.  But, one will do good to remember that this royal treatment will last ONLY within the confines of the TN boundary. Once we get out of TN, trust me, we are in for hell. Because, it is like you are blindfolded and let loose in a field, when you cannot make sense of what is being spoken to you. It is unpleasant and I wish nobody ever be in a situation like that.


Susan Deborah said...

Quite a spot-on post. Language problems continue to haunt all of us at some time or the other. Luckily, I have never ever been in a situation where I was blank. I think I am good at sign language and smiling ;)

In Tamil Nadu, it becomes difficult when the only Tamil knowing speaker travels to places in the North, East and West. Not having learnt Hindi, communication becomes very exasperating and flustering. And with the only Tamil and no Hindi Dravidian politics, it makes it worse.

Joy always,

Someday's dreamer said...

I love Tamil Nadu, being a Tamil ponnu and all of its heritage. But I have to disagree with what you're saying very vehemently.
What you witnessed in the bus, I have witnessed in Andhra, Bangalore, and friends of mine have been subjected to same (Or worse - by being completely ignored even when asking for info) in other countries of the world like France, germany, Amsterdam, Korea... you name it. Why, the super power which calls itself a metling pot - USA, try talking in a different language, than the language of their land, they will abuse you and think that you are abusing them.
India, because of its awesome uniqueness has so many languages. Which I am in complete awe of by the way, it is no small feat to create a language. And to have so many is brilliance. So visitors to Tamil nadu should either try to embrace the language or treat it like they are going to a diff country - Indians don't expect the whole world to know Hindi right? Besides, we are nice people. And most know at least rudimentary English. So we do try to help! Instead of blaming our Tamil Nadu, lets try to propagate helpfulness to tourists!

P.S: This was not meant to be offensive, I'm sorry if it was! Happy new Year :D

Chandragopal Srinivasan Reddy said...

That was offensive and racist.

I will be booking your blog under Section 66A OF IT Act.

gitanjali said...

@Susan- Ha, sign language and smiling :D Smiling definitely helps. A Lot. You, I must add now, have a wonderful smile. Love :)

gitanjali said...

@ Someday's Dreamer- Babe. We are saying the same thing.I love my country. I love my heritage. People who know me (or have read stuff I have written) know how much I love my city.
My anger is vented against those who take advantage of the language barrier and mock. We are humane people. Nothing, I repeat, Nothing can be an excuse that allows one to make fun of a fellow human being (especially when he has no idea what is being told to him). And when he has a girl with him.
I did advocate learning the language. And not everybody knows English. The irony is- we are all hospitable towards foreigners, and are okay with their not knowing the local language. BUT- we will not show the same tolerance towards fellow Indians.
And, there is no harm in knowing an extra language. Curbing learning it- is not right.

gitanjali said...

@ C S Reddy: These are my views and are not meant to offend anyone. In the same vein, Opinions are welcome. Intimidation is not.

Sadagopan Swaminathan said...

Out of tamilnadu is Hell ?? How can you say that - YOU ARE DAUGHTER OF INDIA ...correct ?

gitanjali said...

Er, Sadagopan you are missing a whole chunk of what I meant. I said, language barriers may cause miscommunication- which can be a hellish experience. And I wish nobody ever faces that.

Ashwini C N said...

Couldn't agree with you more Gitanjali. As much as I love my city, I really wish Hindi was made compulsory for the schools in TN. Thanks to my parents who felt that I should learn Hindi, it helps me survive anywhere in the country, or at least most of the places. TN is the only state in South India where people don't speak much of Hindi. Kerala and Banglore have so many ppl who speak fluent Hindi and I'm sure its the same case with AP too. So this becomes a problem when people from other states come here for a visit or plan to move to Chennai for a few years, when they find it difficult to speak to the local residents for their basic needs. People naturally get irritated and pissed off. And they develop a hatred for the city. And sometimes I feel so bad to see decent people being abused by the locals just because of the fact that the other person can't understand the language.

SSJ Vegeta said...

@ Reddy- Sorry for being blunt, but have you completely lost it ? Oh wait you are one of those low-lifes who thinks he knows the law and can bully people from posting thoughts. Read this blog post again. This doesn't slander Tamil or the culture. Just the mind-sets of people. And while you are at it, Go read Article 90 of the constitution.

@ Sadagopan - Read the blog post again man. Stop reading between the lines.

@ Gita -I do empathize with what you are conveying through this post. But expecting one to learn the language is not exactly a pragmatic solution, considering there are freaking 20+ PROMINENT spoken languages in India. People are of the mentality that they don't have to learn the local language when they are in any other state, so why the exception about TN ? People keep getting transferred for reasons of work to many states and seldom do they actually take the trouble of learning the language, so why the exception for TN ? The problem with TN (Excuse me for making a bucket statement - maybe the problem is just with Chennai at large) is it has been historically giving the cold shoulder to other languages (Remember the anti-hindi protests decades back ?). The problem is not just with the basic mindset of dim wits. Even popular entertainment do not quite embrace Hindi yet. How many Tamil movies have you seen with an iota of Hindi dialogues in them ? TN has been a more like 'Nammalukku-Tamil-podhuma-ada'. Please take note while what I say is nothing against Tamil or its culture in particular (have the utmost respect for it), I am
against that narrow mindset of people who think Tamil is the ONLY language and all others are just FOREIGN.

I do feel sad for the people who have to cope up with the 'hostility' that Chennai offers(It is otherwise a great city in every other aspect of the word!) I am a tamilian and I myself feel out of place in Chennai sometimes for crying out loud. We need a mind-set change. Spread the word that it is alright to embrace other languages and stuff. The remedy for this has to come from within. We (Tamilians) have to start thinking as Indians. Tamil is our mother tongue and we love it and it is cool and all, but it is cool to embrace other languages as well.

@ Someday's dreamer - Don't you think that such incidents in other countries/states are rather stray when compared to those occurring in TN ? Again, I might be wrong since I base this on stuff that I have read and learnt from

interacting with people. And again, as you yourself have pointed out about India being diverse and all, isn't it unfair to expect visitors to learn Tamil just because of the problems they face ? Shouldn't the solution come from within ? They don't really have to learn the language in other states and can do away with English/Hindi at max.

Apologize for the extremely long comment, but this was such a compelling post for me to comment on, heck it woke me from my slumber.

Anonymous said...

Being a sufferer at the hands of 'proud' Tamizhians, can't agree more with your thoughts. But then, you would almost be in the same game, were you in Delhi, or worse, Haryana.
It is never easy to learn the local language in the small span of time one gets to stay there. Maybe, a common language is needed (which very well may be Hindi)

But as you have put it yourself, its not gonna be easy. The whole politics of your state was built on anti-Hindi movements (similar to the anti-lungi thing in mumbai)
Its almost like corruption. Its there to stay.

Reminds me of a song I heard in 2009 while I was in Kerala. (copied the lyrics from internet)

Hey Englikeesu Venaa Di
Hindi Siripu Venaa Di
Karakaatam Aadikitte Tamilil PadenDi


gitanjali said...

@Ashwini-yes, it IS the same case with AP too. They have their own local dialects and everything, still. They can communicate with people! It is sad. And you are helpless as there is nothing you can really do about it. Except be as nice as you can possibly be with everybody :(

gitanjali said...

@SSJ Vegeta- hello, there. Oh yes, I agree wih you when you say learning the language is not a solution. But it sure might help a bit. Yes, it wouldn't solve the problem, though.
getting the country to think as Indians. ha. I am reading Chanakya's Chant and that was what the wise man (claims the author) advocated hundreds of years back. It IS difficult. But more than anything, we must all be taught to treat people with respect. Athithi Dhevo Bhava and all makes no sense otherwise.
No apologies needed, thanks for taking the time and typing the long comment! Cheers :)

gitanjali said...

@ Anon- I'm sorry :( I really hope it was not THAT bad all along. we are not bad people, you know :|
Anyway.Ha about the song. Bollywood makes an ass of us. With SRK eating noodles and curd with his fingers and all that. It is a vicious circle that we dont want to get into :P I hope you have better times in Chennai this year. Happy 2013! :)

Kappu said...

I completely relate to this post! Man as a social animal finds it difficult to find his niche when he doesn't know the binding sinew - the language!

Of course that leads to hatred and an array of hopeless feelings! here instead of feeding the hatred, one has to (compel himself) and embrace the survival-dialect!

Do visit my blog! Would love to see you by! *cheers*