On the way back from my morning peregrinations, I met my seventy something neighbour Revanna coming in the opposite direction with a can of milk in hand.
"Haal kaisa hai Revanna?" I asked him. Friendly neighbour, as always.
"Accha nahin hai" , he replied
When you hear such an answer to an innocuous question, what will you make of it? One of those gloomy, morose, griping gentlemen, you may think. Surly septuagenarian, you may conclude. I won't blame you if you portray Revanna as a pessimistic paterfamilias.
I too would have done the same, if I were you.
But I know Revanna. He is a friendly, gay, gregarious gentlemen. Sociable and spirited, I have always found him. I decided to probe further.
"Kya hua?" I asked him.
"Bahut paani milaya hai" he replied before walking off.
Leaving a perplexed me, if you see what I mean.
By virtue of his four years stay in Bangalore, my brother thinks that he is an expert in Kannada. While talking to him, I mentioned the curious reply of Revanna.
"Haal means milk in Kannada" he informed me.
That was it. What I thought were the disconnected display of dissatisfaction were nothing but the justified criticism of subnormal quality of milk.
Later I found that in Bangalore they have their special way of messing up with established languages. They make changes here and there to languages like Tamil and call it Kannada. For instance, in Bangalore if you say that you are a high ranking official in WHO, they will think that you are a head gardener. This is because 'who' in Kannada means 'flower'.
Do you notice a trend here? Take a word starting with 'P' in Tamil and start it with 'h' instead, you have the equivalent Kannada word. For example, 'Paal' in Tamil is 'Haal' in Kannada, 'Poo' in T is 'Hu' in K, 'Palli' in T is 'Halli' in K and so on. But don't think that reverse is true. For example, if you lift the receiver and say 'Pallo, this is Vidya here', you may not have to wait long before they arrive with chains and what not to enable you for an extended sojourn at the loony bin.
And of course, you can't buy 'Pamam' soap.
Everyone, when exposed to a new language, follows a similar path. Initially, one starts listening. One becomes familiar with the tone and tenor of the tongue. Slowly like a baby kangaroo taking its peek at the world outside, one starts using some words which are very common. In this phase on has one's own language ready in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
This was the case with my Kannada learning also. But only that in my case it turned out to be a disaster.
But I am jumping the gun. Digressing is the mot juste.
In the initial days, I found that the most common word used in Kannada was 'Beku'. One often hears of 'nod beku', maad beku' and all that. My first real exposure to this word was over a phone call.
One day my landlord comes and informs me that there was a phone call for my brother, Mony. Since he was not at home I went to take the call.
"Mony beku" chimed a voice at the other end.
I heard it as "Mony bewkoof". I felt that there was a mistake.
"What?" I shouted in English.
"May I speak to Mony?" queried the voice in English.
My brother, unlike me, is not a bewkoof. Later I found that 'Beku' in Kannada meant 'want' or 'chahiye'.
They say that the best way to learn a language is to use it wherever possible. You say it, you write it, you familiarise it goes the saying (Some say it goes without saying, also). Since I could not write the language, the only option left was to speak it where possible.
In retrospect I feel that it was reckless on my part to start speaking the language with only three words (hu, haal and beku) at my disposal. After all it is not everyday that you may want (beku) flower(hu) or milk(haal).
At that time I didn't care. I was all enthusiasm, if you see what I mean.
It was one of those days when world is generally irritable. Hot, sultry and dusty. it was at one 'o' clock on this day that I ventured into the world of Kannada.
It was also one of those days when men would want to buy plastic mugs. I went to this shop.
'Plastic mug beku', I informed him confidently.
He looked at me with sad eyes and mumbled something.
Probably did not hear what I said. "Plastic mug beku" I repeated a bit loudly.
This time there was no doubt that he heard. He told me something for about thirty seconds. In Kannada. I heard a 'plastic mug beku' in that oration.
Well if he can 'Kannada' me, I could always 'beku' him. So I repeated that 'plastic mug beku' thing again. It was like both of us were throwing 'Plastic mug beku' at each other.
There is a word in English which they use to describe Niagara falls. 'Incessant' is the one I am looking for. Such was the torrent of Kannada that followed. Added to it was the fact that the guy's eyes were already crimson and were darkening with every passing minute. As you do now, I too felt that with just three words in my armoury (of which two vis. hu and haal were useless in the current situation unless he wanted to pluck flowers or drink milk or something) I was in the same position of the jawan who found that he was fighting a heavily armed enemy soldier with only an airgun.
When my adversary started waving his fingers at me and was slowly rising from his seat (preliminary to bashing me up, of course) I felt that what was called on me was to effect a diplomatic retreat. Mind you, it was neither a 'hasty retreat' nor a 'slow an deliberate retreat'. As I retreated I gave him a disdainful look to show that I was not scared of him....
Well it was a diplomatic.....
Later on I found that the sequence of dialogues went like this.
"I want a plastic mug" I said
"I don't have one" he replied.
"I want a plastic mug" I repeated.
"How many times do I have to repeat that I don't have one. Are you deaf or something? Repeating 'plastic mug beku' like some bloody parrot. Wasting my time"
"I want a plastic mug" I repeated.
"What the hell do you mean? Here I am, nursing the wound inflicted by my wife and there you are repeating 'plastic mug beku' like some stuck up tape recorder. What is your problem anyway? Can't you understand simple Kannada? If you don't, you will when I am through with you. I will make sure that hospital will provide you will all the plastic mug you require for at least another month."
He started rising.
This was when I effected my diplomatic retreat.
As you can see, the experience has been unnerving. I am yet to venture into the murky world of Kannada. A world where a person can't buy a plastic mug without getting his limbs torn from side to side.
I will stick to English, thank you.