Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Kids these days !

Ah, the morning of May 14th. Nothing special about the day other than the fact that it would put an end to my glorious academic career (my dad would start laughing if he sees the word 'glorious' and 'my academic career' mentioned in the same breath). One more degree against my very long name, people might even think that the B.E. M.S. is a part of my last name. Graduation day is one of those days where you tend to be retrospective about how things have transpired from bad to worse in your many years of sordid existence. Okay, it is not all that depressing because it gives you a chance to think about how fortunate you have been. You know, like you are forunate enough to not experience the displeasure of an umbrella up your ass or even better have sadistic friends who will give their right hand to open that umbrella up your ass (borrowed that line from a friend of mine called Bruce). So, in one of these very many therapy sessions where I act as my own pyschologist, I went back to the summer vacations after my 7th semester examinations, the days when I used to think of myself as a boy.
The origin of this particular session was my sprawling 200 square feet apartment bedroom. I was looking at myself in the mirror and I couldn't help but notice the fact that I had an uncanny resemblance to Goundamani*. I looked like an uncle (hey not the tamil version of the word!). Ok let me rephrase that, I looked very old. Then I thought of Nikhil, a 6 year old kid in Bahrain whose parents were recent additions to my fathers "really good family friends" list. There is a good reason for why I thought about him when I should be thinking of how I should wear the stupid gown and that salwar kameez duppata kind of thing. When I went home for my 7th sem summer vacations, my dad introduced me to this kid Nikhil and his parents. I am a little uncomfortable when I meet people for the first time as I am always at a loss of words. And, one of the reasons for the discomfort is the fact that I don't know how to address people. If they are as old as my dad, I could safely call them uncle. But if they are say 32 like Nikhil's parents, it puts me in a spot. I can't call them uncle... aunty...nor can I commit the suicidal mistake of calling them by their name.The last time I did that, my dad gave me "the look" and then looked at a stick that was a feet long until that 'D' in my science test in class 5. Even though it was in two pieces, 6 inches each, it was still strong. But I thought that I had an edge as I was 5' 11 and 40 kilos more heavier than what I was in class 5. Plus my dad was 56 and I was sure he would get tired sooner than the 2 hours and 23 minutes that we spent during the last ordeal. Nonetheless, I didn't want to take any risks, so, I pretty much avoided long conversations with these 30 something people and am always careful by not directly addressing them.....all the sentences usually begin with neenga, aamanga, illainga. So thats the same approach that I used for Nikhil's parents and it worked out fine. But, Nikhil on the other hand who was all of 6 didn't have to bother with 'social diplomacy'. He can talk his mind. Even if he calls me an overstuffed toad with an ogre like nose, it would just cause a ripple of laughter accompanied by the usual "Kids these days" jingle. But, Nikhil was a tad more blunt as he called me "Kumar Uncle". And, he didn't stop there, he asked me, "Where is Kumar Aunty?".
Understandably, everyone laughed at my expense which seemed to be so routine that even I started to make fun of myself. If you are not a stud and you want people to notice your sense of humour there is nothing like self depreciating humour. Nikhil's dad patiently explained to him that, "Kanna, this is Kumar anna...he is also studying like you. He is going to college like how you are going to school". Ah, finally...atleast the kids dad had the courtsey to explain where things stood to the kid. But, Nikhil was one of those determined types who I am quite would grow upto give teachers a hard time until he knows the physical, chemical, pyschological, ecological, biological and spiritual implications of E=MC2. So, 'persistent' Nikhil then began to make his dad understand about what he thought of the situation. "Appa, you are Venkatesh Uncle and this is amma and she is Venkatesh aunty, this is Ananth uncle and that is Ananth aunty. So if this is Kumar uncle where is Kumar aunty?" Nikhil's dad tried one last time to convince his son that I was anna and not uncle and there was no Kumar Aunty because I was unmarried. If not for 'social diplomacy' he would have probably wound up saying "Nikhil kanna, judging this uncle...chi...anna by his looks an aunty ....chi...anni's possibilty is as remote as the coovum smelling like Jasmine flowers". But, Nikhil exemplified perseverance and he then stood next to me and was trying to persuade my dad and his dad to stand next to me. The point he was trying to make was that I was the tallest man in the room and usually people who were taller than him are supposed to be married. Nikhil's father gave up and told him that Kumar Aunty was in India. Nikhil beamed and gave one of his "See I told you so" looks. After Nikhil and his parents left I overheard my parents saying that as soon as this fellow gets a job we are getting him married.

My dad snapped me out of the session and told me that "Son, its time for graduation. Get a job so that we could start looking for a girl."

* The author doesn't mean to ridicule Mr.Goundamani's looks and sincerely apologizes incase Mr. Goundamani or his fans misconstrue this as an insult.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Racism? Frustration?...uh...whatever

Ever since I landed in the United States, Americans have taken the pains to understand the Indian English that I speak. Like for instance the day I landed in Washington, I was waiting for my connecting flight to Raleigh. I walked up to the gentleman in the American Airlines counter and asked him the gate number for the flight departing to Raleigh (which I pronounced Rallay). The guy strained his ears and asked me to repeat my question again. I obliged and he then realized it was pointless to make me repeat the query again. So, he started relaying each and every word that he could make sense of. Well it was quite a spectacle, two men who were at pains to understand each other even though they spoke the same language. Finally after a painstaking few minutes passed by we seemed to agree on everything except Raleigh. The AA guy threw his hands up in the air and told me that there is no place called Rallay in the United States. Yeah, he scared me out of my wits. You could imagine how it would have felt for a person who has come all the way from Madras to a non existent place to do Engineering. I then showed him my boarding card and pointed R A L E I G H on it. The man smiled at me which made his already creased face resemble a crumpled paper. The smile then gave way to hearty laughter which made the flab hanging out of his pants heave up and down like jello. I just stood there waiting for an explanation because I frankly thought the humor, if at all there was any, was too subtle for my taste. He then recovered himself and told me, "Sonny, its rolly not rallay, rolly as in dolly and you need to go to gate 24." I smiled at him sheepishly and walked towards 24. Over the past 2 years, consciously or unconsciously I have changed the way I pronounce certain words (for e.g. 'schedule') to make my life and the listeners life easier.
But, I had an altogether different experience last week. I called up XYZ to request some information. I introduced myself and asked the lady (she had an african american accent) my question. Her reply was, "Sir, You have a beautiful accent, I didn't understand a word of what you said, why don't you tell me your account number first to make things easier for me."
I was silent for a couple of seconds. I couldn't think of a smart repartee to say "**** *** ****" All I managed to say was, "thank you ma'am that wouldn't be necessary." and hung up. Maybe she had a rough day, or maybe she really had something against people who couldn't speak like Chris Tucker. I have problems understanding what the Chinese say but I never mock them on their face. I am not sure whether this qualifies as racism or probably an act of frustration.But, it certainly made me seethe with rage for the next hour or so.
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