Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…learning Indian

So far in my travels I’ve been in places that speak English so I haven’t had the worries of not making myself understood. In India almost everyone does speak a little bit, but in many cases it’s extremely broken and hard to understand. Sometimes I imagine it would be easier if they just spoke to me in Tamil, Hindi or any of the 26 languages listed on a popular encyclopaedic website as being uttered here.

I’ve been here slightly more than a week and I’m pretty amazed at how much of one/some of those languages I’ve picked up, mainly just from speaking to tuk-tuk drivers. Below is the phrase in an Indian dialect (sometimes an answer to my own question, which you’ll recognise because it’s in English) followed by the translation for the Englishman.

Which are you?
(From which country to you hail, sir?)

Do you know where [location] is?
Okay, okay. Let’s go!
(No idea, but on the way I can either try to convince you to go somewhere I do know or we can ask every driver we pass until we find someone who does know.)

How much will/does this cost?
X rupees.
(Divide this number by four and you’re getting close to its actual value, white boy.)

Hello, friend…
(I would like some of your money.)

You like shopping?
(I want to take you to some shops that are all selling the same stuff in the hope that you’ll eventually get worn down by their excessive sales pitches and finally buy something. There is, of course, nothing in this for me and the fact that all of these shops have a queue of tuk-tuks outside them and that you’ll be seeing the same foreigners being taken along the same route of shops in no way suggests that I’ll be earning commission for taking you to these stores. But please do buy something.)

Do you have kids? I have X children.
(Later I’ll tell you that I need money for my children and that I clearly feel a bit of a failure in my own life but I’ll do all I can to make sure they have the best opportunities. It just so happens that the final possible chance to secure this future falls this very day and that you, kind foreigner, are my one and only hope.)

*Says nothing but starts stroking me*
(You clearly know that I’m a beggar and even giving me what seems a pittance to you will make a huge difference in my life and maybe for my whole family. I’m afraid that because of my poor upbringing that has forced me into a life on the street embarrassingly asking strangers for money I was unable to learn a foreign language so cannot communicate effectively with you.)
[So far the stroking has been restricted to my face, arms and legs and not you-know-where. Clearly the pittance I gave the first disease ridden mother of two wasn’t enough to find out if that was a possibility. I gave nothing to the next but (a) she was trying to sell me some stupid plastic toy (as opposed to the mother who let me play with a monkey!) and (b) she looked like she’d just turned six, so probably wouldn’t get to that part of her get-money-from-the-tourist training for at least another month.]

More as I learn it!

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Filed under: asia, , , ,

4 Responses

  1. Dave w says:

    I haven’t experienced any of this sadder stuff in places I’ve been – like the mentions of children or impromptu stroking – but the earlier ones brought back memories of the worst aspects of Egypt.

    It’s amusing to think of those early days when I’d answer the question ‘Where you come from?’ as if they were actually interested in me, rather than my custom. I probably exhibited the worst of tourist attitudes in my last couple of weeks, when I’d just barge past taxi drivers and other hawkers ignoring their repeated sales pitches (even as they stubbornly kept up pace), but it had became completely intolerable for me after having it every time I walked down every street, and it was all I could do to stop myself actually shouting at them. LIKE HASSLING ME WITH THE SAME QUESTION IS GOING TO MAKE ME MORE INCLINED TO GO TO YOUR FAMILY’S BAZAAR WHERE YOU DON’T SELL ANYTHING OF INTEREST TO ME.

    If I was a calmer, kinder person I’d appreciate that this is how they struggle to get by, but I just can’t stand pushiness! Or false politeness. There are lots of poor people in Thailand too, but they don’t impose on you like that – and even the taxi drivers don’t usually persevere if the first offer of ‘taxi?’ doesn’t get a reply.

    Whoops, got a bit angry there.

    • Oliver says:

      The thing is, though, it isn’t always to get a sale. I think they are genuinely interested to know why I, a white man, am in their country. And what exactly do I think I’m doing so far away from the Taj Mahal?

      Today I was walking around the cricket ground trying to find the ticket office. At one point I had to cross the road (which I’m still pretty unsure of) but I saw a girl doing it so figured I could too. I walked, hurdled a small wall, skipped the next bit and then walked through some bushes to get on the pavement. I was walking along when I heard a ‘Hello, hello!’ and so I turned round. It was a guy in an army uniform, so I was worried I’d done something wrong. He shook my hand and walked along with me a bit, he asked where I was from and he smiled. I tried to explain to him I was here for the cricket and spoke about that for a couple of sentences which he clearly didn’t understand and then he had reached his destination. Really, the only reason he spoke to me was so he could find out where I was from. I hope this made his day better.

      • Dave w says:

        Too many bad experiences really did make me cynical. I’m sure a couple of well-meaning people were victims of my feigned blindness/deafness.

        Despite all this, I do love being in non-English speaking countries! I just like the polite ones more.

  2. Jemma says:

    At the risk of sounding like Alan B’stard, I bloody hate poor people. And by the looks of things, you two laid back lefty adventurists are turning into Tory bastards as well! See you both down the Rotary Club.

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