We are both speaking english but we both don’t understand what the other is saying. Each is believing that the other is lacking basic intelligence. We stare at each others lips brazenly in the hope that the moving parts will reveal something more for the ears to comprehend. Magically, we both stop at the same time. This conversation isn’t going anywhere.
I restart, taking in a deep breath and gathering all the patience that only a mother can muster up in situations that can drive others insane.
“Dew. yiew. haive. ainy. vege. thaarian. aaptions. puhleese?” I enunciate slowly
“Aaaah! Oui!” she says excitedly, “feesh??”
….And it starts again…
I want my words to be light and breathy, like foam over a perfectly made cup of cappuccino, but alas, change doesn’t happen over a days time. My words feel clunky and large, as if they are taking too much space in the air when they come out and they do not float like wispy clouds, but instead fall like stone pellets. There is no way an Indian can take out the breathy lilt that a French can so effortlessly. Their tongue curls in inhuman ways, injected with treacle and ice in equal measure. My ears are tired of trying to understand them, as I am sure theirs are too. And whereas I am dealing with just one, they have to deal with a huge number of interesting situations.
An old grandmother walks into the plane with a grandchild on her aging hip and three polythene bags over her shoulders and arms. Her hair is dishevelled, as is her dupatta. She asks the prim, french stewardess, “Main kitthe javan?” The lady is bewildered to say the least. Very patiently and inhaling deeply she asks for the boarding card. The grandmother promptly puts all her bags on a vacant seat and asks her to forage through them to find it while she proceeds to resettle her slumbering grandson. The stewardess raises both her hands, as if faced with a grenade instead of stuffed polybags.
“Eye kan’t do thait!” she says in a panic. Meanwhile the grandmother fishes out the limp boarding card and presents it. The lady reads it and proclaims, “twenty nain!”
“Kee??” asks the grandmother
“Unattee,” I pipe in, suddenly, I have dropped into the situation like a knight in shining armour. The stewardess looks at me with new respect as I take charge.
“Twanoo madad chaidey?” I offer. the grandmother looks immensely relieved. I pick up her many bags, like a seasoned coolie and guide her to her seat.
“Chould you help us here puhleeze?” they ask me when I return. A passenger from another part of the plane has made her way to the washroom in this section. The accosted lady is looking apologetic and saying,”Utthe bahut bheed seegee, pressure kabu nee horiya…” Okay, I don’t want to take the risk of translating this for sure! So I nonchalantly tell the posse of staff, “She’s good, won’t be a minute.”
The much relieved lady hurries into the loo and takes her time… A very long one at that!
I know they are staring at me, but I bore into my diary and scribble furiously with my pen and look very busy…!