Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"You speak good Tamizh, sir. But, slightly like an Anglo-Indian"

I had planned to go to the beach--it has been a few days since I saw those blue waters, and I miss those friendly waves of hello and goodbye.

Turned out that the afternoon was better spent with an even better friend, "S" and family.

"S" called and said we could meet and chat over coffee if I was not doing anything else.  I got the address and directions needed for the autorickshaw ride.

I was barely out the house when I spotted an autorickshaw, and asked the driver how much he would charge me.

"100 rupees, sir" he said.

"Appa told me it would be a maximum of 75" I told him in Tamizh and added that I knew a little bit of the city.

He smiled and said "but, I have to go around, sir. The direct road will be blocked at Gemini flyover."  He wanted 90 rupees.

I sat in, with no idea that a wonderful interaction was coming up.

"Sir, I can tell you are a foreigner.  But, I am so happy you are wearing this shirt, sir" he said.

I was wearing the t-shirt that I had purchased at the Chennai Book Fair.  (A simple post about this became controversial in Facebook!)

The driver was simply too impressed with the t-shirt, and with me wearing it.  "There is no respect for Tamizh and for people who speak the language, sir.  In Bombay and other places, they call us Tamizh people as thieves" he lamented.

I was not going to argue this point with him.  But, I went after it another way.  "Tamizh is the oldest living language with a rich literature" I replied.

Of course, our entire conversation was only in Tamizh.  At times, I struggled for Tamizh words to replace in my mind the English words that came naturally.

"Are you a Tamizh professor, sir?"

I told him I teach economics.  In fact, this has become my standard reply to most people.  "Geography" tends to make people wonder what there is to study in geography--the old stereotypes of the wonderful discipline persist in India as much as they do in the US.

The driver wanted to know how long I have been in the US, and was impressed to know that it has been 25 years.

"Sir, even after 25 years you are wearing this shirt about Tamizh language.  I am very happy."  And then he added, "you speak good Tamizh sir.  But, slightly like an Anglo-Indian."

I smiled.  First time ever that somebody has termed my Americanized Tamizh as an Anglo-Indian accent.  I wondered how he would have reacted to my Tamizh if it had been soon after I landed here in Chennai, two whole months ago!

When I return to the US, people would think, and perhaps even comment, that my Indian accent has become stronger after a 100-day stay in the country.  Always with an accent wherever I go :)

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