Arriving at New Delhi Airport from Toronto I was overawed by the sudden heat and the clamoring, rushing horde of humanity. There were new unpleasant smells. Sweat and grime and taxiwallahs breathing their onion tinted Anglo words at me. ‘Taxi Saab?’ ‘Taxi Saab’ I had frayed nerves from the long flight and the separation from my husband. I thought ‘this is all a mistake, if I am going to be hounded by so many people all the time.’ I looked with dismay at the burning- in- the- Sun black and yellow taxis which seemed very ancient and hot without air-conditioning. I was not ready for another physical trial what with the jet lag and the airline wine induced headache. I should have gone to Tahiti.
“Anna Madam” I looked around and a slim tall dark man with handsome features wearing a blue colored uniform. He had a gentle smile and trustworthy eyes.’ I am Anil from Gurudaan. I have a car waiting. Please let me take your luggage.’ He steered the baggage trolley through this unbelievable surge of humanity.
The Sun was beating down relentlessly with a hair dryer blast of wind. The bags were expertly stowed away by Anil and to my surprise I found myself comfortable in the back seat of an air conditioned Toyota.
Once I imagined I would return to Toronto, a bilingual citizen. I took French lessons at the Alliance Francaise in Chandigarh. I did three levels of the language lessons but soon was overwhelmed by the suspicion of young women who thought I was a dirty old codger there to enjoy their delightful company. Alas my dreams of going back to Canada are on ice. I do keep reading French lessons. I read and understand but do not speak because my French accent is soaked in Punjabi. I have tried it on tourists, they’ve fallen on their knees and begged for mercy.
Punjabi is a guttural language of the German kind. It is as manly as you can get. You can say like was it Charles V? Holy Roman Emperor that ‘I use German to talk to my horses.’ I have no horses to talk to but I do throw an occasional phrase at the walls. My wife told me it sounds like someone breaking bricks with a hammer.
My daughter was coming from Toronto and I told her to get some French book so I could improve my vocabulary. I meant something simple. She brought Angels and Demons in French. I then had to buy the original English version. The words did not seem to match. I paid a visit again to Alliance Francaise and there I found Asterix comics in French. I read about the Gauls in French now and am forever in fear of having my comics stolen. I have the French words translated in the margins in my horrible scribble.
Right now the comics are lost in transit after we shifted to a new house. I am now reading Angels and Demons in English so that later I will be able to read the French version with some clarity. I am becoming an expert thus on CERN, Rome and The Vatican. If there are any people struggling in DLF Phase I please contact me and we will suffer each other’s French with some sympathy.
The young girls suspicious of my motives in the French classes always used to ask ‘uncle why are you learning French?’(One more thing no one calls you uncle or aunty in Canada, you are a young man even at eighty) I told them the language would improve my job chances back in Canada. They did not believe me. I look too Punjabi, the Canadian polish has worn off after traipsing the dusty streets of Gurgaon and Panchkula. Someday I shall be back in Toronto with my perfect French and floor my erstwhile compatriots. Talking about Canadian polish the first time I went to Canada I had my hair shortened to the extreme? I had heard a haircut was very expensive in Maple land.
Big mistake, I began to look like someone from an Interpol ‘WANTED’ notice . I remember the airline crew treated me pretty badly because of that and add to this the fact of my Punjabi English there was a lot of confusion with the British air hostesses. So that when I asked for water the air hostess brought me vodka. It did not help the situation though the shot of alcohol did boost up my morale.
My English was not understood by the natives of Mississauga either. A simple word pronounced by me as Tow yo ta had to be corrected by my landlady to Toy –o- ta. I am forever in dread of the word Toyota since then. Eventually my Tow-ron-tow became the native trrawnto. Exeunt Punjabi English and enter rolling r’s. I even learned to say ‘eh?’ Remarkably eh is eh in French too.
French and Punjabi do not mix. They are like oil and water. Toronto will be like a refinery for me. I might even shift to Quebec for some time. It will take out the sting of Punjabi from my French or at least my English. Oh, Canada!