By Ganesh Saili
Literal translations can often be a high risk proposition. The other day, an aunt of mine – a devout vegetarian – walked up to me, holding a bottle of jackfruit pickle (given to her by a well-meaning friend in a recycled bottle). She held it at an arm’s length. Not that there was a problem with the pickle. Trouble was with the print on the lid: ‘Quartered & Marinated. Artichoke hearts.’
‘Uff! Imagine what must have gone into this bottle. You can rub it, you can scrub it and you can wash it all you want, but how can you ever rid it of the mess of chopped hearts!’ she lamented, adding: ‘Ganesh! Maybe you would like to try this pickle?’
I bravely did, remembering Auntie Maizie Gantzer’s favourite aphorism:
‘Don’t trouble trouble
Till trouble troubles you.
If you trouble trouble,
Then trouble will trouble you!’
That was the trouble, I guess with our first English medium school – the Mussoorie Seminary built in 1834, it did could not improve the language skills of the locals who followed the Tommies to the hill station.
In every other shop of our bazaar tales survive of valiant attempts to bridge the linguistic gap. Apparently, one short-fused shopkeeper had had enough of a Redcoat’s browsing around: perhaps the fellow had stayed too long; perhaps he had not made up his mind; perhaps he did not know what he really wanted. Patience snapped. Sethji looked him in the eye to blurt: ‘Khushi take! Khushi no take! Nahin toh dusri dukan dekh!’ (Buy if you like! Don’t if you won’t! Otherwise look in another shop!)
Author Bill Aitken ended up looking for much more. At his home in Oakless, a Nepalese mason trying his hand at fixing the latch on the gate enquired: ‘Girish hai?’
‘Kaun hai Girish?’ asked Bill.
‘Arrey! Gate pey laganeywala Girish!’ (The kind you use on a gate) the mason said, smiling at the rusty old hinge.
The memory of the encounter makes Bill laugh: ‘Grease! That was it. All he wanted was plain old grease!’
Further afield in the plains, Deepa Wadhwa, having retired from her diplomatic assignments, had finally, come home to what she hoped would be some peace and quiet. But it was not to be. ‘Phutola’ Her gardener corrected her was what the hardy portuluca was called.
‘I have surrendered, given up and converted.’ She tells me. ‘I find myself using his vocabulary. It helps avoid stress. And have gradually forgotten the original names of the flowers blooming in our own backyard.’
Finding himself in
the valley down below, interned in Chander Nagar Jail during the Indian Freedom Movement, Jawaharlal Nehru used his skills to tame a part of the prison yard. From a variety of seed, he managed to grow sweet peas, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, candy tuft, stocks, and dianthus with some timely help from his fellow prisoners. It amused him no end by the way English names got mangled: ‘Hollyhock, for example, became Ali Haq!’
Further afield, a dear cousin of mine, Vishnu, who is into shipping, recalls: “At the time, a colleague of mine happened to be working in the Eastern Coalfields, when a worker breathlessly stumbled through the door yelling: ‘Saab! Football phatt gaya!’
‘Find a cobbler. Get it mended! Why bother me?’ Angrily he retorted.
Even as the worker stood frozen, an office aide muttered more as an aside: ‘Sir! It’s got nothing to do with a football. It’s the foot-valve on the pump that has gone bust!’
Then there’s Teri Skillman, schooled in Woodstock where her parents were teachers, and she went on to make a name for herself as an accomplished Kathak dancer.
‘Feed-aught!’ Yelled her dance teacher at the end of her performance.
‘How I wish I had known what was expected of me?’ she remembers wistfully, adding: ‘I went back to my room. I thumbed through my Hindi to English dictionary with no success. In desperation, I turned to my room mate, who shrugged it off with: ’Next time at the end of your performance, try to fade out.’
At the end of the day, it’s safer, I guess, to fade out. Don’t even think of troubling trouble…..