Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Language Tangle

The peculiarities of the English language can prove to be a challenge for the best of us. To my friend Joymon, it was even more a daunting task, having studied in a Malayalam medium school in Kerala. Conversational English especially, was something he struggled with every day.

To his credit, Joymon never gave up and refused to be discouraged when his colleagues took pot shots at his Malayalam-accented English. He was not afraid to make mistakes nor was he ashamed to ask and clear his doubts on the correct usage of the language. Within a year he became sufficiently proficient in English and could navigate the treacherous linguistic by-lanes with a fair amount of felicity.

One day, all of us get invited to the Big Boss’s house party. Big B lives in a palatial beachside bungalow in Juhu. This is an annual event normally scheduled to coincide with the visit of the members of the senior management from Germany.

That year I have to miss the party as the date clashed with an official trip to Bangalore which had been planned weeks ago. I bump into Joymon in the corridor the following Monday and casually ask him whether he enjoyed the party at Big B’s place on Saturday night.
Joymon beams.

“Fantastic party,” Joymon says. “Big B lives in this fantastic house with a huge garden. There is even a swimming pool!”

“So, good food? Great Music?”

“Wonderful,” says Joymon. “Really enjoyed myself.”

“Great!” I am about to move on when Joymon says: “And Mrs Big B...”

“What about her?”

“Such a hostile lady,” Joymon says.

“What?” I am puzzled. I cannot co-relate Joymon’s bright smile as he uttered the sentence with the kind of antipathy one normally associates with the word “hostile”.

“She was taking care of each and every guest,” Joymon explains, “making sure everyone had enough to eat and drink and going round and chatting to even the junior managers. So hostile.”

Suddenly the coin drops. “Hospitable,” I say. “Hospitable is the word you want, Joymon. Hostile means just the opposite, like, being rude and unfriendly!”

Joymon listens intently and vows never to repeat the mistake. He also reassures me that while bidding good-bye, he had not mentioned to Mrs. Big B what a “hostile” hostess she had been!
Photo Courtesy: Woman-with-a-lens Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums

1 comment:

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Reminds me of a story heard from the father about someone who wrote a laborious letter to some relative "Aai is beautiful, Baba is beautiful and I am also beautiful" ( beautiful = fine/ok).

English is a goshdarned stupid language.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.