Monday, August 13, 2012

The Lost Word!

This is one of the posts I wrote in my initial days of blogging, Thought I will publish again!

I am sure that quite a few of you might be residing in cities where you don’t know the ABC or Ae-Be-Che or rather whichever way the script goes of the local language. People in such circumstances would have a lot of stories to share.

This becomes most problematic when you travel, or go shopping, and in case of vegetarians like me when you hunt for food. During my initial few days in Kuala Lumpur, there were instances when I would walk into a restaurant and ask if there was something veggie. Malaysian food is full of fish, meat and if nothing else anchovies for the flavor. People like me asking for vegetarian were a totally rare sight for them. The lady servicing this mad customer would give a blank look.

Okay! You did not understand, is it? Fine! Here I go again! Do-you-have-anything-veggie? I would stress each word to try to make her understand. She would give me a “Where-on-earth-have-you-come-from?” look and say “Don’t-have” with a wave of her hand. “I have better customers to attend to. Good riddance” I can almost hear the words in her mind.


Now the above belong to the “I know some English” cadre. The experience is best when you have someone for whom English sounds the way a tribal language in the deep jungles of Africa would sound to you and me. One such fellow was sent to do some general repairs in my home by the landlord.

I was alone at home with my three month old son. This guy rings the bell and comes inside and says Hi.

“Obang?” he says.

Now it was my turn to give a blank look.

“I am sorry I don’t know Malay”

“Obang! Obang!”

Well, repeating it twice will not make me a Nobel Laureate in Malay Literature.

“Ladder?” I ask trying to help.


“Obang! Obang!” and he starts walking around the house and exploring

“Bathroom? Yes the heater is not working” I say slowly and firmly trying to make the best imitation of the lady who used to come on Doordarshan at 1:15 on Sundays. News for the hearing impaired.


“Obang” and he shows me his hands with three fingers open and the thumb and index finger closed.


“Yes there are three fixes to be done”
“O-baaa-nnn-ggg” now putting so much stress on each syllable is not going to drill any amount of Malay vocabulary into my head.
He puts his hands on his hips and looks to the left and then to the right.


I stand like a school student whose teacher has just asked her “now what is fourteen times twenty-three”. Not those prodigies who have the answers stored somewhere or the other in their brain.

There is a minute of awkward silence.

Now he looks at me with a “Lets try it again” expression and says “Obang” moving his hands backwards and forwards showing three again and again.


Is he telling me that the interiors are superb? I wonder. Naaaah.Why would he repeat it so many times?

“Obang Obang” and he peruses the walls.


Luckily my neighbor is at home and I rush to seek their help.

“There is a guy out there speaking only Malay and I can’t make heads or tails out of it.”

My neighbor’s son, a fifteen year old gives me a 'Not Again' look and comes with me.

“Obang!” our man in question repeats with a relieved tone.

“Obang means hole. Is there a hole on the wall to be sealed?” the boy asks me.

Oh dear! All this while he was showing a hole with his thumb and finger and I was looking at the three shown by the other fingers.

Now that was a fix that was not there in our initial list and I had not remembered it. Even if I did remember, it would not have made any difference. I would have still been the non-Malay-speaking-idiot-who-has-landed-from-God-knows-Where.

With the help of my fifteen year old translator I managed to get things done.

85 comments:

  1. :D :D literally fell off laughing! It was kind of a flashback of my initial days in Chennai u know! :D

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    1. Oh yeah tamizh can also wreak havoc if u don't know the Lang :) thanks . That was a super fast comment :)

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  2. Hilarious! And in the process there is one Malay word that I know now :) Provided you got it right :)

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    1. Guess I did not Suresh ! :( See the comment from anonymous below . It's lubang I believe .So I also came to know of the rt word today . :)

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  3. ROFL.....superbly narrated.... !!

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  4. hehe It was hilarious! Obang obang :). I faced the same problem of finding veggie food in my stay in US. People would ask if chicken or fish was okay? :). Some Chinese and Latinos speak the funniest English there. My apartment manager, a Latino lady, once told me, "Don't worry! I will penis the job." You can imagine how loudly I guffawed when I left her room :).

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    1. Ha ha lol Rachna . I have been in the Us for around a year and yes, some funny experiences there as well

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  5. OMG Jaish, you poor thing. That was such a hilarious post! How I wish there was one global language across the world, one that you would be born knowing and the others, regional ones, could be taught later.

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    1. What a thought Deepa . Would have been interesting if it had been so . Pre-wired Lang eh ? :)

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  6. hahahaha...... ROFL. I could literally see the guy -- pronouncing each syllable slowly. Good one.

    Cheers. :)

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  7. I think lubang ...the guy did not said it correctly.

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    1. Thanks for the correction Anonymous . I checked the translator on google . It is lubang ! :)

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  8. OBANG!! Lolz:):D
    A real great one Jaish!
    Thank you for starting my day with a hearty laugh:):D

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    1. Ha ha thanks Amitji . May everyday of yours start with a hearty laugh :)

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  9. hahaha Lol ,ROFL :D :D hilarious ,you know what i was reading your post sitting in my office and literally laughing like an idiot and my colleagues were giving me a "you seriously need a psychiatrist" look :P :D :D great one

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    1. Ha ha lol ! Vinisha and I was grinning wide sitting in office and reading that

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  10. LOL so hilarious :) You should become a stand up comedian writer I suppose. You'll be good at it

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  11. It made me laugh :D Lol :D funny one!

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  12. Ha!Ha! :) :) :) I remember the first few days in south India where I had no idea what in the world was my house-help trying to say!!

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    1. Ha ha..Yes Divya, usually in shops etc one can manage with English...With house-helps there is no choice :)

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  13. very funny :D.... and a remarkable narration.

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  14. LOL...That was quite an encounter...!
    Kudos to the little fellow who came to your rescue...hahaha
    Very interesting blog!

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    1. Thank you Panchali. :) If not for that fellow God knows what I would have done!

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  15. Ahh the trauma we vegetarians have to go through! :P haha! :D
    Loved the post Jaish. Its funny how if we are in an alien land and if we don't understand their language, all the situations look automatically funny. :D

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    1. Exactly. We are lucky to know English and so can be at peace in quite a few countries...but then there r places where we wont know a word and its chaos!

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  16. I had a good laugh.

    I am an thorough non-veg. When I had gone to Malaysia, the place where I found veg, that too South Indian thali was in Batu caves. In KL, there was some Bombay restaurant or something. It was a bit expensive, but tasty. The cab guy knew it.

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    1. There are quite a few Indian restaurants in KL....You even have Saravana Bhavan, a famous veg food chain in Chennai....And these days every place on earth seems to have a Indian Restaurant serving Tandoori and Dhal,Chawal and Rotis seem to be easy to get. :)
      Thanks for stepping in.

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  17. Lol.....obang obang....dabang....luckily today the network is down at work and could catch up on all the blogs....enjoyed it.atleast you are talking about a native language. Y day, I went to the cafeteria and ordered a veggie bowl...I asked the guy to add some more lettuce. He didnt understand it. My co-worker tried to help me, but no use. I sounded lettuce, in like seduce. Seeing my struggle and her struggle, I pulled a strip of lettuce from the bottom of the food and said, I wanted more of this. What do you call this? She said lettuce, like in let us....:( ppoohhh...now that I am a vegetarian, going through the same struggle....:(

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  18. The English gave simple names to animals like dog,cat, lion etc. Dunno why they gave such complex names to veggies rt? ha ha... They should have gone for simple mono-syllables. That way no confusion :)

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  19. Ha ha :D :D ... Hilarious! Well narrated Jaish :)

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  20. Lol. It reminded me of my days in china when i got into similar fixes

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    1. Wow! you have been in China? Can imagine, have heard that English is almost Nil there...KL was not so bad!

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  21. ha ha :) independence day could not have been funnier :D

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    1. Thanks Jas. :) Glad that your independance day was spent laughing :)

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  22. If I had stories to narrate for eating outside while travel abroad they would be pretty similar to yours Jaishree as I too am a vegetarian:)Amusing !

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    1. Do share them with us Rahul :D

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    2. Sure Jaishree, will not disappoint you:)

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  23. ROFL This was hilarious. You had me chuckling like a mad-cap. I, luckily, haven't encountered any such problems till date but as it seems, it must be fun at times, no? :D

    I have awarded your blog with One Lovely Blog Award. The last time I visited your blog, I knew you deserved it. :)

    You can visit the link here: http://twitamic.blogspot.in/2012/08/one-lovely-blog-award.html

    Congrats! Oh, and happy independence day! :)

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    1. Thank you so much Vaishali and I saw that you have won 2nd RUnner up in the Writeup Cafe contest. Congrats :)

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  24. Language barriers can be hilarious if they were not so frustrating :) What I noted about this write-up is the fact that you noticed the outstretched fingers and ignored the closed ones, much like we do in life -- often missing some important detail while looking at something else.

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    1. So very true Zephyr. We do miss the obvious in our searches for something else.

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  25. :) hmmm I hope bechare ko you asked for a cup of TEA :) he he he after all this workup, just to fill a hole...

    Bikram's

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    1. Now that would have required a Malay translation of 'Would you like to have some tea?' ha ha...I think I did though!

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  26. Nice post-It must be real difficult to communicate in a new land without knowing the language.

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    1. Thats right Indu. :) Its difficult but fun.

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    1. Thanks Harshita and the right word is Lubang as an anonymous person pointed out in his comments to this post!

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  28. LOL... Hilarious!! At one point even I thought he must be appreciating your interiors :)

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    1. ha ha....Thanks for the comment Ashwini....I was confident that it was not the case ha ha...The interiors were not all that great then ha ha

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  29. That was a humorous one. But I thought Malaysia is not such a difficult country Tamil being one of the national languages.

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    1. Hi TF

      Tamil is not actually the national language there. Its Bahasa Malaysia(Malay).

      Around 8 to 10% of the population is Tamil speaking 3rd Generation Indians(people whose granddads or great granddads had migrated a century ago).

      And due to them atleast in the cities there is a fair presence of Tamil.

      But the official lang is Malay. KL was not very difficult except for one or two instances like this as there was fair amount of English and Tamil around. But thats not the case all over the country.

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  30. So you had a poor malay chap obanging his head in desperation!

    Funny tale!

    A colleague went to Mumbai and told the taxi-driver in his pidgin Hindi - Ulta chalo!. The driver was perplexed, wondering how a taxi can be driven upside-down. All my pal wanted to do was to go in the opposite direction. :)

    Language deficiency can land us in a muddle.

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    1. 'ulta chalo?' lol! Ha ha and obanging was brilliant :) thanks for the comments jayadev :)

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  31. jaish,
    while he went out he would have thought you for "sariyaana dubakoor".
    nice. keep writing.

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  32. Hahaha! This one was so damn funny.
    And Jaish, u do a great job with humor too. Wow!

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    1. Thank you so much Divya. Thanks for the continuous support and it feels great reading such comments. Thanks gal! :)

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  33. I remembered my first day in Bangalore. The maid literally did a ballet to make me understand 'parke'(broom!).
    Good one Jaish!

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    1. Thank you :) All of us who have moved outside home will have some memory or the other. :)

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  34. LOLOLOL....one heck of a hilarious post..languages and dilemmas :D

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  35. Obang=whole...lol
    Thanks for teaching me Malay :)

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    1. Oh No Ghazala, the correct word is lubang I believe as was pointed out by one of the readers of this post...I was not aware till now... :)

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  36. hahaha!! the best line was "...... making me a Nobel literaute in Malay" .... some really ROFL worthy writing there!

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  37. Hmm!! Having jusy glanced at the title...i was looking forward to when the dino's will come and the story start (lost word/world)..anyway the malay man did a fine substitute job...in our land even beggars can speak some pidgin english or atleast understand- but some cultures are too insular and refuse to learn anything except their national language..for refusing to change- they will be what they are..while we will become a superpower...did i get your moral of the story correctly jaishree?

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    1. Oops I did not think of any moral while penning this down Ganesh . :) in our country English is a part of life and so we know it . How many languages do we go out of the way to learn ? How many other state languages do all of us know ? :)

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  38. LOL Jayshree!

    OBANG! Hilarious story!

    Everything else has already been said by others ;)

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  39. Hahahaha!!! OH my poor thing :) What fun we are having at your expense!

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