‘Chor’ in the language of the Malayalees means rice. But would Hindi-speakers understand? I can’t just storm into the mess yelling for ‘Chor’. People would misunderstand. That’s the story when the Southies come to live in the Northern part of our subcontinent.
Malayalam and Hindi languages share common words – some thankfully meaning the same thing to both a Keralite and a Hindi-speaker, some others, very annoyingly, mean different things.
Here’s how the above fact found me in a very embarrassed and helpless position the last day.
Our batch of 10 students was posted in the Department of General Medicine. We got a routine case of stomatitis – mouth ulcers to the layman. Simple case or not, our Professors aren’t satisfied unless we take the entire detailed history of the patient under all headings, asking all meaningless questions to the irritated patients! So there we were, telling the man that he was about to be bombarded with questions and requesting him to kindly bear with us. With a suspicious look at us and 5 seconds of hesitation (he had already judged our credibility); he nodded reluctantly, giving us what we call his “informed consent”. Like a bunch of rats let loose, we poked and prodded into every aspect of his life, estimating not only his health status but also his patience.
Having learnt Hindi during my school days, I’m almost comfortable with the language, but sometimes the dialects are beyond my comprehension. I had to hunt for words from the “HINDI” rack in my brain and put them into sentences to talk to this patient, since he didn’t seem to understand any English at all. It was over 20 minutes since he was seated there with us; he was getting extremely restless.
“Aap log thoda jaldi karoge..mujhe waapis jaakar aur bhi kaam he..”
We jumped into examination too.
In a jiffy, I asked him to open his mouth. He did. Then I said,
“Bhaiyya, naak baahar kariye”.
I heard snorts from behind, a change in the way the patient was looking at me, and in the three seconds that I took to realise my blunder, the patient had gotten up and stormed out of the room, muttering something, hopefully holy.
All my friends standing near me burst into laughter.
Now who would explain to that man that I had, in a hurry of a second, just used the Malayalam word for tongue, “naak”? To him, naak only meant nose, and nothing else!! Oh Lord of Languages, save me.
Anyways, the damage was done, and the embarrassment was there with me to stay!