Thursday, July 3, 2008

Story Time

Monu and I are reading “The Magician’s Nephew.” We were doing grammar, but he can spot the difference between the simple present and the continuous present, with one brown eye closed (more than can be said for the majority of native English speakers, I fear) – so I thought he was ready for literature. If you’re wanting a parallel text in Hindi, it’s either Narnia or Harry Potter, down at Crossword. I choose Digory and Polly, with the promise of wardrobes to come. I wonder what Monu will make of it, but he wipes out my misgivings immediately, “Very nice, nice story.” Bring on Mr Tumnus.
We run across the phrase, “as quiet as a mouse,” and I stop. (Did CS coin this phrase, or does Oxford claim professorial immunity, to the blood-on-parchment law about avoiding clichés? Just wondering...) “Do you know what a mouse is?” I ask. Monu doesn’t so much as lift his eyes from the text. “Small rat.” A few pages further, we come upon “guinea-pig.” Not a simile, this time, a real one, as used by wicked Uncle Andrew in his magic experiments. I explain about pets, and cages, and flick up a gallery of guinea-pigs, on Google Images. Monu takes one look. “Is rat.” No, I explain, flicking again, “THIS is a rat.” But he won’t be said, our Indian boy. “All rat.”
Back at Matheran, horse-leader, Krishna, kindly points out local fauna, as we clip-clop by. “See, Madame,” he says, “Indian squirrel.” It takes me a moment, to unpick his words and understand them, because he says “squirrel” without any vowels. You try it. In any case, when I locate the sqrrl, spiralling up a tree, it turns out to be a chipmunk. Or possibly a chpmnk, I don’t know, I can’t see properly without my glasses. I know, they’re related. But related isn’t the same as, is it? Do they call lions and leopards and fluffy tabbies all cats, then? You don’t get whole raw wildebeest, in the Kit-e-Kat aisle, at Sainsbury’s, do you? As Bhavika-didi says daily, “Opposite of different is?.... Same. Opposite of same is?.... Different.” Couldn’t have put it better, myself.
Meanwhile, my Hindi vocabulary’s growing somewhat slower than moss. My acquisitions are slightly random, but still precious. I can say ladder – siddi – because we pass a B&Q-type small-small shop, every day, and love – pyaar – because there’s a new film out, "Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic"Some Love, Some Magic, and washrooms – sulabh. Other than these wayfaring gleanings, I’m still stuck at the fruit and vegetable stall. It comes in handy all the time, though. The assistant in Life Style’s helping me compile a name plaque, on a wooden rack. He offers me a small picture tile, to fill in the end gap. “You want this, madame? Is Indian religious symbol.” It looks like a pot-plant, to me, but I humour him. “This, leaf, this, coconut,” he explains. So it is. “Like at weddings?” I say. “Coconut - nariyal!” I’m showing off, now. “Madame, you speak Hindi!” He puts his hand on my arm, delighted. I’ve got myself up a gum tree, here, no mistake. I’ve already used up half my Hindi facility, and he’s wanting to chat. I confess to ignorance, and drift off, blushing, to pay, while he glues my plaque together. He gives me an extra layer of bubble-wrap, for at least trying. Sukriya, I say, unable to quit while I’m winning. Thanks.
At the jewellery counter, next door, in Spencer’s, I learn another new word, firozi. It means sky-blue, and I can’t think how it’s evaded me all this time, given my preferred slice of the rainbow. “This black, this red, this firozi,” says the bangle-wallah. I slip the blue one on. “Look! This bracelet very nice!” he says, pointing. “Look! This salesman very good!” I reply, pointing back. I buy all three, anyway, just to prove myself right. One girl wraps them, while four more assistants parade the rest of the stock before my eyes, tempting me with what they call the “buy-one-get-one” offer. Head of Sales writes down “firozi” for me. “Kali, lali,” I say, pointing to the black and red bracelets. I only know this because that’s what Monu’s Dad calls his two calves – I’ll let you work out why. (As a person who called her black cat “Blackie” I have no criticism to offer, at this point...)The salesman looks at me, and writes “kaala” and “lal,” but he’s just being pedantic, in my opinion.
Monu’s boss goes to see “Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic” and says it’s rubbish – no romance, no action, “Three hours, all bored bored.” I see a poster for it, in English, which translates “pyaar” as “life” not “love,” so I question the oracle. “Life, love, same,” he shrugs. Back to same and different, then. Shikha, Monu’s unseen bride-to-be, is a lucky girl, if he thinks life and love are the same thing. The prospect of marriage no longer daunts him, now he’s breathed in and out a few more times. “How’s the happiness quotient?” I ask. “One hundred and one percent!” he smiles.
At the where’s-my-hankie? sad end of for better, for worse,“U Me aur Hum” - out on dvd at last. It’s months since I bought the soundtrack – they launch film music before films are released in cinemas, here - so I warble along happily to all the songs. What’s more, with benefit of subtitles, I can now find out for the first time, what I’ve been crooning, all these weeks. Poor Piya’s diagnosed with Altzeimer’s not long after the first anniversary of her marriage to Ajay. When she nearly kills the baby, by forgetting she’s put him in the bath, Ajay has to have her committed to a care home. Several song and dance routines later, he’s smote by conscience, and brings her home again, where she belongs. It doesn’t say, but I presume he baths the baby, from now on. Fast-forward twenty-five years, and they’re celebrating their silver wedding, on a cruise, with resuscitated son bringing in the cake, at the end. “All people, all-time weep,” says Monu. There are wet eyes, in our house too - pass the Kleenex - and Mr Roland’s so traumatised, he falls asleep. In all fairness, he’s had a hard day.