Wednesday 19 August 2009

The Language Barrier


I am back from my recent-most visit to Calcutta (err...sorry it is Kolkata now). To my surprise it was my 5th visit there, 4th in eight years and 2nd in one year. Probably even after marrying a Bengali I hadn't imagined I would visit Cal' as much as this...things we don't think will happen - happen the most to us! But - since my in-laws are now in Cal', both me and my wife try to go and visit them as and when possible.

It isn't a challenge for me to meet my in-laws, having known them for most of my life - first as friends of my parents, then as parents of my friend - to my would-be in-laws and finally as my in-laws! The challenge is my inability to understand and keen disinterest in trying to learn the(e) language. It is as good as going on an overseas trip, where you land yourself on foreign soil and everyone but you understand the language spoken on that land.

I at times find myself in the middle of a conversation where I am the only one who has no clue of what is being talked about - and at times people around me don't bother to explain everything either. There are occasions when all four of us are in the car (me + my wife + MIL + FIL) and there is a conversation that starts, continues for sometime and ends with a laughter - and in all this I understand a few random words here and there. My wife tries to explain / translate such chit-chats most of the times...but I think I have, by now, become used to this and not worry about it.

There is pressure on me to learn the(e) language, not just from family - but from a restaurant that I really like to visit here in Delhi, Oh Calcutta! I love the food there, visit there often, know some faces there and am greeted warmly everytime I go there. On my last visit, I was firmly told by my friendly waiter that next time, if I do not place the order in bengali - he's not accepting my order...well, some incentive to learn and understand.

So far I don't see myself learning the(e) language - as I have this innate ability to not learn languages that I was not made to speak as a child - I think I will just have to learn to live without crossing over the language-barrier...

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