How Sudhaji Murdered English

I met Sudha for the first time thirty-three years ago when we moved to a city in the south of Rajasthan. She was our immediate neighbor. On our first meeting, I found she was friendly and a good neighbor; she sent over trays of cold water and snacks on our arrival (it was summer and boiling) and she even offered food which we declined. We were tired from the journey and dusty too as we unloaded the luggage and shifted and pulled furniture, wooden crates, cardboard boxes, and suitcases into their right places.

Her thoughtfulness impressed us; she was so helpful. This wasn’t the usual behavior a newcomer expected. That was our first impression. They say the first impression is the last impression, but my impression of her would change a couple of times before the ‘last’ confirmed the first! She was indeed very helpful when it came to the crunch. But that’s another story which I’ll save up for later.

Sudha was much older than us and according to the prevalent custom, we as younger people would have to address her with respect. That meant, we either called her ‘didi’ (sister) or ‘aunty’ or suffixed a ‘ji’ to her name. Since the kids called her “aunty” she decided how we should address her; so “Sudhaji” it was from then on.

As time went by, I discovered that Sudhaji was a gregarious person and an incorrigible gossip too. So we had to be wary when we chatted with her. She had a knack of getting people to talk, and this is how she knew everything about everyone. 

This vast ‘knowledge,’ coupled with her cheerful nature, opened many doors for her. But, she had loose lips; nobody’s secrets stayed safe with her! Besides, after I got to know people, I also realized that she altered her accounts, tempering them with her own feelings and interpretations. Most of her stories weren’t exactly what the person had said or the way they had said it.

However, she had a funny side to her as well. She loved to show off her knowledge of English. In India those days, not many women her age, in Rajasthan especially, had studied in English medium schools so had little or no knowledge of English. Sudhaji was one among these. Now, why would the lack of an English medium education matter so much, you may ask. Well, it was a prestige issue in those days. It brought in social class distinctions. Sudhaji hadn’t studied English, but she wanted to speak the language because it would add to her prestige.

So, she picked up a smattering of the language from listening to people speak or listening to the news in English and reading English newspapers. She picked up words and phrases and peppered her conversation with them. I found this commendable, except for the prestige part. I don’t support that reason for learning.

While I agree that learning English helps in furthering one’s career options, I don’t believe knowing English gets you on a higher rung on the social ladder in any way; just as not knowing it doesn’t lower your prestige! Anyway, I found it a source of much good-humored fun whenever she spoke in English or inserted phrases in her ‘Hinglish’ conversations.

I don’t recall everything she said and wouldn’t want to share many of her blunders but a few that I can, I will share here. I used to tease her about these, and we’d laugh heartily. Yes, I’m going to share some funnies and no, I’m not shaming her in any way, I’m just remembering her and her great sense of humor. Trust me, we laughed at these together as I corrected her.

Fulfilled water tanks & Footballs

There was the day when water was pouring down the drainpipe profusely and it wasn’t even raining. She explained it this way:

“Overhead tank fulfil ho gaya and the football is spoil. Is liye paani outflow ho raha hai.” (What she wanted to say: The overhead water tank is full and the float valve is spoilt so the water is overflowing.)

Sisterly Reflections!

She saw some pics of my elder sister and exclaimed:

“So much reflections in the face.” 

“What reflections do you see and on whose face?” I asked.

I didn’t get it. The pic was clear and in fact, it was clicked by a professional photographer. She promptly replied looking surprised that I didn’t know about it. 

“Tumhe nahin pata? So much reflections in the face. Pata chalta hai you are sisters.” (What she said: Don’t you know it? So much reflections in the face. Anyone would know you are sisters.) 

I got it! Finally. She was talking about resemblance!

The Criminal

The funniest one was when she had to go somewhere and would miss the milkman and asked me to take the milk from him.

Doodhwala se hamare liye please doodh le lena. Mujhe criminal mein jaana hai.” (What she said: Please take milk for us too from the milkman. I have to go to a criminal.)

I was lost; she had to meet a criminal?! No, something was wrong. 

“Are you going to the court, Sudhaji?

“No. Court aaj bandh hai, it’s a holiday.” (The court is closed today. It’s a holiday.)

“Don’t tell me you’re going to a criminal in the jail!” I exclaimed. 

“Nahin, jail mein nahin. Yeh criminal is in….” ( No, not in the jail. This criminal is in…)

She named a place.

Now my interest was piqued, I couldn’t let go.

“Who is this person? And why are you meeting him?

“Arre, woh humare door ke rishtedar hain. Hum milne nahin ja rahe hain (and she laughs) respect dene ja rahe hain; criminal hai!” (What she said: Oh, he’s a distant relation. And we aren’t going to meet him (she laughs) we’re going to pay our respect; it’s a criminal!)

She ended with a tone that said… that’s what one does, don’t you know that!

“Okay! But I don’t understand. Why would you want to “respect” a criminal?”

She burst into laughter again. And I was wondering what was so funny in my questions. 

“Kya ho gaya, lagta hai tumhe samajh nahin aaya. Kisi ke death par criminal mein respect dena hota hai na. Tumhare community mein bhi aisa karte hain.” (What she said: What’s wrong with you? Looks like you don’t understand! When someone dies, you go to pay your respect at their criminal. You do the same in your community too.)

I burst out laughing. Now it was her turn to look at me as if I had gone crazy. In between bursts of laughter, when I caught my breath, I told her the difference between a criminal and a funeral. She joined me and we had a hearty laugh.

The Who & the Crew

When they were trying to get their son into college: 

“Percentage best nahin hai. So, by who and by crew, hamein admission karwana hai.” (What she said: His percentage isn’t good enough. So, we’ll have to get him admitted by who or by crew.)

I told her it was ‘by hook or by crook’. It took some time explaining the hook and the crook to her.

Proudy woman & Impotent man

About a member of her kitty party group: “She’s very proudy. Uske husband ka promotion hua hai, ab woh bahut impotent man hai aur she is hawa mein flying.” (What she said: She is very proudy woman. And now that her husband has got a promotion and become an impotent man, she is flying high in the air.)

She didn’t know what the joke was about until I told her what impotent meant. But she didn’t think ‘proud’ was the word… so “proudy” remained in her lexicon.

Cooking Sexfully

I all but rolled on the floor the day she tried a new recipe and announced how her new dish came out: “Mera project sexfully ho gaya. Everybody happy.” What she said: My project was sexfully completed. Everybody was happy.) I had to teach her how to pronounce ‘successfully.’

Time & Age

When she got confused with telling the time and telling the age:

Pointing to a picture of her son who was two and a half at the time the photograph was clicked she said: 

Half past two tha jab picture khinchi thi.”  (What she said: (It was a half past two when this picture was clicked. 

I wondered why she was referring to the time and asked her how she could recall the time of day so long back and why was the time so important.

“Time toh nahin pata. I don’t remember. Par tum kyun pooch rahi ho?” What she said: I don’t know what time it was… But why are you asking?)

I pointed out that she had mentioned it was half-past two when the picture was clicked. Now it was her turn to laugh. 

“Maine time thodi na bataya. Maine age bataya. Time kisko yaad hai!” (What she said: I didn’t mention the time. I was telling you about his age in this picture. Who remembers what time it was clicked!)

She got to know the difference in telling the time and someone’s age.

No one could say it the way Sudhaji could. She was so entertaining. She had become friendly over the years and realized that I didn’t share personal matters that didn’t concern her, so rarely probed for information. I welcomed her company.

My efforts to stop her from murdering English met with uproarious laughter. She didn’t care a hoot about her mistakes; it was enough that she was using English words and phrases to season her conversation.

According to her, most of the women in her circle were not even at her level of “proficientcy” so it didn’t make any difference and the dubious prestige of knewing” English remained intact.

I told her that I would quote her funnies and she laughed and said I could do so as long as it wasn’t to people who knew her; that would tarnish her “im-age” (pronounced as two separate words!). So she continued murdering English with impunity! Here, though it’s an open page, she’s safe. You don’t know her and she doesn’t know you! But my spell check and editor know and my post is underlined in red!

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