Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The man kept yacking incessantly his words pouring out in cascades, scattering a fine spray of spit. Stiffling a yawn, I kept up the facade of attentiveness, nodding at appropriate moments. I didn't dare upgrade his soliloquy to a colloquy, for, most of his lingo (besides the saliva) went way above my head.

Not that he spoke in Swahili; he used my own mother tongue - Konkani. But his was the Kochi hybrid born of liberal cross-pollination from Malayalam and with a lively lilt that nearly forced me into drumming my fingers on the bench in 'Vilambit Ek Taal'.

I had stumbled upon this Kochikaran, a man I didn't know from Adam, during a train journey. Like a predator on the scent of its prey, he had zeroed in on me, a fellow Konkanite, through the passanger manifest and pinned me down with a half nelson. My struggle to wriggle out of his vice-like grip served only to strengthen his resolve to cling on to me like leech and he babbled on in his brand of Konkani that sounded Greek to my ears.

At long last, a snippet of his mumbo-jumbo sank into my skull - he was asking me how many Aanu I had. And, with that he had released the half nelson only to land an upper-cut in my solar plexus and I gasped. For, Aanu in Konkani meant father. I scowled at him in righteous indignation and, going by his startled response, it muast have shown on my face. Pulling myself together post-haste, I said with a heavy dose of sarcasm, "Only one and he is no more." Clicking his tongue in sympathy, he triumphantly declared that he had five Aanu and all were alive! I was about to ask, tongue-in-cheek, if he was, by any chance, a descendant of Draupadi when the impending fracas was averted by the timely entry of a friend who dragged me to the dining car.

And it was my friend, a Konkani linguist of sorts, who cleared the air by explaining to me that in Kochi Konkani, Aanu meant brother. Suddenly every thing fell into place and I felt sheepish.

Back at our train car, I offered the Kochikaran my sincere apologies asking him if, through my shoddy behaviour, I had hurt his sensibilities. He gaped at me, as though apalled. A blob of froth welled up at his mouth as he let out what sounded like an amalgam of five grunts. Then he stomped out of the compartment in a huff.

Perplexed at this weird turn of events, I looked towards my friend for enlightenment. He, scarcely suppressing his laughter, said: "You have just asked him in Kochi Konkani if his mother was married."

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