Monday, April 15, 2013

Lost in Translation

Some hilarious incidents thanks to language, accents and expressions!

Circa 2002: New Delhi
I was in Delhi to join my first corporate role. I had a dear friend in Delhi (Dipti) and decided to call her to check when we could meet.

I called and her mom picked up the phone. I decided to be super polite and started enquiring about the entire family.

Tina kaisi hai?” (How is Tina).
Sunny kaisa hai?” (How is Sunny).
Aap kaise ho?” (How are you?).
Dipti ke baap kaise hain?
Now I thought I was being polite and addressing Dipti’s dad in the ‘respectful’ stance, but the translation actually is “How are Dipti’s fathers”!!!!!!

Needless to say, aunty has never been able to talk to me in Hindi ever since :)

Moral of the Story: When you call a friend, hang up if he/she is not there. PC will never get you anywhere!

Circa 2004: Bombay

I was in Bombay for the first time. I needed to travel from Khar (the suburbs) to Lower Parel (Bombay, as is referred to here) alone. My friends told me to take an auto-rickshaw to Bandra and then a kaali-peeli (a black and yellow) cab to Lower Parel. They also said the names of the roads in quick succession – Senapati Bapat Marg and Tulsi Pipe road.

Now I had lived in several cities before, but in most of them the auto guy was the king of the road. I wondered why my friends had asked me to switch vehicles. Deciding finding a cab would be difficult (and if you haven’t been to Bombay, its like NY. Cabs are ALWAYS available!) 

I decided to take a rick the whole way. 

Now Bombay has some peculiar restrictions.  Autos or ricks are allowed to ply only in the suburbs, the old city or Bombay, is the taxi kingdom. Whereas taxis can ply anywhere, ricks have to stop at certain points and just return.

Anyway, without knowing that, I went to an auto driver and said “Tulsi Bai road”
Driver: “Auto nahin jaayega” (The auto will not go)
Getting angry at his ‘laziness’: “Mein double doongi, Urgent hai” (I’ll double your fare, its urgent)
Driver: “Kaha na, auto nahin jayega” (I told you already, auto will not go)

I was now fuming. I walked away in a huff asking several autos, but met with the same answer. 
Cursing the entire auto driver community in my head, I finally spotted a taxi.
Walked up to him and said “Popat road jaante ho?” (Do you know Popat road)
He looked aghast and bewildered.
I tried again.
Same look – Part bewilderment, part worry and a small smile curving his lips.
I then changed and said “Lower Parel”
He took me there.

Once I met my friends and told them the story, they laughed and laughed and laughed. Apparently it IS Tulsi Pipe road (why will you think it would be ‘pipe’ and not ‘Bai’!) and explained the auto-taxi limits. But what really kept them tickled was the ‘popat’ incident. Apparently ‘popat’ is slang for men’s privates. And of course I did not know, and my righteous indignation only made this story legen-wait for it – dary!

Moral of the Story: Get your facts straight before cursing harmless Auto drivers or taxi drivers. AND get the names of roads straight! 

Circa 2005: New Jersey

I had volunteered with ProLiteracy, a NGO that works in the Adult Literacy area, especially teaching English. One of my first students was an aged Taiwanese lady. (Must've been 65 years old at least). Her zest for learning English and becoming an American citizen was amazing though. She used to learn English the GMAT way. Meaning, pick up an alphabet every 3 days and learn as many words as she could and then use them in sentences, sometimes with disastrous/hilarious results. 

One of the activities we used to do with the students was to accompany them to a supermarket of choice and coach them to shop, entirely in English. They did not need to read the language, but did need to speak only in English to ask for help. On one of these trips with the Taiwanese lady, I was also accompanied by the Assistant Executive Director, who was paying my center a visit. 

Now Ms.C (the Taiwanese lady) was on letter O. We were in the vegetables section watching her pick up her weekly veg list. 
She walked to the organic section and loudly asked the helper there "I want some ORGASMIC greens. Where are they?" 
The helper looked shocked. 
Again, "I want orgasmic greens. Can you tell please if these are orgasmic or not?"
He did not know what to do. 
Undeterred (and insistent on showing us her progress) she walked to an elderly gentleman and asked him "I want orgasmic greens. I see you are buying greens too. Do you know if they are orgasmic?"
We were doubled up in laughter, backs turned to her (professionalism and all that!) 
Luckily for us, this gentleman gravely answered "I do believe they are orgasmic."
And she walked away with 2 bunches. 

Moral of the Story: Greens are good for health. Sometimes more than you think! 

Circa 2006: Scotland

Preamble: Have you heard a Scottish brogue? Let me assure it, it sounds like shaggy bearded Hagrid is totally drunk AND speaking to you from the bottom of a well. Mostly incomprehensible.

Anyway, I was with my nephew in the reception area of a quaint B & B in a small little village in Scotland, waiting for my husband and brother-in-law to finish loading up the car. The proprietress, a Scotswoman (of course) with ginger hair and a booming voice, came over to me. (her great-grandfather had visited India, and she wanted to know more!)

She asked me “Have you had breakfast?”

I heard: “HoukVirkdpsSkutpdet?”
I indicated I did not understand.
She repeated her question.
I still did not get it.
She asked me really slowly.
It sounded as incomprehensible as ever. I said “Pardon?”
She for the fourth time, said it syllable by syllable.
I swear, it still sounded like drunk Hagrid. 
Finally, it occurred to me that she could be saying “Have a good day”. People are super-polite in Scotland you know.
I said “Wish you the same”
She looked flabbergasted. And persisted with asking me the question.
I smiled and said “To you too, to you too!”

My young nephew looked totally disgusted at this point and said “Ma’am, I am English, my aunt is Indian. Her English has an Indian accent and she doesn’t understand you. Yes, she has had breakfast, and particularly enjoyed the scones.”

I understood what he said PERFECTLY and literally ran out in embarrassment!

Moral of the Story: 1. If you don't understand, just say "Cheers" and run out! It'll help you cope. 
2. If you have over-smart nephews, don't let them hear you! 

Can't end the post without a shoutout to Sophie Coppola's 'Lost in Translation'. For good times, Suntory times indeed! 
(And if you don't get it, DO DO watch the clipping.)


  1. hahahahhaah Oh meera Oh Meera... Love the post.

  2. hahaha such a hilarious post meera
    Missed it yesterday
    AAH These language issues r indeed hilarious

  3. Hilarious! :D
    Still laughing and imagining reaction of Dipti's mother!! :D

  4. And to think this post almost got lost in translation. So glad I finally caught up with it!

  5. Loved the post!! Had a hearty laugh!!