Communication is the process of exchanging information by speaking, writing or any other medium. The participants reach a mutual understanding at the end of communication. Doesn’t that sound simple? You can use signs, shout, speak, dance, sway your hands, write, some way or the other we need to make the other person understand what we are trying to say. How many times we would have just gestured while talking on mobile or when we are with mouthful of food and the other person would understand! We need not really know the language to communicate. The language might ease out in reaching the information fast but it need not be a necessary medium. It all sounded so simple to me until I was put on to test my skills on communication. Or should I say, it all sounded so simple until I met him! Him! Who haunts me even now when I think of it.
It was a pleasant morning yet the Air India flight was grumpy and landed in Colombo. Though the weather reports were bad in Sri Lanka, Colombo seemed to be sunny with bright sky. I and my friend had the tour planned out with a travel agent and the driver had to pick us up from the airport. As we walked out of the airport, there was a row of drivers holding placards, ready to welcome their guests. We were scanning through the placards carefully and there! My name scribbled on with wrong spelling. It is a common name and chances are that there is another person with same name coming to Sri Lanka and her name might spell so. I looked up to ask if he was the right guy and that was not what I was expecting. There was this dark guy, with dirty shirt, curly oiled hair, his red eyes popping out, reminding me of all the antiheroes in the world. Now if you think I am racist, don’t blame me. The movies have so far picturised antiheroes like that and that was how he looked. “Guud monring madame. Me next five days!” He is next five days? He said this took over my trolley and started walking ahead, while I and my friend were looking at each other! “Is he gonna kidnap us or something?” my friend gave a grave look at me while I carefully hid mine. “Was he drunk? Or was he tired of driving that he is looking like this? Either way we might crash land somewhere.” She continued while I hushed here. He moved a little ahead, stopped the trolley and turned back to us, “you stop, I bring car.” He gestured us to stand there and did an action of driving the car. May be he thinks we do not understand English and he is trying to speak bits and pieces for us to understand. We got into the minivan that he had come in, with our own doubts.Also read: SriLanka Travel Guide “Where are we going now?” I wanted to strike a conversation with him and be pleasant as we had to spend the next five days with him and I had loads of questions about Sri Lanka to ask. I had a copy of itinerary with me yet he handed over one. We were heading to Pinnawala, an elephant orphanage. “How far is Pinnawala?” “Pinnawala far far” ok is that too far? “how much time does it take?” “Time? Time is 10” “Oh no, not now. How long is Pinnawala from Colombo?” “Sorrrryyy.” “Distance?” “2hrs” “Ok. Do you speak tamil, hindi, anything else?” I wanted to speak more rather than just words. “My english not guud?” Err.. What do I answer for that? “No no not like that. If you know some native language or common language it is easy to speak na” My friend jumped in. “Native? Colombo.” We both stared at each other wondering how our trip is going to be.. “What speak?” Now I knew that words did some magic than sentences. “Sorrryyy” “Talk? What talk?” I was doing some actions like words coming out of mouth, like trying to sing. “Sinhaleseeeee” There was this draging high pitch shrill to all his words. “But we dont know sinhalese.” “ok” Me and my friend by now had started cursing the agent. We did not even mind talking in english as we were by now sure that he did not understand the language. “I work Dubai. You know Arab?” Really? He managed to go to Dubai with this language? “No Arab. Only English.” I did not want to probe on what he was doing in dubai because that in action might turn ridiculous. How do I show, “What work were you doing in Dubai?” Work is so generic. “You come where?” “India” “India our neighbour. We welcome our neighbours. We want smooth relation with our neighbours. We need India’s help to grow.” Our eyes went rolling with this sentence. For one, it was the lengthiest he has spoken till now. Two, he spoke very warm about us. Three, is he pretending that he does not know English and then overhearing our conversation? I tried probing about the political situations but then he again went back to his “sorrryyyy” mode which made my eyes drooping again. But I had so much to talk, to ask. I wanted to ask about the place, the people, the cuisine and this guy was torturing me with sorrryyyyy.. The ‘sor’ starts with low pitch, then “rrrr” drags for a while and “ryyyy” ends in a high shrill. Now I am stressing this so much because it still torments in my sleep. But do you think I can keep quiet? “Was it raining heavily in Sri lanka?” “Rain?” “Yes rain, heavy rain?” “2 days, rain rain rain rain” he was showing actions as though the cloud was coming down… “Today little little rain. no rain” ok that was understandable. “Are the roads safe? Landslide?” Now I was so sure that he wouldn’t understand that. But I also did not want enact a land slide then he will turn his attention from driving to see my drama and God knows what next will slide. “Yes yes yes” “Yes?” “Yes. little little rain.. yes” I shut my mouth and stared outside the window. But how long can I keep my mouth shut when my tummy was grumbling for food! So I asked him to stop for lunch and there came back his sorrrryyyyy.. “Food?” I gestured eating and he stopped at one joint. The Sri Lankan meal was yum with rice, dal, chicken gravy, servings of veggies and salad. “No curd?” Now here came the biggest battle of figuring out curd. That guy blinked at us. “Food” he gestured us to eat. I turned to the guy across the counter and asked for curd and he in turn asked this fellow. Pathetic! Now was I so bad in my communication that I cannot get curd? Both of them blinked at me. On the way I had seen hoardings for yogurt and decided to ask them so. “Yogurt?” They both were looking at my mouth trying to understand what I mean. May be they dont pronounce it that way.. “Yaguurt?” The driver’s eyes went wide with a twinkle! “Yes Yes guudd.. very guuud food madame” Yikees.. Then I did some action of milking cow, churning buttermilk, eating from a cup! Then my eyes caught sweet lassi on the menu and got excited. “Lassi. Lassi with rice.” I so very badly wanted to finish with curd rice. “Noo madam.. sweet lassi?” “Plain lassi?” “Sweet lassi?” “No sweet, just lassi?” “Only sweet no just!” Now my hunger was also gone. Finally once we were done with the lunch came the dessert. Buffalo curd with kitul honey!!! Curd!! Dear lord curd! It is called ‘kiri’ it seems, not curd or yogurt or lassi. hmmm The saga of trying to strike a decent conversation did not stop there. “You work?” he asked. “Yes.” now if I tell him anything more, I have to enact the role of software engineer. Which if I enact might look like sitting simply or operating a type writer. It was all beyond my energy levels so I chucked it. “I work Dubai!” Now if you are a Tamilian, you can corelate it to, “Hellooo Dubaiiaaa” comedy scene by Vadivelu. From the time we had landed this was the tenth time he was specifying it. “Why did you come back?” “Company?” “No return, back?” “Back?’ “Why leave Dubai” “Yes yes Dubai.” “Why came Sri Lanka?” Now my hand was showing flight landing to Sri lanka. “Yes yes yes.” Forget it yaar. I surrender! I don’t know English. I don’t know communication. I don’t know Arab. I don’t know to act. I don’t know anything ok! Anything! Now why did I write a blog about this agony? Soorrrrryyyyy..