Mind your language !


By T S Sudhir

“God ! I already feel in Mallu land. Flight full of veshti men talking Mohanlal Malayalam !!!” This status message on facebook by Chennai-based Gina Joseph caught my attention. I was reminded of the Kochi-Hyderabad flight that I took last month when a similar flight of Malayalees (speaking whichever actor’s Malayalam you may please), posed quite an issue for the Spicejet flight airhostesses.

A couple of rows behind me was a lady with an infant and her mother (or perhaps mother-in-law). “In case  the oxygen level drops in the cabin, please put your mask first and then on the child. Understood?” said the airhostess to the lady.

“Malayalam, Malayalam,” the ladies said in unison.

“On this flight, we know only English, Hindi, Tamil,” the airhostess replied, perhaps wondering what they say for oxygen in Malayalam. (Kalanidhi Maran, please note)

The other hostess who knew Tamil came running at the push of a button. “Ungalukku Tamizh teriyuma,” she enquired with a rehearsed smile, as the first hostess looked on with hope that “Teriyuma something something” would work wonders. The two ladies looked at each other and giggled, embarrassed by the attention focussed on them inside the aircraft.

Finally someone in the fifth row was able to explain to the mother on what should be done if “vimaan me oxygen ki kami ho to …

The message was conveyed. But mercifully there was no shortage of oxygen during the 80-minute sojourn.

The language gap cropped up again two weeks back. This time on an Indigo Thiruvananthapuram-Chennai-Hyderabad flight. The crew of this “number one airline” (as they kept proclaiming every third sentence) announced right at the outset that its members knew “English, Hindi and Punjabi.” Perhaps a way to ensure against any `Madrasis’ trying their pitter-patter with the crew.

Aap apni seat belt pehen lijiye,” a lady crew member instructed the elderly passenger sitting next to me. He was a first-timer in the high skies so I helped him fasten his seat belt, translating the instruction into Malayalam for him.

A few minutes after we were airborne, the refreshments (on payment on this no-frills airline) were rolled in. My neighbour, obviously unaware that the snacks and drinks had to be paid for, asked for coffee. The beverage was served and the hostess asked, “Chaalis rupaye.”

“Eh?”

“Forty rupees,” she repeated.

Ayyo, inde kaapi ki naapad ruyao oo,” he exclaimed in Malayalam, regretting his decision. And he was so upset that he wanted to make a trip to the loo.

Suddenly, one heard an uproar as the man instead of opening the loo door had opened the cockpit door.

Yeh bathroom ka darwaza nahi hai Sir,” shrieked the hostess who came scampering on hearing the pilots.

“Bathroom, bathroom, evade?” he asked indicating that the other door (of the bathroom) that he saw, did not open. So he opened the cockpit door. Cool. He got his reply when the bathroom door opened and another passenger exited.

While the comedy of errors did look funny, I wondered why airlines flying to cities in Kerala or Tamilnadu do not take care to ensure an airhostess who knows the local language is on board. The idea, I thought, was to make people feel at home up in the skies.

Not knowing a language can make you ill at ease, as I discovered on my first trip to rural Tamilnadu. I hail from Palakkad, where the spoken Tamil is a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam and not the kind spoken in the Tamilnadu hinterland. And here I was in Kancheepuram, where I found everyone asking me “Peti venuma?” “Ungalukku peti venuma?” (Do you want a `peti’)

Terribly confused over what this “peti” means, I called up Uma (my wife, whose father hails from Madurai). She laughed her head off as she told  me that `peti’ means an `interview’.

Thank God, they did not ask that to a Mumbai underworld bhai. “Peti chahiye?” !!

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About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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