I was just calculating my days spent in Maharashtra. Three years in NDA, Khadakwasla, one odd year of my Mech YOs (Young Officer’s Course) and Radio Course in Ahmednagar and then after retirement it has been eleven years I have been drinking Marathi pani. How come I could not pick up this language? Suffice to say, I understand it very well but I am not comfortable speaking it.

In my first term at NDA, I did not know what speak meant. In my second and third term no one let me speak, I only heard choicest adjectives being hurled at me. In my fourth term I could barely open my mouth to speak. In my fifth term I spoke what I had heard in second and third terms. In my sixth term I only spoke to practice my word of command in the bathroom. Besides “oye patilya, kaye re”. All the Joshi’s & Pawar’s used to wonder why I address them as Patilya, as I always thought that’s how you respectfully address a “taant”.

My second encounter with taant’s was when I met a unique family called “Camble” from Kohlapur. Well they were actually Kamble’s. My Sali ji was getting married to Sir Kamble and I was in charge of looking after them. So like a well groomed Liaison Officer of my battalion, I walked up to the would be mother in law before she retired for the night and asked her, auntie what would you like to have for breakfast? She said “supperchand”. Now my brains got shot circuited and I rushed back home repeating this word, lest I forget. Our whole family shook their heads, as none could decipher what missile she was referring to. I mustered some courage and walked up to the elder brother of the groom and hesitantly asked him what supperchand means. He coolly said A for apple. My foot I murmured & got back home, asked father in law to join me for a drink. We had two quick tots and went to the railway station, as at that unearthly hour the only place to find this fruit was the station and bought two kilograms of supperchand.

I was travelling to this place where I am working now, for my interview. This being a remote place we kept asking for directions. Everyone just said “saral-saral”. I said yaar if it was so saral (easy) then why are we not reaching anywhere. After three hours plus finally I came to understand what this word meant, “keep going straight”. Some of them also said “pude” and “maghe”, they sounded very unfamiliar and I did not trust them. I was a quite sure when I reach saral I would be at my destination.

Now, about my knowledge of English; my name sounds English, though my mother tongue is Hindi. Punjabi I spoke fluently as I studied in Sainik School Kapurthala, Punjab. The English faculty of NDA put me in class 6 which is for weaklings because of the reputation of my school in English. Believe you me I failed in English and was about to be relegated. Our teacher was Mr Warriar with an A not with an O. The poem in the exam was BYZANTIUM by William Butler “Yeats”. I wrote to my dad to help me as this poem was beyond my comprehension. He told me to send the poem. In ten odd inland letters I copied the poem and in twenty odd envelopes he sent the detailed reference to context.

Mr Warriar being the officiating principal, used to sit near the most dreaded place called the centre dome of NDA. I had just visited the Com’s (Commandant’s) office close by and escaped relegation a few days back for discipline. It took me great courage to arrange a meeting with Mr Warriar. He dismissed me on seeing my face but my pleading eyes got the better of him. My head bobbed up and down like the “Hades’ Bobbin”. With great reluctance he offered me a seat and from my KDs (Khaki Dress) which could carry 40 toasts came out those 20 letters from a father to his son. He read each word and then got hold of my answer sheet. His only anger was I had not written a single word he had taught. It was natural as I was never awake in his class. I had pasted my dad’s version verbatim. He asked me, what does your father do? I told him he was the HOD English of my school. My grade was changed from F to an A+. I visited the centre dome during my course get together after thirty odd years recently; my eyes went moist as I shouted Byzantium. The echo still reverberates in my mind.

Today a very funny incident happened. Someone came to our house and my wife asked the bai who is it. She could not trace anyone. Bai then went around the house and found that someone had left two gunny bags of manure. She came and told my wife that someone had got “Bomar”. My wife gave a blank look as she could not make head or tail. Ultimately our bai went out brought a dried piece of cow dung and said “Maveshi cha Potty”. My wife said Gobbar, she said hau bomar.

Be that as it may. Should I learn English first or Marathi? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

 Noel Ellis