Monday, June 2, 2014

Meet and Greet?

It is not enough that you have to learn your so-called three 'R's (And, no-one has given me a satisfactory explanation for why they call Writing and Arithmetic 'R's, when they so clearly are not) and, then, muddle through college, picking up desultory bits of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and other such obscure pockets of knowledge..no, it is not! Leaving the educational system, happy with the thought that what passes for your brain shall be taxed no longer is a sure recipe for disappointment if not disaster.

I should have known, though. After all, in Tamil we were used to greeting each other with a "Vanakkam", to which the reply was the same. Since that meant a sort of "Hello", it was perfectly all right to reply with a "Hello" or a "Hi". In English, they had this habit of asking, "How do you do?" or "How are you?" How was I to know that this was a question that had to be answered with the same question, instead of a detailed listing of all my bodily ailments? (Would have loved to extend the concept elsewhere - most notably interviews? How wonderful if the acceptable answer for 'Do you know why .......?' could be 'Do you know it?' Alas!)

And, then, I take up a job in Delhi. Around the second or third day there, when I had come to know people enough to greet them, I ventured a 'How do you do?' with one of my colleagues. He replies with a 'Bus aapki dua hai' i.e '(Am well) thanks to your wishes'! Having searched my memory and found no sign of my having wished anything for this chap (could not come up with even his name, now that I was searching my memory), I felt guilty. Here was this guy depending for his well-being on my wishes and I had let him down. Luckily for me, someone else interrupted us before I started abjectly apologizing for having failed him.

Luckily, did I say? I made the mistake of greeting the other guy with a 'How are you?' too and got "Bus aapke chatrachaye mein' for a reply. Huh! I dredged my memory to recollect the last time I was crowned - since the other chap meant that he was happy under my aegis - and could only come up with the information that I had even lost my crown of hair. Feeling that the other guy had mistaken me for a newly anointed Cabinet Minister, I was about to disabuse him of the notion when a third chap, who seemed to understand the look of bewilderment on my face, took me aside and explained that all these were to be taken at par with a return 'Vanakkam' in Tamil.

It did take a while to get adjusted to the situation for me. Things that Tamilians say to each other, only when they were close friends, flow easily and well from Punjabis even to rank strangers and rabid foes. Most of what makes it difficult to trust people across cultures seems to be the fact that all that you learnt of how to assess character from behavior - and how you assessed behavior, too - give you misleading results when applied on a person from a different background.

Back I am, in Bangalore and more familiar terrain? I accost a new made acquaintance and he comes out with 'Oota aayittha?'. Well - I have, by now, learnt that this 'Have you had your food?' is only the 'Vanakkam' of Tamil and not an invitation to a detailed description of what was on your plate in the morning.

AND, there are people who love going around the world? All power to them, I say, but let them first make their detailed guide-books before the rest venture out. Would hate to be beheaded for saying the wrong thing in reply to someone's greeting.

38 comments:

  1. Aah...the Dilliwali Punjabi in me is proudly happy to read about your experience of meet and greet in Delhi :) Isn't that so nice of us, though? :) Now living in Tamil-land for the last few years I have taken on more of a simple Vanakkam type meet-&-greet habit, not giving the meeter/greeter any ideas of their exalted status of bestowing chattrachaya and all :)

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    1. Hahaha! It did take me some time to get used to that 'niceness' :)

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    1. That, Jairam, was normally inferior-to-superior in TN. WHICH was precisely what embarrassed me in Delhi when I first encountered it - since the other person was NOT even hierarchically inferior to me :) (Maybe Tamilians have also adopted similar tactics these days :) Narrowing of cultural differences? :) )

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  3. Hegidira? En samaachaara? :D

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    1. Those are normal - "How are you?" and "So what's new?" :) Had to pick something unique to the place :)

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  4. hahaha good one! The security lady in my office would ask me everyday Ootha aiytha? After a point I started telling her even before she asked that yes I had breakfast. She used to have this bewildered look on her face, only later I realized that it was a greeting from her everyday :P

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    1. Apparently, that is supposed to be a two-in-one. The idea is that if you are able to eat, you must be well - so, it is an inquiry about your health as well as a greeting.

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    2. ok, now you have enlightened me :P I am sure that lady must have thought I was crazy :P

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    3. Not at all, Seeta! They are used to outsiders being 'ignorant louts' :) As I was initially :)

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  5. hahahaha......perhaps the whole intention was to tell u subtly that u haven't done much to provide either chatrachaya or dua to the poor fellow.....!!

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    1. :) Missed that interpretation, didn't I? :)

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  6. Chatrachaya is more of a UP thing. And Gurgaon is totally yuppie with Whatsup?

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    1. True Alka! But, then, Delhi is a bit of a potpourri and I was working in a PSU, so you get less yuppies and more bureaucratic types :) Also, this was the eighties :)

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  7. I face the same predicament, if you could say that. I prefer sticking to my original greeting and add something which I like from others. But yes, it's fun to listen to various version, isn't it?

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    1. It is Saru - after you have understood what it is all about :)

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  8. You should come over to Punjab sir.. WHERE a BIG HUG.. is an answer to anything and everything .. :)

    At least you know so many ways .. I am so dumb I hardly know anything other than a hello.. I would be lost if i have to go anywhere it seems

    Bikram

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    1. Been there, been hugged :) But, by then, I had had enough exposure from my stay in Delhi.

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    2. hmmmm well then you need to come over to uk .. and let me show you more of punjabi meet and greet UK style :)

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    3. Missed you on my lone trip to London till date :) Next time maybe :)

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  9. Didn't know about this " Ootha aiytha " ..thanks for the valuable info.. :-P..and let me give you some advice too..free of cost....if you 're in Bengal people are likely to ask you .. " Ki , kemon cholchhe ? " literal translation " how everything is moving ? "..no need to move your head to look if anything is out of place..it's same as 'vanakkam '..

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    1. Hahaha! Delhi exposed me to a lot of that. It is half Punjabi, half Bengali after all and I lived close to CR Park :) That 'cholchhe' used to be omitted and there was only the 'kemon', though :)

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  10. Interesting topic. Japanese are the utimate of politness - they exhalt themsleves higher by showing greater humility. So much so that during battle they request permission of their foe to lop of his head. Of course though it does not matter if the foe refuses permission - he would decapitated nevertheless but politely.

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    1. Hahaha! Now, Is THAT what they call 'Killed with kindness'? :)

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  11. Delhi is waiting with some newly-invented-greetings! So, when are you coming?

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    1. Hahaha! Send me the dictionary so that I can be prepared in October :)

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  12. The right reply to a greeting is so essential!
    I guess we need an Indian book- 'What to say when you meet someone?'- valid for all the states! :)

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    1. I think it is become easy nowadays :) 'Hi' works everywhere :)

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  13. hahaha each state with it's own answers :D I enjoyed reading about your experience.
    Here in Sydney, it's a norm to say How are you instead of Hi... to which a simple "good " is enough. But often both the parties end up asking how are you... without anyone answering the question.

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    1. Yes - it used to be a prime example of what is called a 'rhetorical' question. A question that is not expected to be answered. :)

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  14. Sadly not many use vanakkam these days Suresh. It's like using it is a sign that you are some rustic with no education. Tamil is a beautiful language but people prefer to stick to 'how do u do?' And give all answers the English never designed .

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    1. Quite true, Jaish! I, too, am saddened by this

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