Tuesday, July 27, 2004

What Was I Thinking?!

“Don’t give balltalk man!”

You could have knocked me down with a feather (or a phrase) – At once both evocative and obnoxious.

Makapau is in the house… Only, it wasn’t. I was one the PATH train riding back to Newark, NJ at the end of an otherwise uninspiring work day that featured dull phrases like Elliot waves, short-selling, stop-loss and the occasional dead-cat bounce.

Balltalk man was a breath of fresh air… from the past. I strained to hear more of the conversation from somewhere within the throng in the middle of the carriage…

“Bullshit! It not happening man!….You tink you’re God or wot?…”

I was really craning my neck at this point.

In case you are wondering, my English motor has not blown a fuse, I assure you.

The language, I record so faithfully here, is what I grew up listening to – English, as spoken by many East Indians. It is what some of us fondly refer to as Makapau English.

I could not mistake it for any other. I have heard it often on the playgrounds of Don Bosco, in the locker rooms at Brabourne, the bus stop in Kalina and a million other places in between. But I hadn’t encountered the likes of balltalk man since I left Bombay in the early 90s.

In case you haven’t figured it by now, Makapau English, does not exactly subscribe to Wren & Martin. I did try and point it out to one of the flock once. It was an exercise in futility...

“F*%# WrenenMartin, mayn”

“Really, now you should adhere to rules of grammar, if you want to speak proper English”

“Who, you to tell me ‘bout English, did I aks you. What you know ‘bout English”

“Well, I figure, I know something... Any way it is ask, not aks...”

“I talk how I want. You know, my people are English, I’m Anglo-Indian. I’m English”

“Well then, all the more reason you should follow the rules, it’s your mother tongue…”

“Ehhh! Don’t go on my mudder ah! I’m telling you, don’t go on my mudder.”

“Alright, I am sorry, but I wasn’t anyway. Look, it is important to speak the language as it was meant to…"

“Who talking to you? Don’t give more balltalk mayn… I am tiring”

Then there are those odd bits that really cannot even be woven into a conversation, like the things you hear on the soccer field.

Alex Fernandes takes a spot kick. The ball flies over half the field landing near Bosco D’Costa, who passes into along the sidelines to Dominic Machado. Running parallel to Dominic along the center of the field is Robert Patterson shouting “Eh Donya mayn, putthru mayn, putthru.” Bosco lends his voice, shouting to Dominic to “see” Robert. Dominic refuses to “see” Robert and attempts to kick a long one to Brian running towards the goal. Brian traps the ball and is about to "poke" one into the right-hand corner of the goal, but the referee blows his whistle…. Brian has been caught off-side.

Robert peeved at the slight runs up to Dominic…

“I swear mayn, you deaf or wot? You can’t see me? I’m shouting all the time.”

The language is not just the punch of words. Undeniably, words like ‘putthru’ could scarcely be used elsewhere. The real beauty is also in the manner in which sentences are strung together - I swear mayn, you deaf or wot? You can’t see me? I’m shouting all the time.

Now, isn’t that a gem!

The train disgorged half its occupants at Harrison station including, I guess, Balltalk man. For, there were no desi-types as I scanned the carriage as the train pulled out, just a gaggle of giggly Puerto Rican girls heading back home to Newark.