Which English do you speak?

Jojo George didn’t need to ask. The 23 year old guide on the perimeter of the Periyar Sanctuary has a keen ear. He entertained me by imitating all the different accents he had heard from Germans, Australians, British, Americans and Indians from various states. He had the talent of an actor and helped me feel more than justified that I’d had problems understanding and being understood. Being a “native speaker”, I really feel for those for whom English is a second or third language. Unless they are very experienced, they would be having a tough time communicating. I had said “I am sorry, I do not understand”, repeatedly and drawn pictures, mimed and about every other device I could imagine to communicate. At times I had been frustrated. Jojo forced me to see this situation from his perspective.

Imagine the guides, drivers and waiters serving us tourists. They may speak one or more of the Indian languages and then they must struggle to understand us. Not easy.

Jojo had carefully selected myself . Kirsten and I are both in our seventies and that age is really “over the hill” in India. He had reason to doubt our abilities. But after he checked us out on a couple of steep slopes, we carried on at a fine pace.

During a rest period, he admitted that he preferred to tour with European or American people. “You are quieter and don’t expect me to produce an elephant and a tiger within the first thirty minutes of the walk.” He commented wryly. “You are willing to be still and really look.” I was flattered.

Later Jojo understood that we didn’t choose to row about a lake that was reduced to a near puddle after poor monsoons and a long dry season. Instead he insisted that we take a second hike, through the bushes to an opening from which we could see an entire open valley and distant hills and temples. His commitment to seeing that we had a great experience was impressive.

Jojo and his mother both work for the outfit that runs the “safaris”. I wondered about this young guy, with a hip haircut and an earplug in one lobe. He serenaded me with his favorite tunes from one of the popular
boy bands with just the right falsetto and impeccable rhythm. He told stories drawn from myths about tigers. Surely this person would have “plans” for his future….but no. He would wait until he was twenty five and have an arranged marriage as expected by his Catholic family. He would “be in jail” as he phrased it blithely. But he is a happy person, loving his hills, his interactions with tourists, and is content within the conservative framework of his culture.

Lucky man!

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