When you step out of your country, regardless of your background, it’s quite natural to feel a bit lonely. Yes, there are fellow-Indians all around you. Dabur Amla hair oil is available. Mukesh and Rafi nights are held regularly. But it’s hard to belong to a place unless the locals show a sign of acceptance. Now, this piece is not about the deeper issues of migration so please keep xenophobia out of the picture. Instead, let us look at some expressions in Aussie lingo that are used without a care by most people, but have a completely different effect on a FOB desi.
How are you?
The first time I heard this question, my heart melted and my eyes grew moist. It was my second day in Australia and no one so far had bothered to check how I am feeling about leaving my Sheela Mausi behind. When I heard the question, I took a quick five seconds to prepare my answer: “Well …”, I began.
Well, I had to stop there, because the lady questioner offered me her hand, which I promptly accepted, until she made it clear that it was money she was after – she was actually the check-out girl at Woollies.
Here I was, thinking this kind salesperson wants to know all about me, but she seemed more concerned with how I was going to pay for my nostalgia-curing Patak’s curry paste. Worse, she was already handling someone’s tinnea-removing cream!
Sadder than before, I slunk back and made a hash of the dinner that night.
Now I know that “How are you” actually means “I have asked you a question but don’t bother answering ‘cos I ain’t listening”.
I am very well now.
How are you today?
Now this is a little more focussed but equally inspiring question. My first encounter with this one was a bit of deja vu: how does this person know I was sick yesterday? How insightful! Is my nose still leaking?
Just as I had finished counting the number of tissues used so that I can give an accurate answer, the questioner was bending to take a closer look at my car as well.
So he is interested in my car too, I thought warmly.
Hang on, I wanted to say, today I may be fine, but wait till you hear about my night last night.
But by then, he had already given me a parking ticket and moved on to enquire about someone else’s health. Another heart-breaker.
Now I know that “How are you today” actually means “I have no interest in your past life and as a matter of fact, not in your current life either”.
So, I will be fine tomorrow as well.
See you around
To the friend-starved me, this random question was just the assurance I needed. So, I landed at the news agent’s again the next day. His “How are you today” told me that he certainly remembered yesterday. Giving him a warm “It’s good to be back again, my old friend” smile, I settled down in a corner just like back home to chat the day away. But today he seemed quite different, showing no signs of familiarity.
“I bought a newspaper yesterday,” I tried to jog his memory.
“So what do you want to buy today?” he promptly asked.
And seeing me walking towards the exit, yelled, “See you around mate”.
If looks could singe, he would be toast. But I wouldn’t do that to someone who was once almost a friend.
Now I know that “See you around” actually means “I won’t mind looking at your face again if you happen to accidentally drop in next year”.
Another one that made me reach for the tissue box. It was as if this wonderful lady had seen right through to my tormented soul and wanted to soothe me. This was as heartfelt as “Apna khyaal rakhna”. And she said it with so much concern that I wanted to hug her and say “I will, my dear, you be good too.”
As I turned to express my emotions, I found myself looking straight into her bottom because she was picking up another bouquet for the next customer. I used that as a perfect escape and ran out before she could see a grown man cry into his tulips.
Now I know that “Take care” actually means “I don’t want you dead, so stay alive and bring your business back to me again some time”.
Can I help you?
If words could look like a rescue boat in stormy seas, you can’t find a better sentence than this. My angel was a confident looking man who seemed to have a solution to all my problems. But after pulling me out of a queue at the bank, he started shaking all over and called his supervisor who called his manager and together they decided that I actually belonged back in the queue. After trying to slice them with my key card, I trudged back in line and overheard the same hotshot planning someone else’s ruin with the same words.
Now I know that “May I help you” actually means “I promise you nothing but your time is mine now”.
Here is something that gives the kind of hope only a medical expert can provide. But in reality it’s just another spectator who saw you slip and land on your bottom with a thud. Unable to pick you up and unwilling to try, he merely asks, “You okay, mate?” That said, he bravely marches on, content in the knowledge that he showed compassion towards a fellow human being. As I stare at my outstretched hand that found no takers, I also contemplate whistling furiously to catch his attention. But knowing that may not be the right way to express pain, I decide against it.
Now I know when someone asks “You okay?” and you are in too much pain to answer, they’ll assume you’re doing fine and move on.
I am ok, you are ok.
How’re you going?
At first I thought that is a really stupid question. I mean I was obviously walking. Now, I may have a funny walk but no one has the right to watch me walk and still wonder how I am going to the shops.
A friend was less lucky: he faced this question from the customs official at the airport.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “If Manjit comes to pick me up then it’s fine otherwise I’ll take a cab.”
Needless to say the officer suddenly found other passengers more interesting.
Now I know “How’re you going” is not a transport-related question.
In that case, I am going all right.