On these cold mornings when I get into my shower , the metal bathtub threatens my feet with frostbite . If my toes could be be covered with chocolate , you would probably have your friendly neighborhood polar bear singing “What would you do for a Klondike …” . It is probably a practical joke designed by the builders that while I am still focused on rescuing my poor piggly wigglies , the scalding shower hits my face with a vengeance and in no time renders it “meat falling off the bone , tender” . Reminds me of a quote that my erstwhile relatives in Tennessee used after a barbecue , “Fingerr lickin good” in their rich southern accent . Mind you my situation is not an invitation for anybody to bring out the barbecue sauce .
For reasons that are inexplicable to me , I love listening to accents . My mother’s family was from the deep south in India so when they spoke English , they spoke English the way they spoke Tamil which is a musical language but it generally seems to compete for the Land speed record . I would scornfully remind my uncles that they could not introduce accents into English , they pointedly informed me that I need to speak English first before I could correct their accent .
Accents around Pune where I grew up , seemed to again follow the local lingo , it was much more lazier and people seemed to drawl and drag . I had a few fracas with class mates who did not seem to understand my well meaning attempts to correct their defective accent .In spite of valiant efforts at the pugilistic arts , I ended up with dust in my mouth and I learned quickly that accents are not to be corrected . I also started learning that people tend to speak the second , third and successive languages in the same tempo as the first unless they make a valiant effort to change or in the case of English watch enough shows to rectify whatever defects geography may have imposed.
In my late teens , I had an interesting conversation with my Gujarati neighbor who ran a spice shop. We bought some masala(spice mix) and I suppose he knew that I could speak English and perhaps he decided to practice it with me at the spur of the moment . So he says
“You want to rape it”
These were the days when my innocence had not been defiled with the cruder knowledge of life . I looked puzzled , my eyes writ large in partial surprise and partial curiosity.
So he repeats , “Rape it. Rape it” , but this time he gesticulates and makes a wrapping motion . Probably means Wrap it so I politely nod my head and not surprisingly he did wrap it in paper.
They still like to speak English with me especially these days since I have come from “Phoren”(foreign) , on my last visit , the lady of the house whom I call aunty says “Come son , have some snakes” . I am fairly adventurous but I had a hard time believing that aunty has started cooking snakes , this time aunty’s daughter who is in college comes by and clarifies “Dont worry uncle , she means snacks”
In my early twenties I moved to Singapore and was I in for a surprise , I believe it may have taken me a good week to acclimatize myself to their English and their peculiar affliction for adding “la” to every sentence . They also speak so as to compete for the land speed record so I had to undergo quite a bit of aural re-training before I could start understanding them without asking them to repeat time and again. Though as far as “la” goes, I am yet to figure out if “la” means friend “Let us go to lunch, la”or if it is a question “Can anybody think of doing this , la?” . It seems to have the same versatility as my personal favorite 4 letter unprintable … . Well maybe not. It took me almost 6 months after coming back from Singapore to drop the “la” .
Just like you have varying accents of English in India , I found out that there are varying accents across the United States . I have never had trouble understanding English in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania but I was in for a rude shock when I went down south . My first interaction with one of my ex-brother in laws was as follows
“Where are yer from?”
“Where is dat?”
After that he lost interest in my geographical origins and decided to focus on the food . It was Thanksgiving and though there was a very large handsome bird on the table , I was devouring the country ham . Country ham is cured with salt and hung out to dry. The taste reminded me of fish that was cured with salt and dried in the sun in the western parts of India .
He looked at me appreciatively and told me
“burst ham you put in yer mouth. granny-slappin’ good”
I nodded appreciatively , my mouth too full to give way to the emotions that were evoked deep inside of me . Though I did wonder if one is supposed to slap the granny to let her know how much we appreciated it.
He turns to be my ex-wife and says “he about as happy as a puppy with two peckers, keep eating like that and you will have to get em a new pair of britches”
Turns back to me and says
“Eatir earl that and yer will have er squealing liker a pig”
I probably had the same look that the first Congo native had when Dr Livingstone asked him if he spoke English.
So my ex wife graciously translated it for me and everybody in the room guffawed . I realized the sexual connotation much later. After that he spoke in rapid fire Tennessean for the next 30 minutes and it would be interspersed with “squealer liker a pig” at which point, I would guffaw or chuckle depending on what the audience around me did. Till date , I don’t have the faintest clue what he said. And over the years , I encountered him several times and still had no clue as to what he was saying but it would always be interjected with “squealer liker a pig”
Another brother in law had this advice for me “You speak like a yankee . We dont like that, them uppity folks. We dont want our young uns speaking like dem yankees.”
Perhaps it was this exposure that led me to have a soft corner for the southern accent . One of my favorite movies is “O brother, Where art thou?” . I could come up with half a dozen reasons off the bat why I like it so much including the Coen brothers , it is inspired by the Odyssey , it is a musical of sorts , that it has John Goodman (any collaboration of the Coen brothers and John Goodman is a must watch) , the delicious humor of Clooney and brilliant foils by John Turturro . But all of that in a delightful southern setting of the 30s was a movie that deserves to be devoured and devoured again.
Lot of movies that I tend to have enjoy focus on accents as the Departed with their Boston accents , Snatch with the different English as well as the Pikey accent by Brad Pitt , Fried Green tomatoes with their southern accents, Fargo with the Minnesota accent , the Usual Suspects and the majority of Martin Scorcese’s Gangstah movies which have New York accent. Matthew Mcconaughey is an awesome actor but for me his most memorable roles tend to be the ones where he plays a southerner like in the Dallas Buyer Club, Mud , True Detective, Fraility . Robert De Niro is an amazing actor but his best roles for me are where he reprises his native New York accent . Cape fear where he tries to play a southerner was not very impressive in spite of the fact that Cape Fear was a Martin Scorcese movie copied from the brilliantly scary original with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck . Perhaps one of the few actors who could pull off any possible accent was Peter Sellers as he shows in “Dr Strangelove” as well as in “Lolita” and in “The Party” when he parodies the Indian accent quite brilliantly . Another accent chameleon is Kevin Spacey . I have always found it comical that Sean Connery got an Oscar for playing an Irish cop with a thick Scottish accent in the Untouchables . An Irish co-worker informed me rather disdainfully that in parts of Belfast, that could mean the difference between life and death after I made a offhand comment that they are so close that it did not matter .
Then I was in New England , specifically in Boston and it took me a little while to get used to the fact that they have reinvented the English alphabet to have only 25 letters . I have no idea what drove this need for economy but in their vocabulary, the letter R does not exist . My instructor in Boston started talking about the parks in Boston when we asked about travelling around the city, “We are poud of ouh Pahks and since it is getting to be nice weatha , you should go have fun but be cahful and pahk the cah close to the cammons so you can leave quickly . The rhed sahks have a game tonight ” .(We are proud of our parks and since it is going to be nice weather, you should go have fun but be careful and park the car close to the commons so you can leave early. The Red Sox have a game tonight)
I am exaggerating for effect but you get the idea .
This young man must have had the same idea as me and he is fairly talented and funny.