It was in the mid 70s when Gopi Nath arrived from India, seeking his fortune in Paris of all places.
Penniless, desperate and very hungry he landed up at the Embassy willing to take up any job on offer.
Coincidentally, there was a vacancy and after security clearances were given, Gopi Nath found himself employed and proceeded without wasting much time, in making himself useful.
For some extra money, he offered to learn to serve at formal official dinners.
Before long this balding, portly man in his Whites was in great demand and would go about his new métier with pride and flourish.
The norm was, that at the end of the evening, he would wash up, put away the crockery, eat a hearty Indian meal and receive a generous tip.
His world existed between his day job at the Embassy & evenings serving at diplomatic soirees for which he cultivated and developed a certain demeanor, that never let on that he knew only three French words.
Bonjour, Bonsoir, Quelque chose.
Tilting his head to one side, he would say with some charm ~Bonsoir Madame! Quelque chose…? ~
And in those long-gone days when foreign peculiarities with syntax were still appreciated the lady would respond ~ A verre de vin s’il vous plait (a glass of wine please) ~ … and so he would proceed for the rest of the evening…
We inadvertently discovered his limitations in the language when one evening when all the guests had departed and we sat in our living room chatting about the success of the event and how much Gopi Nath had contributed to it.
Unknown to us, Gopi Nath in the kitchen was gulping down umpteen glasses of this and that instead of throwing the left-over drinks down the sink.
The more he ‘cleared up’, the louder were the sounds from that end of the apartment.
We found the man with his shirtsleeves rolled up and doing the washing with much vigor with a dozen or more empty goblets lying in disarray.
Seeing him sob, simultaneously wiping his streaming eyes and nose we wondered –
Was it relief that the evening had gone off well and that he had been appreciated in his newfound vocation?
Or had the warm and comforting home of a fellow countryman, the promise of a delicious, hot Indian meal and the thought of his tip make him cry with happiness?
~Kya hua, Gopi Nath? ~ we anxiously asked but for some reason best known to him, in his drunken haze, he refused to tell us why he was in such a state, in either Hindi or English.
Instead, he insisted on talking in the one language in which he knew only three words:
Bonjour, Bonsoir and Quelque chose.
Upon seeing my father, he fell upon him ~I want to say quelque chose, I want to say something~
~Yes, tell me~ coaxed my father.
But Gopi Nath in a foreign land, far removed from his mother and home could find no familiar words in his constricted chest and throat to express his gratitude.
He could only manage quelque chose! Quelque chose!
~Language is power, life and instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation ~
The power of language must never be underestimated. It connects, its binds and cuts across geographical distances.
A simple question asked by a white man in broken Hindi to a native ~Tum kaiso ho? ~ created for a brief moment, an artificial intimacy, an elusive familiarity and a fervent connection with the Master.
~Sub kuch teek taak? ~ made the native believe the Master truly cared .… and such has been the way of our Sahibs, Memsahibs long after our colonisers departed.
So, it is no surprise that those from a rarified world, deracinated from culture and roots, eager to belong elsewhere, attempt to get their message across in a language that they never cared to acquire.
Over the years one has noticed a few pet phrases that have caught the fancy of a class that struggles with Hindi, or speaks it with an accent.
Across the spectrum not to be left behind, avowed leftist intellectuals with cultivated scruffiness, who, when it comes to the subject of illegal and violence prone Rohingyas or the deportation of those who can’t prove their citizenry, forget they are atheists on odd days, Islamist apologists on even days, their animosity to Sanskrit and actually wrap their tongues around the twister Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam The World Is One Family.
These carefully selected phrases in a language they prefer to be best forgotten are artfully used as darts at the very people who cherish it with understanding.
Of course, if one was to probe deeper and ask them about: svastiprajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṃ nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṃ mahīśāḥ।
May the well-being of all people be protected by the powerful and mighty leaders be with law and justice…..it would come to naught as the extent of proficiency in the language is only as far as it is useful for an agenda.
Another favorite is Athitidevo Bhava Guest is God.
With the gentleness and the calm of an aesthetic recently returned from the Himalayas, the pain that is taken to explain the concept of Athitidevo Bhava to overawed foreigners, especially if contracts and deals are on the anvil is commendable… or for hare brained open border concepts – come one, come all! To offset the plebeians at home…
~The comfort of the rich depends upon the abundant supply of the poor ~
Then there are those who adore the vagueness of the term Ganga Jamuni.
These are people for whom the Moghul invasion with its violence, pillaging and destruction is merely a Sanjay Bhansali Mughal e Azam extravaganza.
For them, the suppression of a people and culture, the demolition of cherished places of worship are simply rearrangements.
To reduce a period of history to a level that absolves all crime and only revels in the Taj Mahal, Anarkalis & Biryani, suits their Syncretic Culture For Dummies.
As they say
~If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought~
Grateful & hopeful Gopi Nath in his endeavor to make a life, got by with three words in a new world. However, five years later his tongue on a roll like a French man, he left the security of the Embassy, to begin a bartending service, occasionally returning to meet old friends!
Whereas, in 21st century India, the use of three phrases, carefully and cleverly weaponised by people who normally don’t speak that language has only one motive – and that is to retain power of an old world, which is, fast crumbling before their eyes.