“F A N T A S T I C O… Dieser Dufft! “, she exclaimed as she walked in to my little studio apartment. She was my only acquaint in the whole vicinity, she was my only respite for some social conversation with a fellow human as most of the counters, shops and streets were manned by machines in the neighborhood. Spotting a human was a rarity and even when spotted they were often sunken in their pails of ales. Being a black eyed Asian felt like an alien amidst a stream of blue and green eyes!
My two white maids had deep blue eyes too and I was initially overwhelmed at having those white maids work for me. I felt a quenching relief when these white women washed our pots, but soon we became friends and I realized that they were Russians!
The two of us could neither understand each other’s languages nor body languages but we still spoke with our eyes, trying varied signs and symbols.
She had once asked me as to why I was wearing rings on my toes. I had employed the most artistic sign language and tried very hard telling her that married women in India wore these 5 accessories that were symbolic of being married _ “The red vermillion, bangles, nose ring, toe ring and the Mangala sutra”.
After all that dramatics, she exclaimed in her broken English………”Foive Hoosbands _ Funf Mann”!
The next few days I had chosen to only listen.
Hubby dear was posted here on a short term project in this land called Germany where not many lived! And I was at the mercy of machines and signboards that blared out cryptic texts at me. Although the script was in English, they used strange phonics and appended unnecessary suffixing and prefixing letters that seemed like anagram puzzles to me!
I had committed the grave mistake of not taking with me a translating lexicon.
Also back then the internet had not yet penetrated homes the way it has done today and nobody spoke English here. With no internet and no mobile phone or even a calling card I once spent almost 45 minutes looking for a packet of salt, on my first visit to a local store. I bit my lips till I got a saline taste of my own blood in that utter helplessness until I found a fellow Indian on the street, it was and still is an unforgettable Eureka moment for me!
(I later learnt that Salt was spelt as ‘Salx’ or ‘Salz’ packaged in a dashing red opaque carton box and pronounced as ‘zaituz’!)
After my precious procurement, cursing all the Nazis who killed the Indian soldiers in the 2nd world war, I dashed some asafoetida(Hing) into the hot oil for some aromatic seasoning for my debutant Rasam, just as the aroma filled the room, Olga and Galina, the two Russian housekeeping maids entered the room with a little knock.
F A N T A S T I C O…..dieser dufft she said…….once again!
(Fantastic!……This fragrance! In German, although fantastico is basically Spanish)
My reverse racism had somewhat diminished by now and I looked forward to talk to them as I had been encountering only steely faces who refused to make an eye contact. Being an Indian, it was really hard to make conscious and consistent efforts not to look someone in the eye unless I needed to talk to them. Be it in the lifts, or in the lobby or in the tubes, I taught myself to look away into the wilderness of etiquettes.
I shrugged and gestured to Olga that I didn’t understand what “Dieser Dufft” meant, Galina had pitched in and exclaimed “A R O M A…”! I was amused as I had till then thought it was just a greeting.
It must be the Hing in the Rasam I thought and offered Olga to taste some. She delightfully accepted the offer and jumped to savour the combo of Rice Rasam!
2 spoons into it, she was now jumping literally, her face red and her eyes rolling with tears! I was horrified and panicked if she would choke, my hands were trembling!
I dashed and offered her water, sugar, jam, apple and everything sweet that I could lay my hands on but the frenzy of the spices lingered on, I took a spoonful of Rasam myself but it was rather bland for our standards. But here, she was leapfrogging across the room shrieking hysterically! I tried my last resort and forced some ghee into her mouth, which she wouldn’t take for the fear of calories. It was only after gulping down the spoonful of ghee that she came back to her senses.
The next day onwards she seemed like Tenali Rama’s cat and never said “Dieser Dufft”, but often I would tease her if she wanted Rasam and she would exclaim in horror…..”The Chilly Draacculae…..Neeyat nikogda” meaning “no never” in Russian! Eventually we had become good friends and she aided me with little bit of German basics that was just enough for the day. A few days before we started back home, she came and gestured to me “Indion wumen _ one married lady _foive accessories” and smiled a sunny smile, I had smiled my best smile that day till my eyes were wet, unable to believe she had deciphered my body language!
I do not know if she still remembers me but the experience was memorable and just exposed me to a whole new set of traits, food habits, emotions and etiquettes and most importantly the fact that language, ethnicity and status are no barriers for friendship and that there is no communication gap as long as we have passed on the message!
This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.