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One day Chinna came to me literally running. I offered him a glass of sugarcane juice mixed with ice. He drank it and looked slightly relieved. I didn’t offer him another glass of sugarcane juice because I had only one glass made out of glass. After gulping it he told me “I can’t drink cold items. It affects my throat and thoughts immediately. Next time onwards, serve any juice without ice. So, please arrange hot tea or coffee, after one hour. But no instant coffee, please”. I asked him about his recent visit to China.
Chinna took out a half-kilo content-like pocket from his small bag and opened it. It was Chenna sundal (A hot snack made of Split chickpeas). He offered me a little (could be twenty grams) and started to consume the rest 480 grams for himself. Eating and munching the snack, he narrated the following:
You know, I learnt a ‘liheele bithen ofen chaainneezein’ (a little bit of Chinese) along with my niece, Chinnu. The name of the course we attended at Chiyyaanneeaaii (Chennai) was “Learn Chinese, know Japanese, try Taiwanese ”. The coaching institute also gave a special offer “Whenever you pay the fees, we give you cheese that you can eat with your niece”. With this statement, we felt at ease.”
I asked him “You mean to say the course enabled you to learn Japanese and Taiwanese as well?” Chinna said, “No. We said we didn’t want to know Japanese because there are hundreds of volcanoes in Japan. We were uncertain which volcano would erupt at what time. Not only that, there are thousands of people in Japan who are above one hundred years old and still living, who may ask hundreds of questions to us and answer them by themselves, in case we meet any of them. Any centenarian Japanese could make out from our faces, we don’t know Japanese or for that matter any language.
As for the Taiwanese language, my father told me “Never go to Taiwan or Thailand. You don’t get vegetarian food anywhere in these countries. Even the water there is non-vegetarian. If someone asks you to go to Taiwan or Thailand and learn the Taiwanese and Thai language you tell them “I will consult my father and grandfather and let you know.”
I asked him “You mean to say, your father or grandfather stayed in Taiwan and Thailand?” Chinna said, “No, no. My grandfather’s great-grandfather seemed to have read one article ‘Say no to Thai and Tai’ in ‘The Hindu ‘newspaper in the year 1880. He cautioned his son about this article, that son cautioned his son and that ‘his’ son, in turn, cautioned my father who in turn cautioned his son accordingly. So to say this cautioning has become our family tradition”
I became clueless and restless by his remarks and intervened “Chinna, hope you completed at least the Chinese course successfully”.
Chinna’s face became suddenly sad and pale. Seeing that I felt bad and stale. He continued “Yes, it was successful in one way. Last month, Chinnu and I went to China. On reaching the Begging, I mean Bejing airport, they asked me about the purpose of our visit. When I started speaking Chinese, stammering started hammering me. Unable to comprehend anything out of my muttering-like voice even after five minutes they asked me something in Chinese in a thundering voice. This time I didn’t stammer but shivered and got cornered. They covered my Chinese speaking in a video.
”I said “Oh, great. Don’t worry, they must have uploaded the video on YouTube with Chinese subtitles. They considered you as a pundit”
Chinna, on the verge of finishing the Chenna sundal said “No pundit but bandit. At this stage, I looked at Chinnu and signalled to speak. She started speaking in Chinese. But suddenly something happened. She started speaking in Tamil. The officials stared and gazed at her and asked her “Caayan youui sspeankiya Engileeshaoi. She said “Yes”. But when she spoke it was Tamil again. I was horrified. Hearing my Chinese accent, and Chinna’s Tamil, two security staff punched both my knees with all the force, on the pretext of a security check. I cried ‘Chin (ease)’, ‘Chin (ease)’ I am begging (I am in Beijing)’.
The staff shouted at me ‘minde chu yawah chiyaanchneeaseahn’. Later, we two presumed these words could be “Mind your Chinese”. One fellow Indian, watching this scene, who was going or returning to India, told me in a confused Chinese-like killing English “Please speak no more Chinese. Better go back to India or else they may replace both your knees with the knees of your niece.”
“My niece whispered in my ears (of course, in Tamil) “I told you back in India we are still unable to speak Chinese properly. Let’s watch at least one hundred Chinese movies (with Chinese subtitles) so that we can pick up the language in a better way. You only said that the Chinese don’t mind much about mistakes and treat foreigners with ease and Chinese can be learnt with ease with less of fees. Now you see the mess”.
I asked my niece “By the way, what happened to you? You speak better Chinese than me. Why did you spoil the scene with your bullet speed Tamil?” She said, “Two Chinese men, who were standing behind you, were looking and staring at me and exhibited some kungfu fighting poses, now and then. I got scared and started speaking in Tamil”.
“At the airport, in Chennai, I couldn’t walk but limped. My wife suggested to me “You first learn to write and speak better English. Later you may think of improving your bitter Tamil”. In the meantime, my niece was speaking to a local security staff at Chennai airport in Chinese (yes, you guessed it right, an overaction). This is what happened”.
I asked Chinna “Just one question. Did you go out at all out of the Beijing airport or not?”
Chinna said, “No. Within hours of our landing in Beijing, we were sent back on the same flight we travelled to Beijing. Later the airport website sent me a message on WhatsApp asking me to practice speaking Chinese only in Chinese language without battering it in Tamil.”
I said “Oh, I am sorry, it is horrible to hear China, sorry, Chinna”
Chinna said in a slow motion like a cinematic dialogue “Now…. please arrange… for a.. cup of… hot tea…. or coffee or both….. Along with…… some snacks. If nothing is ….there to munch…. or crunch…. tell me so that I can go to… your kitchen and search…. for something…. to appease my… Chinese-triggered appetite”
Chinna added hastily “By the way, I and Chinnu changed our names. Sorry for not inviting you to the renaming ceremony. The event went more or less like performing one’s last rites. Our Chinese coach from the Chennai Institute only performed the rituals. I suggested to the coach he change his name too. He instantly agreed and changed his title from ‘ China Panda’ to ‘Chinna Bonda’. Since that day, I have become Kanna and my niece Kannu”.
I rushed madly towards the kitchen, praying for some snacks, anything other than Chinese noodles.