Ahead of my Europe trip, I downloaded a language learning app called Duolingo and started learning Italian and French. In Europe, I observed from my previous trips that it becomes extremely difficult without knowing the local dialect, I was especially worried about France because the French are well known for their aversion to speaking English. Learning Italian was relatively easy as in college I had studied Spanish and Italian proved to be a close cousin of Spanish. However, French was difficult, especially the pronunciation. Each time I practiced French words in my Bengali accent, my son and his father burst out into giggles and even started mimicking me. I became the French version of Sashi from English Vinglish. They could probably make a movie on my French tutorials and name it French Wench.
Finally, the D-day arrived and I landed at Charles De Gaulle airport. Strangely I saw that the signages were written in French, English, and Chinese. I was outraged. The patriot in me almost started an Indo-Sino war protesting this. Why Chinese and not Hindi?? Kya hain China mein jo hum mein nahi hai? Anyways, I moved ahead and found that thankfully everyone understood English and I also found a fellow Indian. I wrote about that episode in an earlier post.
Next day, after our walking tour of Paris from Champs de Elysses to Shakespeare and Company, we were tired, exhausted and famished. We were looking for a cheaper place to eat out and had no mood to enter Macdonald or Burger King. We found a small lane full of small restaurants, they looked reasonable. We started scanning the menu of each hotel. I heard someone calling out from one of the restaurants “Madam, idhar aao, accha khana milega”. It is always great to hear your own language in a foreign country. The place looked clean and had reasonable prices so we accepted his invitation and entered.
I am not really great at small talks but I am a curious person therefore whenever I travel abroad I end up talking to a lot of people, only to know them better. This man was no exception and I started talking to him. I asked “aap kahan se ho?”
He replied “Bangladesh se”
I immediately switched to my mother tongue Bengali and asked: “From which part of Bangladesh?” Bengali is spoken in both Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal and I hail from the later.
“Dhaka” He replied.
“Dhaka is also our erstwhile native place,” I said.
There was a prominent excitement in his voice and he kept asking me a lot about my erstwhile home. I noticed, he shifted from Madam to Aapa (sister). He told me a lot about himself. He came to France 17 years back and had no idea about France or French but now he can fluently speak French, thanks to his African-French wife with whom he has two children. Every year he visits his parents in Dhaka. He recently bought a new restaurant and that was about to open in January. When I was leaving he said “Aapa, porer bar apni r Dulabhai amar dokane asben kintu” (next time when you come please come and visit my shop with your husband). The warmth in his voice melted my heart and I literally felt that he was a brother who wanted his sister to share his happiness.
Next day we were in Pisa. After sunset, we were loitering aimlessly inside the Leaning Tower complex. We had our train at 9pm and we had nothing to do so we started looking through the souvenir shops. The salesmen looked Asian; to be more precise they looked like Bangladeshis. I started talking to them in Bengali and soon the conversation steered towards which part of Bangladesh they came from. This time when they asked me where I hail from my prompt reply was Dhaka.
My Canadian friend wanted to buy some souvenirs. They gave a 50% discount saying “Aapa uni apnar bandhobi, onake kena damei dimu” (sister, she is your friend so we are selling her at cost price). We got this privilege only due to our common roots.
When we reached Rome, we were searching for our hotel. It was late in the night and my mobile was not working, therefore, couldn’t use GPS. As usual, I spotted a Bangladeshi face amidst the Italian crowd. He not only gave us the direction but also accompanied us to the hotel. All through the way he was cautioning us about speeding cars, pickpockets, late night drunkards. He made us feel safe in a foreign country. On my last day in Rome, I was extremely tired and the Bangladeshi fruitseller opposite my hotel noticed that and said “Aapa, you look so tired, go and take rest” I really appreciated his friendly concern.
Wherever I went in Italy, I found Bangladeshis and I started speaking to them in Bengali. Some sold me stuff at a cheaper rate, few of them gave me good food but mostly what we shared was a connection to a common land where Bengali is spoken. I found a longing in them for a country they have left behind. In me, they found a fragment of their home and thus for some I became Aapa (sister) and for others, I became Bhabhi (sister-in-law). In Bengali we use a word called “antorikota” that means “familiarity and love” while speaking to them I found that antorikota. I told my friend that it was useless to learn Italian because all over Italy the only language I spoke was Bengali, in fact, I never speak so much Bengali even in Mumbai.
Linking this post to #MondayMusings hosted by dear Corinne.