Sunday, August 19, 2018

Speak your language, not theirs

At the Kati Roll Company, we were enjoying our kati rolls, adda (conversation), and the reunion we had after a year. A group of young girls sat at the table next to us.

Soon, an oddly dressed young man joined their table. Given my ignorance about popular American fashion, I could not say if he was a style icon, or generally poorly dressed. When the girls smiled sheepishly at him, I thought that they knew each other. But the girls started to leave their table, clearly uncomfortable. They might be planning to leave anyway, but our young man surely facilitated their departure.

By now, my colleague and I were curious spectators. The man had a drawl, maybe he was drunk and stoned and anything in between. The girls left, and the man walked further inside the restaurant with confidence, calling out to more people. I could not see any further after that. I told my colleague about my disappointment that four girls could not confront a man and ran away, validating him and fueling his courage in the process.

Sometime later, the man came back to us, of all the tables. I could not understand what he said but recognized a mishmash of words that occasionally sounded like baby and boob. Sure, all babies need boobs for nourishment, but I don't think that was what he meant. I saw red! I am allergic to people calling me baby, and I didn't ask for an assessment of my boobs. He walked towards us with an intention of joining our table.

“Dada, ki bolchen bujhte parchina, Banglaye bolun,” I said out loud enough to turn a few heads in our direction. (Please speak in Bangla, I cannot understand what you are saying, I said).

The man was momentarily stunned. Of all the things he would have anticipated, a sharp reply in Bangla was outside his syllabus of imagination.

He has some nerve, he asked me to speak in English, with more references to baby and boobs. I lost it.

“Banglaye katha na bolle hobe? Boshe boshe meyeder theke khisti khachhen, bujhteo to parchen na. Ingriji te katha bolte parbo na, amake niye jokhon katha bolchen, amar bhashaye katha bolun aage.”

The more I spoke in Bangla, the more confused he got. It had never occurred to him that he would not be able to communicate to a girl something as simple as a lecherous remark about body anatomy. With a horrified expression, he started to leave the restaurant.

“Arrey paliye jachhen keno, adda maarben na?" was the last thing I said before he scampered out.

Looks like my “confuse your enemy” ploy worked wonderfully, although it was unplanned, untested, and impulsive. Whatever the guy had expected from us (shame, discomfort), being reprimanded in a foreign language was outside his imagination. This strategy might have failed if he had a gun or knife or if it was late in the night. I do not know. What I know is that in the heart of Manhattan, my mother tongue gave me the confidence to confront, confuse and belittle a man, and drive him away. I could have given him a piece of my mind in English. However, communicating and engaging with him was not my goal. Whenever you speak in the language of the enemy, you validate and empower the enemy.

Speak to your enemies and speak to them in your own language (and not their language). Chances are that the enemy will not understand your language. If they did, then they would not be enemies. I use the word “language” metaphorically here.


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