Squiggles & giggles

Squiggles & giggles


Squiggles & giggles

During the 60s and 70s, one of the last vestiges of colonial rule in vogue was the presence of the closely-knit Anglo-Indians.

The Englishmen who headed the prestigious business houses chose them as their personal secretaries, understandably because of their proficiency in spoken and written English, and ability to take down their dictation in Pitman’s shorthand of squiggles & wiggles, and hammer them out (like machine-gun fire) on their typewriters into business letters.

While most men of that clan worked in Railways or as foremen in factories, the ladies, especially the younger ones, functioned as a bridge between the European bosses and Indians — analogous to dubashis, knowing two languages, during the days of Robert Clive.

Smith, the portly Englishman who recruited me in the construction behemoth, where I still work, had a penchant for cutting jokes, mostly at the expense of Indian supervisors whose English ought to have driven him, splitting his hairs, to his native place. But it didn’t. One site supervisor, hailing from the Hindi belt, on a temporary visit to Madras branch, ran into Smith at the reception hall with a steel trunk in hand. “When did you come, Johnie?” he asked, his eyes twinkling in anticipation of humorous sallies. The shivering young man blurted out, “Sir, I came tomorrow.” “Really!” Smith interjected, “You came tomorrow? Unbelievable.”

“And when will you go back?” he asked. “Yesterday, sir.” He mumbled, tensed up. Before I could explain his confusion arising out of the oddity of Hindi having only one word, ‘kal’, for both yesterday and tomorrow, Smith turned to me and said, “Raghavan, find out where this H G Wells had parked his time machine.”

Yet another staff, Prasad, a store keeper hailing from Bihar, was talking to all of us, which included four young Anglo-Indian girls, during coffee break. He said he had heard about the southern hospitality but was now experiencing it in good measure. He had picked up some English, so he said that though he was away from his family, many in the office and his neighbours did their best to make him feel home.

All fine and hunky-dory, but to drive home his point, he added, with a wide sweep of his hands, “We are all in the family way!”

The girls shrieked and shrieked in bouts of laughter. Eventually, when the laughter abated and the abashed girls were dabbing their eyes with their hankies, the tall mustachioed cashier, nicknamed ‘Lord Gym’, went for the kill. He stood up slowly and felt his underbelly with nervous concern. “My God! Hope there is no baby bump,” he moaned, making the girls plunge into another session of unbridled ribaldry.