At cross purposes

At cross purposes

Some word in the vernacular language might puzzle us at times

Lakshmi and I were on an assignment in Trichur. The evening was free so we went to the Vadakkanathan Temple. After that we sat on a stone bench under a large and spreading tree. The gentle breeze and the serene atmosphere did much to soothe the spirit.

Lakshmi was in a mood to reminisce. She spoke at length about the good old school, where she was a boarder and didn’t have a care in the world. She recalled the ruses she and her friends used to wrangle permission from the warden to go shopping or watch a movie— always escorted by a senior boarder, of course. Sometimes, the senior turned out to be stricter than the warden! After a lengthy pause in the conversation, Lakshmi slid off the bench and said, “You know what? I am hungry.” She sounded as if she had made a major discovery.  So we flagged an auto and returned to the hotel we were staying at. We headed straight to the restaurant where an attentive waiter seated us and stood by to take our order. I placed my order and so did Lakashmi. As an afterthought, she asked for salad as well. The pleasant-mannered, cheerful youth was only too eager to oblige. With the air of a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, he put the plate of salad on the table. It looked impressive with slices of tomato, cucumber and carrot artistically arranged on a lettuce base with a mound of shredded cabbage in the centre. “Looks tempting, doesn’t it?” asked Lakshmi. “If you insist”, I smiled. (I never touch salad outside the home.) She turned to the waiter.”

Don’t you have onion?” she enquired. He blinked in puzzlement. So Lakshmi repeated the question. He still looked uncomprehending. Lakshmi hails from Kerala so I suggested she speak in Malayalam. She saw the sense of that and asked, “Onion undoe?” Enlightenment dawned and pat came the answer. “Illa.” (No) was the very short and very sweet answer.“Why?” demanded Lakshmi, lapsing into English. Her voice held a hint of irritation. The waiter literally wrung his hands in confusion. “Ari illa.” (Don’t know.)Then, as if inspired, he added, “Chechi undu.” (Have an older sister.) ‘Aniyan’ pronounced like ‘onion’ means younger brother in Malayalam. I had a tough time keeping a straight face. “Malayalam, Lakshmi,” I prompted. She did switch to her mother tongue then. And bingo! The waiter nodded and hastened away to bring the smelly bulb!
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