Monday, November 24, 2008

I stayed in a small guesthouse in Chennai in the one month that I was there. So it wasn’t the Taj, but it was adequate. The room was bare but neat, the sheets slightly frayed but clean. The staff barely spoke English (or Hindi) but we managed to communicate in broken words and sign language.

My first day there I called up room service for a cup of coffee. The following was my telecon:

Me: Hello
Reception: Re-sap-shun
Me: I am calling from Room 5
Reception: Room 5
Me: I would like a cup of coffee please
Reception (Silence): …..
Me: Coffee please
Reception: Ka-fee?
Me (unsure): Ka-fee? (Ka-fee? Oh, he means coffee). Yes coffee, I mean Ka-fee
Reception (politely): Sa-ree madam
Me:… (Sa-ree? Sa-ree? Oh, he must mean sorry)…Ka-fee
Reception (politely): Sa-ree madam
Me (slowly and clearly): Kaa Fee
Reception (politely): Sa-ree madam
Me (a little louder): KA-FEE
Reception (politely): Sa-ree madam
Me (exasperated): Coffee, Ka-fee, Ka-fee
Reception (even more politely and patiently): Sa-ree madam
Me (wondering why I ever came to this city where the people can’t even understand me when I say coffee, which is a reasonably universal word; missing my morning coffee which would be given to me without my asking for it….): …..
Reception (clearing his throat): Madam?
Me (my last attempt before I give up): Coffee…. please
Reception: Ok madam. Send room.
I put the phone on the cradle out of breath and thankful that I would be getting coffee after all because now I desperately needed it.

It was some days later that I realised that ‘Sa-ree’ in Tamil means ‘ok’.


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