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  • Writer's pictureKuzhali Manickavel

‘We are broadcasting to you from the crystal gondola in the palatial main studios of 930 CJCA'

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

This line was the introduction to a little radio show I used to listen to in my little youths called The Bill and Bill Show. It is only now that I am appreciating just how rad this intro is. It’s been a dramatic week. Uncle Pai passed away and as someone who really loved and continues to love old skool Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle, I haz a sad 😦 . Then Premananda, also known as Swami Premananda, also known as Rape Swami (although this is confusing because so many swamis are rape swami), also known as Prems, also died. Whatever, right? And then Bipasha Basu apparently hired two little girls to tie her shoelaces? And then took a picture of this? And posted it on Twitter? Or something? This is one of those things you should not read about if you haven’t had any coffee because the more you read, the less sense it makes and that will end up setting the tone for the rest of your day. She probs wouldn’t have got in trouble if the two little girls in question were white. Moral of the story, if you’re going to take pics of kids tying your shoelaces, make sure they are white so you won’t be accused of child labor.

Anyway, when I was engster, I wished that Julie Andrews was my mom. Now that I am elderly spinster, I wish RuPaul was my mom. This week’s eppy was better than last week’s so I’m just really happy that I don’t have to kill myself over an American reality teevee show. My favorite lines from this ‘sode were

I don’t mean this to be offensive but do you have nail polish?

(k- halleloo, someone said something worth writing down)

She done already done had herses

(k- this is ‘ghetto shit that rupaul says’ although it also sounds like Gollum and it is rare for a line to reach both these levels of raditude. I can’t believe I just used the word raditude. I hope I never use it again.)

I’m going to make up something, fill in the gaps bitch, with elephant shoe honey, cantaloupe and shalabalaba tuna.

k- 🙂

There are three pizza types in my smalltempletown. One is Pizza Katherine, which is fifty rupees. I have no idea what the topping might be. Possibly Katherine. Which is gross. Second pizza type is Pizza Diana’s Choice. I believe the Diana in question is Lady Diana, because she’s one of those elderly white women we like to talk about over here, along with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. The third pizza is Pizza Saddam’s Craving. I believe the Saddam in question is Saddam Hussein, because he’s one of those foreign dudes we like to talk about over here, along with Kennedy and…Kennedy. Why are these pizzas named like this? What kind of toppings will they have? Why are the Diana and Saddam pizzas sixty rupees and Pizza Katherine is only fifty? Why this Pizza Katherine racism?

Now that I have tried to be witty about the smalltempletown menu and its ohsoprecious English, it behooves me to say that this menu is a good reminder to myself of how English words have different meanings in different places. It also reminds myself of how we sometimes fail to apply this important piece of wisdom in areas like the smalltempletown. Whybecausemeans one automatically tends to assume the ohsoprecious English is a mistake and that the natives have used it because ‘they don’t know any better’ and they are just sitting here, waiting and hoping for someone to come and show them how to be moar better with their English.

It saddens me to say that I speak from experience when I say that sometimes I would see these “mistakes” and turn into the Benevolent EnglishSpeaking Despot. Benevolent EnglishSpeaking Despot royally points out the mistake even though nobody asked. This is often done with a very Jesus on the cross air, like ‘forgive them father, they know not that their English is all rong but don’t afraid babay, I fix everything because I am awesome’. The Benevolent EnglishSpeaking Despot then writes out in nice, big letters the right way (AFTER taking picture of the ohsoprecious English to post on blog or generally show everyone because it’s so lololo and also proof that we hast been among the great unwashed and its unwashed English). Benevolent EnglishSpeaking Despot beams, hands over the “correct” English version and walks away feeling like they’ve educated the unwashed masses and they will be forever in our debt for correcting their English. In your head, you picture everyone crying and watching you leave with folded hands as they mutter in their native tongues, ‘May you live long and prosper’. I personally used to take this a little farther and imagine that they named their children after me also.

While it’s true that some folks may be interested in “correcting” things, that number, in my limited experience, is rather small. I have found that practically speaking, many such illustrious establishments don’t give a flying fuck if you think their English is funny or wrong or whatever. As was once pointed out to me, ‘you really think I’m going to call in some painters right now because you’ve told me one word is spelt wrong?’ I have to say, I kinda thought they would and was flabbergasted that they didn’t.

I think this whole idea of benevolently swooping down and ‘correcting’ the ‘bad’ English of the third world country signages may be another one of those romantic, othering notions we have about the nonEnglishSpeaking native, that they are desperate for us to teach them and make them moar better. Because that’s a nicer thing to believe instead of the rather unnerving idea that maybe they use English differently (*GASP!!!!*) and they don’t really care if you get it or not and your English doesn’t really have any place there. I guess this sort of applies to nonNatives making mistakes with Native words insofar as they don’t really care if they are doing it rong either. But also, it’s very different. Of course you may not consider it different if you believe in awesome concepts like reverse sexism and reverse racism.

Why would a little vegetarian meals hotel that has been doing brisk business for the last thirty years in a cosy little pocket of the world promptly redo all their signs AND menus just because you happened to drop by and be the friendly neighborhood English spellcheck? What made you think a spellcheck was even necessary? People already knew what the brother was saying. And if they know what a brother is saying, then it has some meaning, no? And rather than automatically assume the meaning is ‘wrong’, why not consider that maybe you just don’t get the local meaning?

‘pizza’, ‘saddam’, ‘diana’ and ‘katherine’ all have some meanings in this smalltempletown that I haven’t really understood yet. They are different from my meanings. This is sometimes hard to understand and accept. But I’ve discovered that when I decide to assign my own meanings to these words instead of accepting that I just don’t understand them, I learn important life lessons. I learned one such important life lesson when I was looking at another menu in another small place and I saw the words ‘Vegetarian Steak’. And I went HAHAHAHA! And a wise native companion rolled their eyes because that whole laffing at the menu thing gets old after looking at many menus. And I said Imma have vegetarian steak, bitches. And the wise native said ‘don’t be ordering that weird shit, have meals only’. And I was like pfft, nowai gais, imma have vegetarian steak! You can take your local meals and put it on your mouth! And the wise native said, ‘I really think you should just have meals’ and I was like Nowai! Vegetarian steak, bitches! I think even the waiter suggested I have meals but I was like vegetarian steak!! For the Shire!

Said vegetarian steak arrived and all I can say is that ‘vegetarian steak’ clearly meant something different to me and something different to the illustrious owners of said eating establishment. And the wise native said unto me ‘I TOLD you to order meals! Why don’t you listen to me! You never listen to me!’ This golden moment has actually been preserved in time because everyone else had a really fab time because the meals were apparently very good. A napkin was procured from said establishment and everyone wrote on it and said they had the best meals evar and they would never ever forget this day because everything was just the best evar, especially the meals. I wrote the words ‘big vegetable cutlet’ on this napkin because that’s all I could say. And for the rest of that trip, the wise native encouraged me to order vegetarian steaks from every little pottikadai that we stopped at. Important life lesson learned- if you don’t understand what vegetarian steak means in certain localities, just have the meals.

And now, I end with a song that when I first heard it, I thought oh my God, this song is all about my life! But I think maybe manymany people felt the same way also. This is These Days by Nico with the Velvet Underground. This song also appeared in The Royal Tenenbaums which had a little old Indian servant dude called Pagoda which isn’t that strange when you consider that I have a little old American servant dude called Skyscraper. He ties my shoelaces for me.



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