An Expanding Vocabulary January 27 2014
The other day a group of labourers whom we had hired for some farmwork were discussing something loudly and the word “ALGOL” kept popping up. I strained my ears to hear it clearly – could it be that these folks were actually discussing the merits of some 3rd generation programming language?
A few days later we were planning a trip to the market (O yes we actually ‘plan’ a trip to avoid multiple visits to the market) so I asked our farm hand whether we needed to buy anything for the farm. “2 Daab and 1 Argol” he replied in konkani. Strange. What in the world were these things? Well, he elaborated – Daab is a specially entwined nylon rope used for tethering the cows to the metal ring in the cow shed.
A Daab - used to tether cows - available at all the little shops that dot the marketplace.
And Argol not Algol is a 5 foot long heavy metal rod with which you can dig up the soil specially when you want a very compact but deep hole – useful when you want to make a live fence. A live fence? What was that again? --- Oh that is a fence made with branches of the very fast growing Glyricidia tree – 2 feet long stout pieces of the branches are pushed into the holes made by the argol a foot apart around the border of the farm. The cuttings catch on and start growing and if you reinforce them with some wire you have a good strong ‘live fence’ that keeps growing and also provides mulch for the compost pit.
A Live fence
And so we keep hearing and learning new words many of them borrowed from kannada and used freely in the local Konkani language. And our maid speaks a bit of Hindi - just a bit, and sometimes my instructions to her are met with a wide eyed confused look and I realise that she hasn’t understood, or that I have used the wrong word. Like the other day I instructed her to clean the “Mankirkee” well. Blank look .... Oh not Mankirkee but Marigee – for Mankirkee is a large cane basket (which doesn’t need any cleaning ) and Marigee is the channel in the cow shed into which the fodder is placed for the cows (which gets quite messy and need regular cleaning). Not exactly similar sounding, but trying hard to learn Kannada gets me confused sometimes.
And the script is another thing altogether. When I first started on it, I got a set of picture story books – so that I could read and correlate. I tried to get Revati our maid to listen and correct my reading but she just couldn’t stop giggling as I struggled to differentiate between all the squiggly script! Now I have finally improved to a point where I can read out stories like “The goose that laid golden eggs”, quite fluently.... but talking in Kannada? Ah hem, well..... not yet!
My first Kannada Reader
So I have created a filing system now and all the new ‘farm-words’ which we learn have been filed in it systematically. But sometimes my brain pushes this system right behind my usual techno-jargon filing system and I am left fumbling for words. But then at times it does reach out and flashes out the right word at the right time. Like it happened the other day – a group of men with bundles of wires and a lot of equipment, - probably workers from the KEB came asking for our farm-hand. Most people know that we can’t converse in Kannada so prefer to talk to him. He had just left for lunch so I signalled to them and said ‘Oota’ which means ‘lunch’. So they turned to go away. One of them said to the other “Why don’t you ask her for the Argol?” The others smirked as he mumbled back what sounded like “Are you serious, she does not even know kannada ...how do you expect her to even know what it is” But I had caught on to the word and I asked them “Argol Beka?” - Do you want Argol?. They turned around surprised and I went into the tool shed and fetched it for them. The smirks were gone and did I detect a faint tinge of respect for the fact that I could understand more kannada than they thought I could?
Aww no – I just kid myself!