Monday, October 24, 2011

India - Mini Europe

Before I embarked on my "Official Eurotrip", many people told me rather scared me about the "Language Problems" of Europe. It being my first real foreign travel ( Thailand has more Indians than Bangalore :P ) , I did get a bit freaked. I translated basic statements like "Where is the ticket counter?" "Which direction is this building?" "What time is the train?" to Dutch, scribbled it in a paper and started my journey.

My first endeavor with a foreigner in Europe was at the Amsterdam airport. In spite of all the Google Translate, I asked in plain English "Where is the train ticket counter?" He pointed me towards the counter and said "Goedemorgen" (which I later learnt was Good Morning), I smiled, said Thank You and left. After that I have often had to ask for directions in Netherlands and most of them have responded in English to me. At times they spoke just disjointed words but communication is all about getting the message through and that ALWAYS happened.

Next scary junction was the Paris Trip. The French don't speak English. That meant rigorous planning and taking millions of printouts of Google Maps and Tram Routes. First encounter was with a French Policeman outside Paris Nord Station. The man genuinely knew nothing of English. So I thrust my  hotel address in his hand, and in my best deaf-and-dumb act, asked him which way to go standing at a 5 roads crossing. He politely pointed a road and we started walking. At a point of time, I thought he had misled us, until we bumped into Abhishek and I was glad we weren't lost. We traveled whole day in trams and metros, language didn't seem to be a barrier for a single moment.

Also, we hail from the densest populated nation. If we add the few other millions of Hindi speaking people from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Arab countries, you sure will meet a Hindi speaking fellow wherever in the world you are. No wonder at Amsterdam Airport's Burger King outlet, am greeted as "Yes madam kya chahiye?" or at Utretcht Central's Smuellers Counter "madam change hai for 1 euro?"

Now coming to the name of this post. It shocked me when a friend said that he is uncomfortable of travelling to Himachal Pradesh because his Hindi is weak. It made me think that my country is like a Mini Europe. People here get scared of travelling because they don't know the local language. To some extent, it is valid as India doesn't have a high number of Automated Ticket Counters or Cab Booking Places. So if you do not speak the local language and if you look like a foreigner in your own country, then there's a high chance you might be robbed by auto / cab drivers.

The northern half of India is united in Hindi and believe it is the National Language of India. Though there is the blend of Gujrati, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Kashmiri and what not. To the South, they are all Hindi speaking people. The east has a mixture of Bengali, Assamese and a few other tribal languages.The south totally brackets us in the Hindi speaking group. Tell that to a North fellow and he'll be laughing and rolling on the floor at our Bong Hindi. To the North, entire South is Madrasi. Strangely, the southern languages are more different from each other than the Northern set. Comparing the North and South set is beyond me! Our languages are as different as German is from French or Dutch is from Spanish. That's why being an Indian helps in surviving in Europe!

Friday, October 14, 2011

People Are People

This post comes as an apology for the lambasting post I did on the Netherlands Government Process. I was wrong to think that in a country of process and papers, smiles couldn’t do magic. A week was left for my Paris trip and my residence permit was yet to come. So I decided to drop by the immigrations building on Saptami morning. It’s supposed to be auspicious!  

Reception Lady: “Have you got an appointment for collecting your card?”
Me: “Ummm..not yet. Can I please talk to someone regarding the card? It is delayed quite a lot”
Lady: “It takes 3 months at times. Anyways you can go in and speak to the lady at the counter.”
Me : “Thanks Thanks”

Counter Lady: “Your card has been sent on mail to us on Friday.”
Me : “Oh so it should be here by tomorrow and I can collect it around Wednesday?”
Counter Lady: “I am afraid that not possible as it will come and then take time to generate your letter, then post it to you and then you can maybe get it next week.”
Me : “Please can’t you do something to speed it up? Please I want to travel this weekend. Please.”
Counter Lady: “Give me some time. I speak to my colleague.”

I sat down and kept thinking “She can’t do anything. She is just the lady at the counter who gives you a ticker to speak to the officials.” It meant again cancelling the Paris tickets. The money, the planning, the effort- all to waste.

There she is coming towards me.
Counter Lady: “My colleague said you can come on Wednesday and collect the card. You don’t need the letter.”
Me : “Reaaaallly? Thank you so much. I’ll be here on Wednesday same time.”

Two days I keep wondering what’ll happen on Wednesday. Can they be so good to jump the process for me? Wednesday comes and I rush to the Immigrations Office again. It is Nabami today.

Reception Lady: “Have you got an appointment for collecting your card?”
Me: “Yes”
Reception Lady: “Passport please”
Reception Lady:”Ok you may go in”

I walk in to find that the lady at the counter is not there. I stand there mustering up the courage to bear the crash. Then she comes and says “How may I help you?”
Me: “I came on Monday. You said I could collect my card today.”
Counter Lady : “Can I see your papers?”
Me : “Here they are. You told me I need not wait for the letter”
Counter Lady: “Oh Yes Yes! Let me check if it is here.”

She disappears inside. I sit there praying and asking God to prioritize my residence permit card above everything else in the world. She comes out grins at me and shows me thumbs up! I could have run to her and hugged her right then if it wasn’t inside the Dutch Immigrations Building. After few minutes, I am handed my card and I just can’t stop grinning.

This small incident and many others which I see here every day makes me feel, people aren’t really so different.

A kid drops her ice cream and bursts out crying. The father runs up to the child, wipes the tears, picks him up in his lap and calms him.

A mother sits in the train and takes small bites of an apple. Takes the bite out of her mouth and gives it to her kid who doesn’t yet have teeth.

An old man pushes the wheel chair of his wife. They go up to an ice cream shop. Standing outside in the autumn sun, the man enjoys his ice cream, while the woman sits in her wheel chair and enjoys hers.

I see love. I see friendship. I see family. I see Western Culture is not that different! :)