No time for nuisance calls

9 years ago

To the editor:

A phone call just replaced the Great Idea I had for writing this time. A thickly accented Indian male voice wanted, he finally made clear, “not to sell you anything … just working with your utility to put solar panels on your house.”

I traveled alone for three weeks in India, loving every minute of it (well, almost) — including Bombay, Allora and Ajanta, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kashmir, Darjeeling and Calcutta — understanding people with many accents.

There were 28 different languages used in India, of which Gandhi learned all except Telugu, pronounced Telgu. Other lists include from 122 to well over 1,000, depending upon definition of language and dialect. I learned none, but marveled at all, especially Hindi, the national language, with the line above each word. Telugu was the  most interesting to behold, with little circles everywhere.

The number of Indians who spoke English was humbling. Their English, with its British origin, differed in the use of some words. In Calcutta, I had visa photos taken and when I left the small studio, I requested directions for my next stop, a few blocks away. The photographer’s references to a footpath lost me, but I headed out and eventually realized it meant sidewalk.

Actually, there was one Indian accent that threw me; a man in an airport, who stood at least a foot taller than I — having to lean back, peering up into the ether, and a face, to listen, is a real chore — insisted on practicing his English, which was not at all clear. I needed to hurry, but tried, asking him over ‘til he finally said, in exasperation, “You don’t speak English, do you?!”

Throughout the country, people always obliged when asked for help. Fellow travelers would often suggest places to stay. A young flying seatmate — we both were flying, that is, the plane was — said his parents owned a small hotel in Hyderabad. Okay. It cost $1 a night. Don’t even try to picture it. (His parents, away at the time, were aghast when he told them.)

The next day he and a friend, also a student, helped me move to a hotel that cost $2.50. Sheer luxury.

Back to the present. I might have been more patient with my caller’s English another time. Sometimes I ask where a caller with an accent is from or is calling from for the sake of nostalgia and a little sharing, being very positive before giving a negative reply to the phone offer.

But today the phone rang as I was on my other line, leaving a message on a friend‘s voice mail. Thinking, “Could she be calling back?” I picked up the phone without monitoring. Stupid.

This caller should have known better than to call me today. The newspaper astrologer could have told him. My horoscope said, “It’s weird, but you’re so busy now that you might have to schedule unscheduled time. It’s important for your well-being that you do. Otherwise, the world will quickly get in your way.”

Right! As soon as I ended the call, I scheduled time to write this.

Byrna Porter Weir

Rochester, N.Y.