Aslam Bhai

Last week, after stumbling out of Retro, our local Cambridge Layout pub, I hailed a taxi. Not sure what I selected on Uber, but Mr. Aslam promptly rang me. He hurriedly asked directions in Hindi, and I confidently responded in Kannada (because Kaveri Nammadu). I then remember sitting on soft fluffy upholstery.

The car started and I wasn’t sure what make of car I was in. Quickly looked up Uber for answers. Toyota Corolla. Fanciness! For the most part of the drive, I was lazily looking out of the window, feeling posh. Then suddenly, Aslam got a call.

A: Who is speaking?
A: Yes. Tell me, tell me… Mainland China?
A: Okay fine.
A: Arre yaar! I can’t understand you. Kounsi bhasha bol rahe ho? Kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha hai! (What language are you talking in? I cannot understand anything)
A: Arre!. Kya bolte ho tum? Hindi aata hai? Tamil? Telugu? English? Kannada? (What are you saying? Do you speak Hindi?)
A: Nahi?! Japanese aata hai?! (No?! Speak Japanese?!)

I was taken aback by his tone. I’m sure the other person on the phone was trying his best to converse with this uncouth clown and our hero was being a casually rude taxi driver. When he topped it off with Japanese aata hai, I was quite miffed. Stopped myself from asking him to not discriminate against North East Indians. At this point, Aslam starts talking gibberish into the phone. Mind you, polite gibberish. For a minute I couldn’t comprehend a single syllable he was saying, yet, it seemed so familiar. Suddenly I thought I heard him say mesa. I knew that word! But, that was Español :-O

Upon inquiry I found out that Aslam was a polyglot in the true sense (screw you pretentious IT fellows who put polyglot on resumes). He spoke Kannada, Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. On the phone call that he received, he was helping out an Italian lady converse with the hotel manager about her food order. All this he learnt while driving taxis in Bangalore for the last 20 years while ferrying Embassy officials in his car and without going to any language classes.

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