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Roman Holiday

“In Rome do as Romans do” – this was the sentence oft repeated in my school days – be it an English Grammar class or Social Studies – and the essence of this statement was ingrained on our malleable minds. When in Rome, we have to  behave and do as the Romans do!


A ‘Gujju’ by ancestral lineage, a Goan by birth, a Maharastrian – as studied in Marathi up to Standard IV, and being an avid reader and having multi-cultural friends, I prided in being fluent in few of Indian languages; as also English; and a working knowledge of French. And I tried to use the language of the place I visited (to the extent possible). For example, in Ahmedabad, I tried talking in Gujarati to the person who was checking (frisking) me at the airport – and he admonished me saying that though he understood what I was talking, he was not a Gujarati, and couldn’t reply to me in the same language. I let it be – after all airport security is Central Government job!

In Mumbai, I talked in Marathi everywhere; and was well understood. I was delighted to listen to various styles of Marathi; and regaled the family members with the mimicry of various dialects.  Coming back to Goa, I looked forward to talking in Konkani – which I pride in saying that I speak it better than my mother tongue Gujarati – to friends and all. If wishes were horses…..

Speaking Konkani in restaurants – I was met with stony glare. “Je ne comprend pas” was the attitude. Speak in Hindi or English – or get lost. I had to eat the proverbial crow (before I really ate some real food) as also the pride of being Konkani lover, and ordered the food in Hindi. Then and then alone, we were served our food.

Happy Holidays

Pragna and I went to a well known departmental store (bazaar) on 18th June Road, Panaji. The store was comparatively empty, and we were delighted when the sales girls fawned upon us. Pragna started in English – and requested for various things – which were promptly displayed before of us. I switched to my Konkani – requesting for additional information, etc. and was met with a cold stare and that déjà-vu sensation of “Je ne comprend pas”.

“What? You don’t speak Konkani?”

“No sir, speak in English only, please”.

I was little disappointed. Nonetheless, we continued our shopping. All of a sudden, there was a hush, and the sales girl dropped us like a hot charcoal (not a potato); and rushed to a ‘gora’ couple who had just stepped in. The sales person spoke in a ‘foreign’ language – and guided the couple to the appropriate counter; and then returned to us. I followed the couple around the store, and found almost all the sales personnel speaking the said foreign language. Returning to ‘our sales girl’, I enquired of her as to which language she was speaking.

“Russian” – was the answer. And she spoke Germany fluently, too. And of course, English. What about Hindi and any of the other Indian languages?

“Oh, I have good knowledge of Hindi. And no, I absolutely don’t know Konkani or Marathi or Gujarati”.

I stifled my feeling of disgust; and insisted to Pragna that we don’t buy anything from this bazaar. Also a true Goan at heart, she sympathized with my feelings; and agreed – though the deals were good. We walked out of the store – “empty hands we had came to this store, and empty hands we left the store” – having enriched our data base that the languages are not everything. Sometimes, being a Russian or a German seems better.

And I am learning not to speak the language of the place anymore. For in the name of labour mobility and globalization of economy, everything works – except the knowledge of my Konkani.

And yes, Mrs. Rodrigues and Mrs. Chico – you were wrong. In Rome, you don’t have to do as Romans do. You need to do as the paying customers do. Else you perish.

I shed a solitary tear for loss of Konkani. And tell to myself –

“Don’t cry for me, Konkani” – on the tune of Madonna’s “Don’t cry for me, Argentina”.

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Last modified: March 30, 2023