“Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It’s the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?”- Guy de Maupassant

confused homer

In a wonderfully diverse country like India there are so many opportunities to have conversations where both parties barely understand and still feel some semblance of good will towards the other for the words exchanged. Where you feel enriched by sentences you do not understand.

To have a genuine befuddling yet elevating exchange you have to be willing to laugh at yourself and make an effort to talk when you have nothing to say that the other person can possibly understand.

One of my routines after office is to go to a Café coffee day outlet where the cleaning lady started talking to me one day and I started answering back to barely understood sentences with my broken Tamil and forced smiles. But soon the smiles weren’t forced.

I go there routinely and we exchange some pleasantries with me making some effort in my broken Tamil and pretending to understand what she says. When I turn up after a long day and she makes some reference to time I smile and tell yeah that’s the deal with the job. I don’t know whether she understands but she smiles understandingly.

Then there are those conversations with auto drivers in  Chennai where I nod along to barely understood sentences and many times feel like an idiot when  I don’t know that with what passionately expressed opinion  I am agreeing to exactly. Sometimes it’s just small talk but not understanding the language makes me feel  idiotic but I nod along trying to make the appropriate sounds for agreement or sympathy based on whatever little context I can understand.

On train journeys, buses or any mode of transportation for that matter engaging in conversation with strangers you won’t see again is a high in itself, but when language barrier makes essential a greater effort along with lending the exchange a touch of humour and awkwardness, it’s just an ounce more memorable.

smiling stranger

Each time such a conversation ends in a genuine exchange of smiles and a fleeting gratefulness at the parting moment, it’s more than worth it. Humanity shines through in such conversations because the words don’t matter. Its empathy and the shared human condition that just enables you to have an ephemeral connection and a genuine conversation.

Here’s to having many more such barely understood conversations, mostly unintelligible yet clearer for the lack of words.


By- Aseem Mahajan

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