I met Sudha for the first time twenty-four years ago, when we moved to a city in the south of Rajasthan. She was our immediate neighbour on the right, if you were facing the house. At the first meeting, I found her very friendly as she sent trays of cold water and snacks on our arrival and even offered food which of course we declined. We were dusty and tired as we unloaded the luggage and shifted and pulled furniture, boxes, suitcases, cartons into their right places. Her thoughtfulness impressed us; she was so helpful. It wasn’t the usual behaviour a newcomer expected. They say the first impression is the last impression, but my impression of her would change a couple of times before the ‘last’ confirmed the first. She was indeed very helpful even when it came to the crunch. But that’s another story which I’ll save up for later.
Sudha was much older than us and according to the prevalent customs, we as younger people would have to address her with respect. That meant we either called her ‘didi,’(sister) ‘aunty,’ or simply suffixed a ‘ji’ to her name. Since the kids called her aunty she decided how we should address her, so ‘Sudhaji’ it was from then on. She was a gregarious person and an incorrigible gossip as well. So we had to be wary. She had a knack of getting people to talk, and this is how she knew everything about everyone. This knowledge coupled with her cheerful nature opened many doors for her. Sudhaji hadn’t studied English but she wanted to speak it because it would add to her prestige. So she picked up words and phrases and liberally peppered her conversation with it.
There was the day water was pouring down the drainpipe profusely and it wasn’t raining. She explained it this way:
“Overhead tank fulfil ho gaya and the football is spoil is liye paani flow out ho raha hai.”
(The overhead tank is full and the float valve is spoilt so the water is overflowing)
She met my elder sis and exclaimed:
“So much reflections in the face, pata chalta hai you are sisters.”
(So much resemblance, one gets to know you are sisters)
Then when she was leaving to attend a funeral:
“Doodhwala se hamare liye please doodh le lena, mujhe criminal mein jaana hai.”
(Please take milk for us too from the milkman, I have to attend a criminal (funeral))
When they were trying to get her son into college:
“Percentage best nahin hai, so by who and by croo hamein admission karwana hai.”
(His percentage isn't good enough, we'll have to get him admitted by hook or by crook)
About a member of her kitty party group:
“She is very proudy. Uske husband ka promotion hua hai. Ab woh bahut impotent man hai aur she is hawaa mein flying.”
(She is a very proud lady. Her husband has been promoted and is an important man now, so she is flying in the air)
When she tried out a recipe successfully:
“Mera project sexfully ho gaya. Everybody was happy.”
(My project was successful. Everybody was happy)
Pointing to a picture of her son, who was two and a half at the time it was clicked, she said:
"He is only half past two iss picture mein."
(He is only two and a half in this picture)
No one could say it the way Sudhji could! She was so entertaining. She had become friendly over the days and rarely probed for information, so I welcomed her company. My efforts to correct her atrocious use of English met with uproarious laughter. She didn’t care a hoot about her mistakes, it was enough that she was using English. According to her, most of the women in her circle were not even at her level of “proficientcy” so it didn’t make any difference and the dubious prestige of "knewing" English remained intact. I told her that I would quote her funnies, and she laughed and said that I could do so as long as it wasn’t to people who knew her, as that would tarnish her “im-age.” And so she continued happily murdering English with impunity!