You speak Tamil too?

I reached home yesterday to hear my answering machine beeping. It is rare these days to have voice messages waiting when I get home. The only ones I do usually get are appointment reminders and such. Refreshed and phone in hand I listened. It was from some one I have not met but was told to expect a call from by another friend. The caller id showed a last name that I was not able to place from any particular region in India.

I called back and launched into conversation in good old English. We went back and forth exchanging personal information and about the time we were about to end the call she said “Neenga Tamizha?” meaning “Do you speak Tamil?”

I was surprised and said yes and we continued some more in our vernacular. After I was done talking two things struck me. One was how easily I assumed things about an unknown person based on the name. And the second on how difficult it was to switch from English to Tamil mid conversation. Even as I started talking in Tamil, I kept relapsing into English midway and had to make a conscious effort to switch back.

I promised myself I would go easy on people who stereotyped me based on how I look and what my name is.

8 comments

  1. Yes, if you ever get on the phone with me – don’t stereotype me by my name unless you want to have a good laugh at the command of my tamil language 🙂

    By the way, I have a tag for you at my blog.

  2. Hi Laksh. As you probably know, my mother tongue is Tamil, but I cannot speak it. Of course there were times in my life (when I lived in Malaysia) where people would just come up to me and start a conversation in Tamil,… and I would always have to cut them short… apologise… and tell them that I could only speak in English or Malay (national language of Malaysia). So, when I first saw the title of your post,… my first reaction was..”Ohh No.. I’m gonna be caught out again…” 🙂

  3. Laksh, this is one thing I have never done…stereotyping people. I just used to get annoyed with people doing that to me many a times 🙂
    I can relate to switching to tamil mid way problem…mine is I keep thinking in english most of the time. Though now, I have become comfortable switching between languages. Guess it is because my mother tongue is telugu, grew up in TN with english as my first lang; hindi, french thrown in 😀

  4. I agree. I would get these calls from telemarketers selling phone cards to India. I don’t know who sold my details to these companies, but I find these targeted calls very irritating. There are so many assumptions built in..

    The last straw is when they start asking me which city I call to, and which language I speak 😉

  5. @Bavani: Would love to hear you speak in Tamil 🙂 Thanks for the tag. Interesting one.
    @Spillay: Thats interesting. In some ways I can see it around me here too. Kids born to Indian couples here are infinitely more comfortable in English than their mother tongue. Am sure my niece is going to be like that too.
    @Apar: Stereotyping at least in this case is not something intended to be hurtful or rude. Half the time I don’t realize I am stereotyping till after the fact.
    @Lekhni: Thanks for stopping by! I can so relate to your comment. I get annoyed too.

  6. Laksh,

    You have a nice blog and this is the first time I am visiting yours. I am sure I will have a nice time reading through your blogs.

    I went to a dentist recently and he asked me from which part of India I come from, I said “Southern Part”, thinking he will not be very familiar with our country. Then he goes like “You do not look like a South Indian, they are mostly dark people”. I was shocked. I think it is common and natural for people to stereotype with their name, the place we come from, the way we look. I do not think there is anything wrong or rude in stereotyping people. My 2 cents.

    Anyway, it was nice talking to you the other day.

  7. @Smitha: Welcome!! I now realize what the problem was.. Your caller id replaced the second “s” in your last name with a “p”. So I was totally confused 🙂 I had fun talking to you too.

  8. Laksh, when I read the post yesterday I assumed it was Smitha. I remember mentioning in my mail that she is also a Tamilian from Chennai. Now seeing your reply to Smitha, I understood the confusion.

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