I’ve written a few stories about my trip to Kerala, and I didn’t miss the chance to say that the language barrier was a significant problem for us throughout the trip. I’ll tell you the “how” of it in this one.
We landed on the Kochi airport and problems began from the get-go. We booked an Uber and you might already know how hard coordinating with drivers can be when you speak the same language. So, to coordinate with someone who speaks an entirely different language was almost impossible.
The thing I learned in my first interaction there was that Malayalam to people there was what Hindi to us. By extension, English was commonly used for business. However, the one thing people miss is that English is broken sentences, words and phrases mixed with Hindi in the northern parts of the country. It’s similar in Kerala, but instead of Hindi, it’s Malayalam. So, if you plan on using English to ask for directions, you’re still going to struggle. We did.
Anyway, that is not meant to be derogatory. In fact, it was exciting at first; to be in a place where no one spoke the language I did was a first for me.
And Kochi was fine for the most part. The problem was Munnar. Munnar is to Kochi what say, Chakrata is to Dehradun or Lonavala is to Mumbai. The thing about a nearby hill station or escape is that it loses all those bells and whistles that the city has, and while that is desired, there is one thing that gets amplified – the language barrier.
Our conversation with the driver who drove us around, shop owners, people we stopped for directions, government officials, hotel owners, and so on consisted of repeated words and phrases. To top all of that, the bus situation happened, and we couldn’t leave Munnar.
A funny instance was when I asked the hotel owner for an extra bottle of water.
“Water,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Bottle?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Give me one,” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
Then, we stared at each other for a while. He did not give me a water bottle.
This moment, although hilarious now, was incredibly frustrating in the moment. Imagine having this conversation after two days where you’ve barely talked to anyone but your friends, getting stuck in rains unable to enjoy the place you’re in and losing your transport and plans because things happened. You’ll want to scream hard.
In fact, a shopkeeper in Munnar realised our frustration and told us that he knew Hindi too. He was from Delhi. It had been some three days since we had heard any free-flowing familiarity and when he spoke, there weren’t just words. His words felt like home. All of our crankiness, annoyance and irritation just dissolved after that one conversation.
This was when I realised how stressful travelling can be if you’re unprepared for it. Reality check, you’re always unprepared for it because travelling is the synecdoche for life; it’s unpredictable and spontaneous.
There is a small cafe near Kochi Marine Drive. We had to ask directions to a spice shop. So, we asked the owner there. They didn’t understand so we used Google Translate’s Malayalam card and have them read our questions. It felt weird. While technology looks good in a YouTube ad, it tends to be weird in real life.
All said and done, Kerala was my first time in a place where I didn’t know the language. It gave me a taste of the vastness of everything.
I mean, this was just one part of my country. That is how narrow my horizons were up until now.
Here’s to expanding them, one trip at a time.