This article appeared in The Hindu’s Open Page Section dated 15th October 2017
“Hi Amma. Konichiwa!”, said the little fellow as he pranced home from school.
“It means Hola! Hello in Japanese.” said the fellow beaming.
“Oh that’s nice. Konichiwa. It sounds like a tinkling windchime. Koni-chiwa. “
“Ni Hao is Hello in Chinese.” said the Hello expert.
“How did you know these things? Did they teach you in school?” I asked.
He pulled out a beautiful children’s book called ‘Say Hello’ by Rachel Isadora, and said he picked that from the library that day. That night we snuggled into bed with the Say Hello book. I must say that it is a most beautiful inclusive book and includes illustrations as a little girl walks through town saying Hello to the various people she meets.
The Shalom Aleikkum, Ni Hao and Konichiwa-s roll out with ease, before she finally finds her Abuela and says ‘Hola!’
The daughter sometimes joins us for story-time, and this time the two minute read turned into a twelve minute reminiscence into what is lovingly known as the Hola Snafu At Cancun.
The fellow at the gates to the resort in Cancun was looking morose, and wondering whether there was any purpose in going on sitting at the resort gates like this. There were folks inside going about their duties sipping a whisk of margarita as they were preparing some for the guests at the bar inside, while he had an iced water bottle that had long since melted the ice and left a puddle around it. Our van pulled up after a day’s trip to Chichen-Itza, and I poked my head out.
“Hola! Uno nuevo nuevo deux.” I said and smiled. I gave him the room number allocated to us at the resort, so he could let us pass. It had been a long day with dinosaurs, asteroids, nuclear warfare by aliens from another galaxy, hobnobbing with the spirits of those who built the pyramids centuries ago.
The fellow chuckled to himself and looked uplifted in spirits. Just for this performance of Spanish, it was well worth giving up the spot to work at the bartenders backyard. He waved us in cheerfully, and I said in perfect Spanish. “Thank you Amigos. Have a tres bien day!”
I turned around to see the daughter who incidentally learns Spanish up at the school rolling in the aisles and laughing with her little brother. “Did you just think you spoke Spanish?” she gurgled when I asked her what the matter was.
Our van was trundling in toward the resort, so I must have said all the right things, I said Oui with confidence.
“Have a tres bien day! Tres Bien is French Amma, not Spanish!”
It sure was. I had not considered the possibility that French and Spanish occupied the same area in the old brain. Amazing what all happens inside the walnut isn’t it?
“Well Spain is near France, so I am sure they will understand. “, I said miffed that my marvelous attempt at Spanish was being given the rip down by the children.
“Yes! But Mexico isn’t near France. If I were him I would have asked for the room number again, and keep you there till you got it right.”
I was on solid ground there. Our room number was 1-9-9-2. Uno Nuevo Nuevo Deux.
“Nuevo means ‘New’ ; Nueve means 9”, said the Stickler for Spanish Perfection.
“Why didn’t you say anything then, eh? Hola?”
I hola-ed and tres bien-ed and buenos nachos and muchos gracias-ed my way through the Mexican resort much to the delight of the staff there. Some of them taught me that Buenos Nachos means ‘Good Nachos’, not Good Night but smiled along indulging me in my Spanish dreams of fluency.
We all laughed, but the husband said that the important thing is that I made the effort to communicate with them all, and they understood that. Even when I said Muchos Nachos Tres Bien, and Google translator had no clue what that meant, the server who had laid out dinner for us with amazing vegetarian fare knew I meant well, and bestowed an avuncular smile on me.
The recent mass shooting at Las Vegas has horrified America yet again, and the press has said the latest terrorist attack was because the terrorist was a lone wolf. (Yes, when an act is calculated and carried out to spread terror, it is a terrorist attack, ask any fellow who works up these places that curates dictionaries and so on. The press seems to have this curious idea that the word can only be applied to certain sub sects of people, though the feeling of terror is universal.)
Anyway, as I was saying the Lone Wolf – I read a book by Daniel Byman a professor on Middle Eastern studies who tried to see the correlation between how terrorist organizations recruit and train towards extremism and any other factor (economic, academic, geographic), but came up with no correlation whatsoever. It was baffling. There was only one unifying factor among each of the recruits: They were all Lone Wolves.
That got me thinking that every time we spot someone feeling lonely in our community, why not send a Hello or Hola or an Konichiwa or Ni Hao or Namaste or Salaam Alaikkum their way? We never know when a simple smile and word can change the course of one’s day. A smile is as universal as loneliness after all.