Abhisekh Toppo was in for a surprise when an auto driver told him that he speaks Malayalam with “a Palakkad accent. I never expected to hear that comment after my struggles with Malayalam,” says Abhisekh, who hails from Assam and came to work at Technopark nearly nine years ago.
He is among several non-Malayali employees in the IT park who have adapted themselves to the Malayali culture, lifestyle and the milieu in their own way. MetroPlus catches up with a few of them to learn about their adventures.
“Your language is very difficult. I can speak a few words and sentences in Malayalam, especially those needed for daily communication. Otherwise, I take the help of my Malayali friends,” says Shreya Mehta, a native of Ranchi and a resident of the city for over a year now.
Shikha Ramesh, married to a Malayali and settled in the city for five years now, says that she converses most of the time in Malayalam at home and with her team. “My teammates often say that I shouldn’t speak Malayalam because I can’t pronounce certain letters properly, especially ‘na’ that is used in different ways. When I scold them in Malayalam, they end up correcting me!” Shikha says.
For Abhisekh, the “training” began once he started sharing his room with two Malayali friends. “They made it a point to speak to me only in Malayalam! I had no other go but to learn it. They even taught me some cuss words. I don’t think I will ever be able to write the language. But I manage to read some words, such as the Malayalam name-boards on buses that ply to East Fort and Thampanoor,” he adds.
Problem of plenty
SN Purba from Odisha is often at a loss when she hears different dialects. “The Thrissur dialect, for instance, is fast and tough to understand. Not being able to speak Malayalam becomes a major handicap when I have to deal with autorickshaw drivers. Also, when I go shopping, some vendors increase the price as soon as they realise I don’t know Malayalam. That’s when I wish I could bargain in Malayalam,” says Purba.
For Andhra Pradesh-native Venkata Krishna Manda, but for some initial glitches, the settling in process has been smooth during the last six years ago. “I can understand Malayalam, but can’t converse in the language. But my two children who study in a city school are proficient in the language and used to help me out to read the name-boards on buses. Now my wife is learning the language, so that she can interact and help them out in studies,” says Venkat.
While these employees are unanimous in their love for the beach, the climate and the greenery, their opinion is divided about Malayali food. Abhisekh, for example, enjoys ‘pothichoru’ for lunch every day, with some extra parippu since he doesn’t like sambar.
While Shreya enjoys the fish fry and sadya, the Kerala meal is Purba’s favourite. “Although we don’t use coconut oil back home, I like the vegetarian dishes cooked in that oil more than non-vegetarian items. I also like the Arabian dishes here,” Purba adds.
However, Shikha hasn’t yet got used to the idea of using coconut oil to cook. “We use it only to apply on our hair! Also, I can’t eat the rice here. It is big and looks scary. So whenever I go home, I bring 40 to 50 kilograms of our rice with me. I don’t mind sitting for four days in the train to survive for four months!” Shikha laughs.
The women are also irked by the Malayali mindset about working women. Purba points out that some people have preconceived notions about women who come from North India. “While returning from work at night, many of the men, be it the security personnel of my apartment, shopkeepers or passers-by, look askance at us and that makes me very conscious,” says Purba. Shikha adds: “I feel the men here tend to gossip more about us than women. But for that irksome trait, I am happy living here.”
In fact, with most companies encouraging the employees to turn up in traditional wear, they are all game for it. “Whenever there is a dress down day, I turn up in Kerala sari, settu-mundu or the Assamese traditional dress, Muga Mekhela Chador,” Shikha adds.
A fortnightly column on life in tech street