Heaven only knows why I always happen to stumble upon people who have no business to be anywhere near me. One such gentleman came into my otherwise serene surroundings one day. I barely knew him other than that I had met him a couple of times at some literary functions. This bloke had a queer habit of speaking English in highly alliterated sentences. As he was a product of an English-medium private school of India and as he held a Master’s degree in English literature from, again, a reputed university of India, he felt it incumbent upon him to speak only the stilted form of English with, of course, a touch of his own personal style.
And his personal style happened to be speaking, as far as his knowledge allowed him, figurative, alliterative and opaque phraseology. He seemed to detest all kinds of standard approaches to conversation and abhorred colloquialism calling it “substandard English spoken by substandard” people.
One fine morning while I was basking in the glory of my non-existent achievements, he invaded my house uninvited and deposited himself gracefully in front of me. Naturally, I asked him about the purpose of his grand trespassing.
“Ah!” he replied with a bewitching smile. “I have come here just to test the taste of your temper.”
I didn’t flinch, nor did I do anything of the sort a man is supposed to do when in utter miscomprehension. I just smiled.
“How can you possibly test the taste of my temper?” I asked, smiling.
“By speaking with you in the skimpiest English of scarcely scandalous style,” he guffawed.
Holy Buddha! This time my mind really received a jolt. Unknowingly my eyelids fluttered.
“What do you mean?” I asked him with tons of surprise in my tone.
“Well, by ‘skimpiest English’ I mean the bare essentials of conversational English.”
“And the rest of the alliterations?” I asked, perplexed.
“Well, that?” he smiled from ear to ear, “ the bare essentials of English is what you people call colloquial English. Surely, it wouldn’t cause any scandal, would it?”
I refrained from telling him whether it would or it wouldn’t. I knew better than that. “But you abhor colloquial English?” I reminded him.
“Not when I’m testing the taste,” he replied with aplomb.
“OK,” I capitulated. “Go ahead and test the taste of my temper in a ‘scarcely scandalous nature’.”
For the next ten minutes he engaged me in a conversation in which he spoke with great nonchalance and resignation in colloquial English. It was apparent from his face that his pride was hurt by doing so.
After his ‘test’ was over, he ejaculated a long sigh of relief, massaged his forehead, picked his nose, stared deeply at the slob on his finger tip as if he expected something to come out of it, flicked it away when disappointed, clicked his tongue and said, “ Well, you speak like spikes in spices.”
I nearly choked with surprise. The more I got baffled, the more elated he appeared to become.
“What the hell do you mean by that?” I almost shouted at him.
“Hmm,” he raised his right palm like a saint. “Your manner of speaking is offensive is what I mean. It’s difficult to swallow. Just as spikes in spices can choke your throat so also expletives can choke your ears. Do you see?”
Yes, I did see! By thunder, I did see! This man must be crazy in the head, I thought. A nut, a sure case for a lunatic asylum. I had no idea at all that people could talk in such opaque phraseology !
“However,” the man continued, “you mustn’t forget the forgeries of foreigners. In this case, the foreigner being the English-speaking people.”
I didn’t say anything. I was past caring by now. Let him yak-yak in his own stupid yakety-yak style. Who cares? I had enough of my own problems to worry about his issues. So I listened to his gibberish with my right ear and let it out the other.
“People fail to ponder that probabilities regarding the practice of pure and perfect English conversation prevails in the country, “ the man went on regardless of my inattention. “That’s why one finds the venerable English language misused so blatantly . Already vulnerable as it is from the voracious vagabonds, it can hardly be saved from the vile vermin of quasi-intellectual verbosity.”
My jaws dropped open and remained open for several seconds. I gaped at him not knowing what on earth he was talking about. My mind wasn’t as devious as his. There might be some sense in what he was saying but I had already reached a point where one starts wrenching one’s hair in absolute despair.
“Will you stop your goddamned annoying alliterative annotations and give an anodyne to alleviate my already apoplectic mind?” I literally exploded , not realizing until several seconds later that I, too, was using the same style as that of the man.
“There you go!” the man jumped from his chair with satisfaction written all over his face. “Now you have passed the test. I have successfully tested the taste of your temper!”