Two weeks ago, a tall, young Omani guy came to the office. He was my colleague Hari’s friend and had come looking for a job. Hari brought him to my desk and said, “Rekha, I’d like you to meet Mohammed Bahlani from Izki. He comes with a surprise.”
As with the customary greeting, I said, “Salaam-Aleiyukum” and he responded. Hari could not contain it any longer and said, “Speak to him in Tamil!” Inwardly I thought, “Hari was alright just a while ago, what happened to him and why was he asking me to speak to his young Omani in Tamil?”
I just smiled and kept quiet. Mohammed also smiled… and then said ‘Vanakkam’ and then proceeded to speak with me in chaste and pure Tamizh (yes, it is not Tamil with a ‘l’. It is Tamizh… and it sure needs a lot of practice to get to the ‘zh’ unless you are Tam or Mallu!).
I simply stared at him, not knowing what hit me. I didn’t know how to respond. Not that I don’t speak Tamil, but I was too flabbergasted by what I was hearing, something like the language from the Sangam ages. I kept gaping till another colleague who hails from Madras joined us. Mohammed continued speaking in Tamil while we just stood and stared and attempted to make some ‘sensible’ Tamizh conversation. And when Mohammed slipped into the verses of ‘Thirukkural’… I almost started crying. In my mind, I counted the barely ‘ten’ Arabic words I knew…. And naturally felt ashamed.
But I had to find out the reason for Mohammed’s Tamizhness. Where did the connect come from? Mohammed hails from Izki, a village in Oman’s interior and has been learning Tamil for the past five to six years. According to Mohammed, he first heard the language from the many Tamil expatriates who lived in the village and worked as masons. He found it very sweet-sounding and decided that come what may, he had to learn it. And so in less than six years, he has learnt to read, write and speak Tamil fluently. His mastery over the language is incredible and to think that it has absolutely no connection with Arabic, his mother tongue! He also watches Tamil TV channels, especially Makkal TV to hone his skills!
But no, he hasn’t been to India yet. Though he waxes eloquent on the intricacies of Tamil politics and asks us which ‘katchi’ (party) we favour. He knows a lot about the state and wants to go there one day. Inshaallah (God willing!), he says with a huge grin on his face. We can’t help but engage him in more conversation, thrilled that an Arabic tongue has so very well embraced an Indian language (and a difficult one at that!) as its own.
Ultimately, Mohammed summed it up well. “Whatever language we speak, we are all one. We are all human beings!”
That the world is shrinking is not just a cliché. With people like Mohammed in it, the Sanskrit phrase, Vasudeiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family) resonates. And resonates well!
Tamizh Puthandu Nal Vazhthakkal… Happy Tamil New Year!