December 01, 2007


So one was under much dismay,
A fairly longish-standing gripe.
A basic problem, you might say,
Of the linguistic type.

One turned it over in one's head,
One asked around, as should be done.
And certain people, when consulted,
Replied thusly to the One:

"The Supreme Polyglot, we suppose,
Is the person you require to seek.
His PhD he did compose
In perfect tense, in ancient Greek!

"He once rewrote with obvious glee
The Serbo-Croat vowel forms.
Then rolled his r's and, unknowingly,
Caused two minor thunderstorms."

Ah, 'twas a truly glorious day.
One set off at a lively trot
In Kalbadevi, South Bombay,
To find the Supreme Polyglot.

Instinct led one straight and true
To this old flat in disrepair.
(3 BHK, decent view,
One shall not say exactly where.)

(In hindsight, this flat did possess
A certain real-estate appeal.
A real Gujju, Heaven bless,
Would've surely clinched the deal.)

But one focused on the Quest at hand
And quite soon one became aware
Of a slightly balding, strange old man
Sitting on the floor right there.

What on earth could this portend?
Was this the man that one had sought?
Was the Quest now at its end?
Was this the Supreme Polyglot?

He sat amidst a sea of texts
Speed-reading them in twos and threes.
Chuckling softly to himself
In articulate Cantonese.

Words in many tongues he muttered
At one point he said "Chomsky Lives!"
Then voicelessly and gravely uttered
Alveolar fricatives.

It was just as one had thought!
The Quest was now come to an end!
It was the Supreme Polyglot!
(It took a while to comprehend.)

So one walked up to this old man
Who saw the One and moved away.
(That always happens.) One began
What one had come here to say:

"'Twas a decade ago, in a foreign land .."
One began, quite choked with feeling,
"That one decided, you understand,
That one found languages appealing!"

"Ten years of language-learning grind
And one finds one has now become
Unceremoniously confined
To dilettantic dabbledom!

"Many years it has been, sir,
With no real change in status quo.
One's still quite an amateur
Das ist was bothers me zo!

"A spot of German, bits of French,
A word or two of Dutch and Greek.
But in the final count, you see,
'Tis only English one can speak!

"And things have gone from bad to worse!
There was a time when once one spoke,
One could hold forth, and one could curse,
In the tongue of Gujju folk!

"And till some years back (much remorse),
One could converse through word of mouth
One could engage in intercourse
With noble Ghaatis to the south!"

(At this point he looked rather shocked.
One understood the reason why.
By 'intercourse' one meant but 'talk',
As one hastened to clarify.)

"But long ago was the fateful day
That one bid Desi tongues goodbye.
They've sort of just faded away
Since one became an NRI.

"So one has a problem, see,
Saviourize, one does insist!
You must help, O Supreme P.!
Help this poor try-linguist!"

He sneezed in Latin, coughed in Dutch,
He hummed an old Arabian song.
His accent had a Swedish touch
(His Swedish was extremely strong.)

A modest lunch he then began
With bread and butter, jam and cheese.
He took a bite in Catalan
And chewed in modern Portuguese.

"A tale of woe you tell, my son,
(Assuming what you say is true.)
But what exactly, so-called One,
Is it that you want me to do?"

"To work towards the common good!
One's wildest hopes you would surpass,
If you'd agree to teach, the One would
Sit a daily tuition class!

"Evening sessions, starting today,
To impart language-learning flair!
One shall be thy protege
O linguist extraordinaire!

"One shall learn, O great SP,
(At an astronomic rate)
To enounce multilingually,
To fluentially conversate!"

And, by God, he did agree:
"I shall condescend to assist.
You already do seem to be
A notable try-linguist."

"One's listed Things to Learn, among
Which Gujarati is first!" one cried,
"Must focus on the Mothertongue!"
To which he thusly replied:

"Fear not, my young misfit!
SP, whose help you now avail
Before this language bug had bit
Was once one Shaileshbhai Patel!"

And tears of pride and hope emerged
The world became a joyful blur.
That evening one was seen submerged
Neck-deep in Gujju literature.

Someday now one shall begin
Apprehending, as it were,
Medieval Mandarin
At the feet of SP Sir.