Well folks, after vacationing in hot, tropical Southern India for five weeks, I’m back on the mountain and getting treated to one of the most punishing winters since they invented the smart phone. So I’m the guy you see bundled up like he’s measuring the snow pack at the North Pole.
What do I miss most about India? The friendly people? The great food? The warm weather? No. What I miss most is learning one of the oldest languages on earth.
I spent most of my time in the state of Tamil Nadu, where the locals speak an ancient language called Tamil. It’s not hard to learn—if you’re willing to speak baby talk—especially since Tamil has no verb conjugation. So to say “I’m going to the store” in Tamil, you just say—with Tamil words— “now, me store going.” To say “yesterday, I went to the store,” you say “Yesterday, me store going.” To say “Tomorrow, I’ll go to the store, you say “Tomorrow, me store going.” There’s a simple elegance to Tamil.
I was just starting to have my first rudimentary conversations in Tamil when my vacation wound down. One day, I took a taxi to a famous temple and the driver didn’t speak English, so I said, “Yenakuh Tamil teriaduh,” (I don’t speak Tamil). He responded with, “Yenakuh English teriaduh, (I don’t speak English.) He dropped me off at the temple, and I wanted him to return and take me back to my hotel, so I said, “Ningha” (you), “ingha,” (here), “6 o’clock.” He nodded that he understood. Sure, I sounded foolish, but it beats walking.
You may wonder how a language that has no verb conjugation says, “I would go to the store but I just remembered that I forgot to pay my credit card and it’s maxed out.” Well, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure they just say, “me no store going—me broke.”
Now that’s simple elegance.