An Idiot's Tale

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An Idiot's Tale

Cacography of a madcap story teller, JAYEETA GHORAI

I have discovered a new punctuation in West Yorkshire: love. Hardly a statement or question ends without.

Added to my druthers for putting a smiley at the end of almost every sentence or paragraph on social media or mobile text, it has vastly improved my grammar. I often feel annoyed when I can’t find a smiley to complete my lines on MS Word!

I could get used to this. I have been saying ‘love’, ‘darling’, ‘sweets’ for years, getting into trouble being misunderstood in a milieu where lowe is the unspeakable. To say it casually and randomly is running the risk of appearing fast or flirty, being weird, cocky or flippant, getting strange looks and unwelcome amorous overtures.

But I couldn’t stop, just couldn’t make me!

So for ages now, I’ve been approached warily or slyly, been labelled an over-smart Anglophile who didn’t belong in her surroundings and was made to feel generally uncomfortable and unwelcome.  A single woman doesn’t, and shouldn’t, use the L-word lightly, you are tripping on the over-rife libidinous intentions hardly satiated within their stifling repressed ‘culture’ consciousness-es, or knowing not how to be.

In the land of Kamasutra, love means nothing.

Or only one thing.

Phillip, my unseen friend, had informed me, just before I was preparing for arrival, I would be called ‘sweets’, ‘dear’ or ‘duckie’ (this I haven’t heard yet) by people and they would mean it kindly. My husband hadn’t told me of the lexicon but had silently worried about how I’d adjust to the changed culture.

He isn’t a man who utters inanities casually, he replies to every note of kind endearment with a smile and murmurs of ‘thank you’ and ‘much appreciated’. I, on the other hand, feel warm being addressed thus, and have quickly re-picked on old habits. How can one not, one hears it everywhere, and it feels terribly impolite, stiff and standoffish to not respond accordingly, with the same pleasant and sunny inflections of the voice.

“Thank you, love.”

“Awl-right, love.”

“There you go, love.”

“It’s done, love.”

“That’ll be £12, love.”

“Where to, love?”

A taxi driver will call you that. Someone manning the till will tell you that. The cleaning lady will say it. At the pharmacist, tobacconist, library, supermarket, bus station, road, everywhere, almost everyone will call you ‘love’ till one would think you should be sick of it, but you’re not! I feel much loved instead, overwhelmed and cocooned against the frosty weather. It is said with such genuine good cheer, often with a smile, creased lips, wrinkled eyes, a lift in intonation, so you know it isn’t just a perfunctory expression.

And that other phenomenon, the British people smile a lot, or is it just Yorkshiremen? Perfect strangers passing you on the streets, if their eyes meet yours, will give you a smile.  A ‘Hi’ will fly past your ear.

When you give way, the young lady will blow you a ‘Thanks’.

Bus drivers get thanked routinely by alighting passengers. My young man remembers to thank the cabbies on every ride. “Where are your manners, Justine?” reprimanded a mother when her son was trying to rush through the school door before me. Muttered ‘Excuse me’ is heard, before a hand carefully darts towards the biscuits on the shelf you are obstructing. Shopping carts will be manoeuvred away from each other’s collision path with apologetic smiles. A middle-ager nodded his head for me to go before in the bus queue with a smile. Old pensioners plodding to the exit have more than one eager hand to hold it open for them. The janitress in the empty university corridor, who’s never before laid eyes on me, answered my ‘Good Morning’, adding, “How are you?”

‘Hi’, ‘Hello’, ‘Bye’, ‘Thank you’, ‘See you’, ‘Excuse me’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Good Morning/Evening/Night’ chase you in shopping aisles, lanes, near empty hall ways.  It is said that Yorkshiremen are argumentative and can blow you out of water. But I have only seen their cheerfulness, the sole perpetual grumpy or indifferent face being at my regular tobacconist’s counter who won’t respond to my greetings, therefore am happy with first impressions.

What’s amazing is how the Asian and African brothers and sisters have picked up on this universal bonhomie, and go chattering ‘love’ and ‘my dear’ with another evidently Asian.

I am a big sucker for manners, having been brought up in an Irish convent run school with these preliminaries drilled into me from early on. My mother had a more brutal method of going about it, but the message was the same.

A lot of people find fault that I prefer polite vocabulary instead of – alongside, would have been the more accurate perception – gestures; in the Indian ambiance it is considered better to not speak it out. You will be chaffed as being formal (by conjecture unfriendly, distant and rude) or uppity if you insist. But I’ve also long been a communications’ trainer in the outsourced, ergo global, service sector where interactions mostly happen via the spoken or written word. Your excellent warm gestures are often lost, misunderstood or misinterpreted. (This can be true also in face-to-face exchanges.) As Boyzone had sung, “Words are all [we] have…”

I’d rather have my gratitude, appreciation and jollity spelt out in no uncertain terms.

Kill me for not endearing to the matter-of-factly handed over parcel at the grocer’s, the culture of sticking one’s palm out for bakshish instead of a sincere acknowledgement of one’s effort, the rampant stepping on your toes or elbow nudges, but I can live better in an environment where outspoken courtesy is a way of life.

A Journey Through Yorkshire

There is more to Yorkshire ‘love’ than an attempt to appear courteous. These are a hardworking, mostly agrarian, essentially rural or small town community, living amid bountiful verdure and cattle poop, catching at the scanty sun and spreading the beams around.

As my idealist, dreamy, jovial husband never tires of saying, and the astute, meditative Ajmal surprised me by repeating the night before our trek, “Love is not just one thing! It is not restrictive between a man and a woman, or what you feel only for your family. My feelings for my son is love, your attachment to your dogs is love, my interaction with the shop owner, your respect for your professor, everything. You care for your books, studies, traveling –that is also love. The colleague in the next desk, the office cleaning lady, the driver parking in the lane beside, every relation in the world is based on love.”

Every meeting is (or should be) a manifestation of geniality. You spread your love as you go. Love for life. Love for goodness.  Each six degree of separation is a covalent bond of affection.

Looks like my husband is a born-again Yorkshireman. Some corners of the earth just breed and draw such obviously happy people, satisfied with so little.

Yorkshire with its abundant generosity of lowe is seeping into my bones, too.




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