The year is 2002. This is my first trip to a non-English speaking country. I am going to France.
I land at the Toulouse airport via Milan. Upon landing I search for immigration. To my surprise, I cannot find it. Funny! How do I enter the country?
I approach a person who seemed to be wearing a police uniform. I ask him about immigration. He rattles off something in French pointing to doors marked "Sortie".
Hmmm... Sortie. When I was small I was an avid Commando comics fan. RAF used to fly sorties. Why is this person pointing to sortie? And why doesn't he speak English? This is an airport and if he is a policeman, shouldn't he be there to help?
I stare at him for some time trying to catch some words that I read in a French phrase book that I had purchased some days ago. Nothing!
I move away. Traces of panic appear. If I am delayed here, my baggage will be taken off carousal and who knows how to find them. In desperation I look around. There is a young man standing near a desk. All others are moving around. Perhaps, he can help. I go to him. As I walk towards him, I am trying to remember what I learnt in the phrase book.
"Parlez vous anglais?: I stammer out.
"Yeah, a little".
I ask him about the immigration.
He looks at me strangely and says, "collect yous baggage and walk out." and points towards "sortie".
"But if I enter France without an immigration stamp, I will have trouble going back."
"Hmm... How did you come here?" he asks.
"From Bangalore to Bombay via Milan."
"Did they stamp your passport at Milan?"
"Yes they did."
"Then you have nothing to worry. Since we are all part of European Union, you can enter anywhere into Europe."
"Oh I see!"
I thank that person immensely, find out where my luggage could be (it was more than half an hour since I have landed) and exit.
I have since visited many other non-English speaking countries - Germany, Belgium, Switzerland - but that first trip is frozen in my mind.
a) No matter how much information you have about a place or about related events, nothing will prepare you when you reach that place (I knew about the formation of EU.)
b) There is no substitute for local language. Your customers may speak English well, the person on the street will not.
All memories came flooding back when I created this web page on Free Online French Learning Resources. If you are planning to visit France in future, or wish to learn a language that will exercise your brain cells, this is the place to start.
Have you seen a Rudra Veena before? Did you know that Shiva created the instrument inspired by Parvati's shapely figure? No? Then head straight to Instruments in Hindustani Classical Music
This page shows how the instruments that are used in Hindustani Classical Music looks like, how it sounds and in some cases how it has been used in popular songs. Have fun.
Did you know that in the earlier days of Kishore Kumar's career as an actor, Rafi was the playback for Kishore? It feels very surreal when you hear Rafi's voice when Kishore is singing on the screen. You can see a few such songs on the Kishore Kumar webpage above.
By the way, if you wish to include a few of your own favourites please drop a line in the Guest Book in the webpage and I will include it.
Quick! Name 5 lyricist from Bollywood. Go on ... I can hear you ... Gulzar, one. Javed Akhtar, two. Very good. Go on ... Hmmm. I see you are struggling. Oh ... oh ... Anand Bakshi, ..., yes ... this is so difficult. And yet the songs that you have appreciated over the years are so much about lyrics. As are all songs. A pity that lyricists are a neglected tribe.
One name we tend to overlook is that of Neeraj. He is essentially a poet. His poetry has been translated into many languages. And yet, unless you are a cognoscenti, chances are that you would not have heard of him. Though I bet you listen to one song of his and you will recognize the song straight away.