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It is real cold outside, my friend

Best Friend just called to ask if I was cold. He was still stuck on the weather which possibly meant he was stuck with that mood. I played it safe. I was always cold, writes Upala Sen.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2007 01:55 IST

Best Friend left on an official trip for an “indefinite period”. Now he is the sort who starts feeling homesick the moment he steps out of south Delhi. So when he called to enquire about the weather “back home” (he had been away for two days) I decided to indulge him.

The hot dude was away, so the mercury had plummeted in grief — I thought he could do with some extra niceness. Response: Grunt. I dropped the cute act and then asked him matter-of-factly if he had reached home. What I meant was, had he left office? But no sooner were the words out of my mouth than he bit my head off. “This is not home. This is a house, just a guest house.” Ouch! What did I say?

All through primary school I struggled with words. I thought ‘cat’ made a nice opposite of ‘fat’, but no, they always got it to sit on the mat (something they could never get the real cats to do). I got confused between ‘carriage’ and ‘marriage’ and I called my water bottle, ‘little boy’. I did not give the matter much thought till one day I was telling someone about the water bottle-little boy confusion and she said — “Oh! Even then?”

Mercifully for my self-esteem bbsonline.org says that the words children use are words children hear, and not so much the words they prefer. Point to be noted.

Likewise, I would get confused between home and house.

According to mtannoyances.com (the full name is mother tongue annoyances) home is “anywhere you live -- your home may be a mobile home or an igloo” whereas, a house is “a physical structure with walls and a roof and a door”. I would think the difference goes deeper, where words lose their efficacy.

The other day we were at a photoshoot. The model was friendly and as she wielded those makeup brushes with Van Gogian élan we chatted. “I am from New York,” she told us. It sounded crisp and smart and…to the point, 'Nu York' (as she put it) or for that matter New Delhi or Bombay. Take a peek into wordlab.com, it is full of exotic place names. And to think whenever I was asked where I was from I had to say Bandel. No, I have no problems owning up that I am a small-towner, but the name of my small town is undeniably a phonetic horror.

So sometimes I mentioned the nearest city, at other times the state, and for the really really insistent I took a lesson in map pointing before I gave out the name. Till one day, for a change, someone asked me what my home town was like. And that got me thinking. Let's see: birthday parties with oily chips and return gifts, a magnolia tree outside my room, a-rupee-a-ride cycle rickshaws, early morning squatters dotting the Hooghly… Bandel was interminable childhood, certainly not worth sacrificing at the altar of phonetics. Besides, as per msgboard.snopes.com there are people who live in places called Gayville and Bitsch.

We had shifted house five times when we were in Bandel. Come to think of it they were all homes.

Some years back I was taking the Blueline from Tughlagabad to Dwarka, when a friend called. I had just moved to the city and was still feeling unsettled. And when she hung up abruptly with a “there’s someone at the door” it occurred to me that here I had no door of my own.

I never mixed up those words again. And soon after I moved into a home.

Best Friend called to ask if I was cold. He was still stuck on the weather which possibly meant he was stuck with that mood. I played it safe. I was always cold. Response: “I will be home tomorrow. And by the way you are getting really wicked.”

Now what did I say?

Email Upala Sen: upala .sen@hindustantimes.com

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