[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Can you tune out of a conversation in a language you know?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

It was a moment before the doors were shut, I sneak into the PATH train in Grove street heading to 33rd Street in Manhattan, on my way to Long Island City.

If I make it before 8 AM, it’s usually easy to find a spot to stand somewhat comfortably so I lean against the wall in the corner standing right in front of two Indian guys – one an older man with silver goatee and younger guy. They looked like father and son.

I am busy reading the last chapter of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. I have this strange habit of reading books back to front – not literally, but starting at last chapter or last page and going back. Am I the only one with this bizarre habit? I digress.

They are talking to each other in Hindi, which I understand.

Older guy: “Have you noticed there is not as many cars in the parking these days?”

I figured they are going to talk about the economy and layoffs.

Younger guy: “Oh is it? I don’t have to park”

They can’t be father and son, of course.

Older guy: “These days, I don’t have trouble finding a parking spot in the morning”

Younger guy: “Good for you. Where do you live?”

They seemed to like each other’s company and went on chatting. I was wondering how I can tune off. I couldn’t so I hear half of it and understand half of what I am reading.

Next stop; Pavonia Newport. A swarm of commuters rush in. I swear half of them are from the Indian subcontinent. I lost the little bit of extra space I enjoyed for 3 minutes.

Two more Indian guys walk straight up to the conductor’s area and stand very comfortably right across me. They must have thought we were all dumb trying to squeeze in all around them, leaving this premium spot for them! The conductors area is a 3×3 spot in the corner of the compartment that’s used by the conductor to control doors and signals to the driver. He usually moves between two compartments depending on which side the station is. Obviously, the conductor was in the next compartment at the moment.

These two guys are busy continuing their conversation in Tamil, which indeed is my mother tongue – so can’t stop listening to it.

First Tamil guy: “I sent that email on Friday but still don’t understand why they had asked me to come?”

The younger guy, who is sitting in front of me, was also watching the two Tamil guys barge into the conductor’s spot. He says to the older guy in Hindi: “There you go, he is going to kick these two out of there in a minute”

In response, the older guy leans into the younger guy and said something that I didn’t quite understand. They both started laughing.

Second Tamil guy: “What to do? That’s the way it is. I don’t know if he is trying to push his agenda here”.

First Tamil guy: “What agenda?”

Second Tamil guy: “You know? There is some serious politics going on here.”

I figured this must be one of the popular Indian IT firms loading up consultants left and right.

First Tamil guy: “I was in Atlanta three years ago, and it was not like this”

I sure thought this poor guy must have landed in Newark Airport from Chennai the night before.

The conductor walks in. “Excuse me?”

First Tamil guy now gives a naïve look: “Huh?”

The rest of us around were acting as if we were not watching any of this. I suppose something like this happens quite often given the nature of moving population in this part of the US.

The transit conductors are not the nicest public servants I know. “Can you guys move and let me do my job?” pointing to control board on the wall.

The Second Tamil guy seemed as if he understood “Oh ok!”

I turn back to my book. Where the heck was I? I am not sure if I read the whole page.

A portion of the Tamil and Hindi conversations pass through my ears. A part of was wondering the beauty of Human brain – there was no way I could tune out of a conversation in language I know.

Or may be I didn’t want to.