Rujuta Diwekar, nutritionist to the stars of Bollywood, among other sage food advice, strongly advocates using the local names for food. She spends a paragraph or two talking about how we try to explain words from our native languages, calling a roti ‘Indian bread’, or idlis ‘steamed rice cakes’. While this has nothing to do with the nutritional value of the food, it is an interesting cultural insight. World over, people refer to tacos as tacos, not ‘crispy or soft, baked corn envelopes’. And when we go to eat tacos, we enjoy the brush with Mexican culture, no matter how far removed from the real culture it may be.
This is especially true for India, steeped as we are in strong local cultures, each with its own food language. When I went to Pune from Bangalore to study, for example, I discovered that what Kannadigas call Kesari Bath, is considered as much a delicacy in Pune, but under a different name -Sheera. Now this is how comfort food works at a deeper level – not only was I comforted to find a familiar food away from my hometown, but it also made me feel closer to Maharashtrian people and culture. When I went to the cafeteria and asked for Sheera, there was an unspoken appreciation from the local staff, noting my effort to fit in with them.
Imagine the opportunities we have to connect with each other, and the treasure we have to share with the world, with the uniqueness of local languages.
When we communicate, we often are held back by thinking we must be articulate in the language that the audience understands. Or many a time, we even believe that we must be like Shashi Tharoor, and befuddle our audiences with verbiage of prodigious ponderings and flabbergast them with reams of epigrammatic diversions. None of this is true; in fact, what we lose when we try to communicate this way is tragic. We lose the opportunity to share glimpses of our personal vocabularies, which are seasoned with cultural nuances; we lose interesting ways of expressing ourselves and discovering connections through laughter and curiosity. We lose the opportunity to relate meaningfully, putting language above communication.
Yesterday, at lunch, a colleague was sharing how she found the food bland; she said that the dish had ‘appa amma illa’, a hilarious way of saying the food was an orphan that had acquired no personality from its parents. This had us all in splits of laughter; a window into her world opened up and with it a step towards a closer bond.
Here’s the secret to powerful spoken communication, the sort that makes people follow leaders, and achieve feats together they had never thought of before – it’s not the words you use, or that your grammar is perfect. It’s the conviction you share, the vulnerability you expose, and the ways that you let audiences into your life and personality that make your communication compelling.
Of course, political correctness and politeness are the basics that cannot be overlooked. This is also more relevant when speaking when you can gauge the reaction of your audience. When writing, you must make sure to take the extra step of explaining local references, but this still shouldn’t hold you back, it makes your writing interesting and unique.
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