I was waiting in line, along with about a dozen others, watching as two men took their own sweet time in rolling and baking the rotis. I’d been there for over half an hour, and the only way I was going to fill my stomach, was by keeping my temper under wraps.
Finally, the cook decided to reward me for my patience, and slowly wrapped a couple of rotis into a roll. Handing it over, he indicated that the favour was over, and I was to be on my way. So much for ‘customer is king’.
Just as I was about to turn away, though, the fellow behind me suddenly shook. His body trembled violently, as he slowly collapsed onto the floor in front of my feet. Shell shocked, I watched as he continued to wriggle.
Thankfully, a bald headed north Indian sprung to action, calling out for some water. A jug was immediately produced, and water splashed onto the man’s face. Still no change. He continued to wriggle horribly.
“Get some socks,” the bald man said, in vague English. I immediately understood what he meant. But had no idea how a pair of socks could help.
He looked around, trying to make the rest of the crowd understand. “Socks, socks,” he said, pointing to his bare feet.
The two of us knelt to the floor, trying to sooth the fallen man. I had no idea what needed to be done, and acted more as a silent spectator, albeit with a lot of worry.
I looked up again, and saw two of the waiters had brought sandals. The Hindi fellow shook his head. “Socks, socks,” he said, trying to make them understand.
A minute later, I again looked up, and saw the cook gingerly holding a bar of soap.
A bar of soap. “Socks, socks,” the guy said in exasperation. Not soap. Socks.
The fallen fellow’s friend told me in Malayalam, that it was just a bout of fits. “He’ll be fine soon,” he said.
I looked at the Hindi fellow, whose surprising compassion would’ve brought an ambulance to the spot any minute now. “Bhai,” I said in confident Hindi, “Yeh sirf Fits hai. Aadmi teek hoga. Uski dhost ne bola.”
“Really?” the Hindi guy asked in relief.
I nodded my head.
And sure enough, a few minutes later, the fellow was propped up into a chair, and breathing more calmly.
As I walked away with my packet of rotis, I marvelled at the language barrier present in India. A single spot could have four different groups who didn’t speak the same language. A great point when it comes to diversity. But when there’s an emergency to attend to, sometimes not having a common language to speak is a disadvantage. It’s a good thing I knew English and Hindi.
Or else I’d have proudly held up a bar of soap to cure a man with fits.