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French connection
Reminiscence

French connection

Durgadas P.V.

My connection with French started when I joined Intermediate college. French was being taught as a second language. And the so called “high class“ students took it as their choice whereas the poor “desi“ guys like me took Hindi. To my surprise, the teacher who taught the language had a twist in his name. He was Padmanabhin whereas Padmanabhan was the most common name in that part of the country. I have not known the reason for the mutation. Perhaps it is like Gopal becoming G O Pal and Rajappan changing to R A Japan Ouseph and Thamarakkattil reincarnating as Joseph Lotus Forest after a short tenure abroad!

As life progressed, the relation with the language and the country of its origin continued in a limited way. The word R S V P at the end of the invitation cards was once explained to me as French which roughly means “Please respond”. But somehow it added some value to the person inviting in the Indian context.

Later I observed that many of the words in English were taken from French. A report says that as much as 29 percent of the English words have their origin from that language. It ranged from camouflage to cortège, calibr to cajole, terrace to garage ...the list is very long. The other things which are close to my life with its name tagged are French toast, French fries, French beans, etc.

One peculiar connection was realized by me when I worked in Goa. I was traveling after my hometown visit in the air conditioned coach from Trivandrum to Goa on the Konkan line. At Ratnagiri station, it was lunch time. Outside on the platform, I saw Mr. Waghmare a manager of a branch under my control in Goa. He was very busy talking to a big group of people, apparently his friends. I beckoned him from within the bogie. Naturally he could not see me thanks to the dark glass in between. The train started immediately. I reached Goa sometime in the evening. It was an era when even the black heavy cell phones with horn like antennae were considered as luxury. My driver took me to the office from the station. I had some important files to see. Hence I remained in the office till about six pm. Suddenly I remembered about W. I telephoned his branch. His second officer told me that he had gone for inspection. After reaching my residence, I telephoned his house in Ratnagiri. His wife attended the call. When I enquired about her husband, she said that he was on leave. Though it was not proper to ask her more about the leave, my curiosity compelled me to ask about the type of leave he had availed and I asked “Madam, is he on long leave or casual leave , any idea……?” She was prompt in answering, “ He was on French leave today. Tomorrow he will come to office“. I controlled my reaction, thanked her and cut the call.

The next day morning Mr. W was waiting outside my cabin to meet me. I do not consider it proper for me to describe what transpired within the cabin. But I still wonder how and why an escapist and irresponsible action got christened like that.

One may wonder why I have found a topic out of the blue to write about. While travelling in the car in America, my grandson used to ask many disturbing questions which were relevant and irrelevant. Just to divert his attention towards something else, I started making him familiar with the brand of cars. Soon he could identify the make of the cars viz Toyota, Honda, Lexus etc etc coming along the way. We later went to a Mall. There were so many brand names which he was told about. Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s etc were identified him without any difficulty. Let me make a confession here that I am not fastidious about apparel brands. Hence my knowledge level in this field is very limited. We came in front of another branded shop “Fcuk“ . I was asked to tell him more about it. First of all, it became slightly difficult for me to pronounce it in front of him.  I had not known about that brand at all. I managed to escape from the scene to reappear in a shoe shop sometime later.

Should I add that my problem was because of the cognitive process ( typoglycemia ) which happened within my brain to relate the alphabets to a known word…….? The underlying principle is that anyone can comprehend the text despite spelling errors and misplaced letters in words without any great difficulty. But I did refer to the internet to learn more about the peculiar brand name. It was just “French Connection” a logo for clothes made by a company  based in London. Perhaps they wanted to make mileage out of the famous movie by the same name which was released earlier. And the brand name had perhaps the best primacy effect as it reminds one of an extremely common word thought by all but spelt out by a few in public.

If anyone wasted valuable time by reading the foregoing as it was already known, I will never say . . . . off. Had it brought a smile, if not a hearty laugh, thinking about my predicament, I am grateful……..

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Note….The name is not real.