Humor of English Spoken in India to Mark Twain

Humor of English Spoken in India to Mark Twain is adapted from his book Following the Equator [1897]:

The series begins with the hiring of a "bearer"--native man-servant—a person who should be selected with some care, because as long as he is in your employ he will be about as near to you as your clothes.

In India your day may be said to begin with the "bearer's" knock on the bedroom door, accompanied by a formula of, words--a formula which is intended to mean that the bath is ready. It doesn't really seem to mean anything at all. But that is because you are not used to "bearer" English. You will presently understand.

Where he gets his English is his own secret. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the earth; or even in paradise, perhaps, but the other place is probably full of it.

The Bearer's recommendations were all from American tourists. According to these recommendations, Manuel X. was supreme in all the arts connected with his complex trade; and these manifold arts were mentioned--and praised-in detail.

His English was spoken of in terms of warm admiration--admiration verging upon rapture. I took pleased note of that, and hoped that some of it might be true.

He stood before me and inclined his head (and body) in the pathetic Indian way, touching his forehead with the finger--ends of his right hand, in salute. I said:

"Manuel, you are evidently Indian, but you seem to have a Spanish name when you put it all together. How is that?"

A perplexed look gathered in his face; it was plain that he had not understood--but he didn't let on.

He spoke back placidly.

"Name, Manuel. Yes, master."

"I know; but how did you get the name?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose. Think happen so. Father same name, not mother."

I saw that I must simplify my language and spread my words apart, if I would be understood by this English scholar.

"Well--then--how--did--your--father--get--his name?"

"Oh, he,"--brightening a little--"he Christian--Portygee; live in Goa; I born Goa; mother not Portygee, mother native-high-caste Brahmin—Coolin Brahmin; highest caste; no other so high caste. I high-caste Brahmin, too. Christian, too, same like father; high-caste Christian Brahmin, master--Salvation Army."

All this haltingly, and with difficulty.

Then he had an inspiration, and began to pour out a flood of words that I could make nothing of; so I said:

"There--don't do that. I can't understand Hindostani."

"Not Hindostani, master--English. Always I speaking English sometimes when I talking every day all the time at you."

"Very well, stick to that; that is intelligible. It is not up to my hopes, it is not up to the promise of the recommendations, still it is English, and I understand it. Don't elaborate it; I don't like elaborations when they are crippled by uncertainty of touch."

"Master?"

"Oh, never mind; it was only a random thought; I didn't expect you to understand it.

How did you get your English; is it an acquirement, or just a gift of God?"

After some hesitation--piously:

"Yes, he very good. Christian god very good, Hindoo god very good, too. Two million Hindoo god, one Christian god--make two million and one. All mine; two million and one god. I got a plenty. Sometime I pray all time at those, keep it up, go all time every day; give something at shrine, all good for me, make me better man; good for me, good for my family, dam good."

Then he had another inspiration, and went rambling off into fervent confusions and incoherencies, and I had to stop him again.

Manuel was a failure, poor old fellow. His age was against him. He was desperately slow and phenomenally forgetful. When he went three blocks on an errand he would be gone two hours, and then forget what it was he went for. When he packed a trunk it took him forever, and the trunk's contents were an unimaginable chaos when he got done.

We couldn't understand his English; he couldn't understand ours; and when we found that he couldn't understand his own, it seemed time for us to part.

I had to discharge him; there was no help for it. But I did it as kindly as I could, and as gently. We must part, said I, but I hoped we should meet again in a better world. It was not true, but it was only a little thing to say, and saved his feelings and cost me nothing.

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