We were just beginning to emerge from that initial culture shock all experience when setting up house in a new country. We’d only been in India for a couple of weeks, and everything was so different to the way things were done in Australia. Georgine having lived in Hungary and Germany before immigrating to Australia was taking it all in her stride and all her energies were concentrated on putting her stamp on our assigned bungalow. Our Indian workmates and neighbors were warm and nurturing and we felt well accepted even though things were so different to what we were accustomed to.
Every day on schedule a Walla’s wailing words wafted over Salisbury Park Estate, Pune and they began to burn themselves into my subconscious. I’d not the faintest idea what these words meant for sometime, but subconsciously I’d find my lips moving in time with the Walla’s words as the chant continued. I seemed to be powerless to prevent this happening. “Pao, Pao Roti, Pao.” On and on it droned as Rama the Roti Walla worked his way around houses of the estate. What was it all about?
Soon after our arrival I decided it was time for us to begin making sense of the language so we could begin to understand what was happening around us and be more useful in our work. A language pundit was engaged to teach us, and we began the long and tedious job of trying to understand previously unintelligible sounds, and learn to make sense out of dashes, dots and curls peculiar to Hindi script.
I made my first remarkable discovery soon after purchasing a Hindi English textbook. ‘Roti’ meant bread! This set off a trigger reaction and my lips began to move to the chant “Pao, Pao Roti, Pao”. I looked forward to making the next discovery as this would help me identify the phrase, and unlock the mystery of Rama’s business on our estate.
Then I found it! `Pao’ was a human foot! Foot bread! That didn’t sound right at all, so I headed for the pundit’s house to have him solve the mystery for me. But the interpretation was right. The pundit explained that in former times dough was kneaded by people treading it, just as grapes are pressed by foot in some rural areas of Europe today. Having seen Rama’s feet I lost my appetite for bread!
It was little comfort for me to know the wailing chant was just a carry over from a distant past, and bread was now baked using modern methods and hygienic conditions. The chant now revolted me and turned me away from a very nourishing staple food for a few weeks until I got used to the idea and was fully satisfied Rama was not treading his bread.
Now, several years later and far removed from that experience, I can look at that situation with good humor. Unreasonable and foolish fear kept me away from a necessary food item until common sense eventually prevailed.
My dictionary defines prejudice as a preconceived opinion or bias against a person or thing. Usually prejudice is motivated by fear or ignorance and it can generate hurt or at least misunderstanding in turn. Fortunately Indian friends found our cultural misunderstandings amusing, and continued to nurture us until we were mature enough to understand things better and make our contribution to that society. I’m glad they did.
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