In one of our usual Fellowship gatherings, I had an in-depth conversation with a new member Dr Tun Singh. He is an urologist currently attached to a local hospital for a period of 6 months. He’s leaving at the end of the year for UK where he came from. Urology is a wide discipline comprising the urine system of a human body. Kidney, bladder, urinary tracks etc are part of the urine system. They are even sub-specialists of urology. In layman terms, we just call him a “dick”doctor.
Dr Tun Singh originated from a remote village in the North-western part of India in Punjab province. Due to his busy work commitments, we do not meet often in our Fellowship gatherings. Last Sunday, he was supposed to attend the lunch for a German guest from our German affiliates but he could not make it cuz he was operating throughout the night. I wonder if he was fixing some damaged dick?
Anyway, some time ago, I was able to meet up with this busy dick doctor who has joined us only recently. We had an interesting and informative discussion on languages. When I tried to get alongside to him, he seemed wary of my presence. His serious no-nonsense demeanour is armour clad around his personality. I told myself that I need to break the ice if I want to get into a lively conversation with him.
Since I am quite well versed in Punjabi – definitely better than my Hainanese or Hakka dialects, I could start with some well rehearsed Punjabi phrases. I started with “sat sri akal” followed by “ki hal hai?” He responded in Punjabi also. Then I say, “beer peelay” and “mee agai!” He started giggling. I was telling him to drink his beer and it’s raining! They say learning filthy words of another alien language is the easiest thing to do. I let go a string of Punjabi expletives and body parts descriptions, he turned to shock, disbelieve and then laughed all the way especially when he told me he’s an urologist. Oh you are the “lan_ner” doctor?
The ice is now broken. It’s time to move into the next level of conversation. He told me that he speak many North Indian languages such as Hindi or Gujerati. He used to live in Punjab as a young boy until he went over to UK to study. When he graduated and qualified as a doctor, he continues to live there. He is now a citizen of UK. He is here on a 6-month fellowship attachment partly on a teaching appointment.
When I regurgitated all the Punjabi words and phrases I’ve learnt, he was impressed. According to him, what I just said albeit a little out of diction and pronunciation is similar to the Punjabi in India. It’s just like our Singlish or local English vs UK, American or Oz English. They are similar but with slight variations. I told him it’s the same as Mandarin too. ROC, PRC, Malaysian and locals speak slightly different Mandarin versions. We are able to differentiate where they are coming from by listening to their spoken Mandarin accents.
Dr Tun Singh was asking me if he should learn Mandarin since there are lots of Chinese here.. I told him that many ethnic Chinese learn Mandarin in school for more than 10 years yet could not even pass a simple test. It’s not easy to learn Mandarin even for an ethnic Chinese. He was surprised by this revelation. I told him it’s easier for him to learn some basic Malay. He agreed cuz when he comes across non-English speaking patients like elderly Chinese or Malays and even Indians, they usually try speaking Malay to him. But he doesn’t know Malay at all. Most of the Punjabi could speak Malay cuz they are either locals or from Malaysia. As an Indian here, Dr Tun Singh is expected to know Malay so he says.
Another important thing I learn from him is that “not all Punjabi are Sikhs but all Sikhs are Punjabi.” That is interesting. I didn’t know that fact. Dr Tun Singh says that he may be a Sikh but some Punjabi are Hindus and Muslims. If you visit certain parts of Pakistan where there are Punjabi Muslims especially near to the Punjab region, most of them are Punjabi speaking. It’s the same language as his!
After the gathering with Dr Tun Singh that evening, we became good friends. Subsequent meetings with him were like “BHÁÍ ਭਾਈ” (brothers). Our Dr Tun Singh despite the fact that he is living in UK as a practicing surgeon for most of his adult life, still yearns for his village in Punjab. Whenever, he mentions about his beloved Punjab, his eyes well up with deep emotional feelings! Ah! That is life. We always return back to our roots no matter where we go in our short life span! Only people like me, born and breed here will understand the mixed nostalgic feelings entrenched in his mind and spirit! Dr Tun Singh confided in me that he hopes to retire in Punjab when he retires.