The perils of north-eastern pronounciation came home to me while I was on assignment, in Chirang District, Lower Assam.
For instance, I couldn't for the life of me understand why there were so many 'Shobhaa's and what they had to do with mid-day meals in schools.
Whenever I asked them who was responsible for monitoring the mid-day meal scheme, the local sarpanch would answer, with great pride, "Our Shobhaa."
I was most impressed, but when I heard of the third rural Shobhaa to have undertaken this onerous task, I couldn't contain my curiosity.
"Shobhaa?" I probed.
One particular sarpanch (I forget his name) replied, pointing to himself, "I am in Shobhaa."
No, this couldn't be right. "In Shobhaa?" I repeated, rather stupidly.
A retired headmaster spoke up now. "I am also in Shobhaa. There are five-six villagers."
I still didn't get it. "And every village has a Shobhaa, right?"
"Yes yes, all have Shobhaa."
Rather helplessly, I turned to Saito (an activist with The Ant, who was accompanying me and acting as interpreter when needed).
He grinned. "Yes, all villages have a Shobhaa... you know?... You don't know Shobhaa? Like... like a committee."
Committee? Oh, Sabha! Gram Sabha, of course.
I nodded, grinning with relief.
At the next village, we had to go through a 'fond'. Rather embarrassed about my total ignorance, I didn't dare ask Saito what a 'fond' was.
I should have. It would have saved him the trouble over foks and figs.
At one the first villages we visited, I was invited to stay for lunch.
The retired headmaster very enthusiastically said that, in honour of the Bihu festivities, they would give me 'fork'.
Now, I can use a fork if I absolutely have to, though cutlery isn't my favourite instrument of torture.... but since I'd just finished breakfast, I politely declined.
Suddenly, a furious discussion began, in the Bodo language. Saito was summoned.
He returned to me and rather anxiously asked, "You eat Fork?"
I wasn't sure what this meant but very gingerly, I said, "I can do with a fork but I don't want to eat."
Saito shook his head. "But you eat Fork? Fork meat?"
"Fork meat?" I thought the damn things were made of steel.
Other villagers joined in, persuading me. "Yes, fresh fok meat.... you like fok?"
Saito nodded vigourously. "Yes, yes. For Bihu, there's good fok."
Ok, this didn't sound like a fork. But fok?
I racked my brains for something that sounded similar? Fork? Fok? F... Fuck?
No no no, this had to be my twisted urban consciousness at work. It couldn't be that.
Saito looked distinctly helpless by now. The villagers were looking forlorn, so he tried again. "You eat figs?"
Yeah, sure. I could eat figs.
So I nodded, adding, "I didn't know tribals in India grew figs! I thought that was a more western thing."
Saito looked surprised. "You never seen figs here? We grow so many figs!"
"Yes, yes. We grow figs. For meat."
Meat? Fig meat?
This just didn't sound like figs.
Saito noticed my perplexed expression. Suddenly, he stood up.
"Come, I show you. You see figs, then you eat if you like."
We went round behind the school building and into the back-garden of a neighbouring house. There, noses pressed to the ground, stood a grey, hairy sow, with a team of six little, grey, hairy piglets in tow.
Saito pointed, "Fig!"
Ah... Pig. Pork. Pork meat.