M. A. Vellodi
About fifty years ago, I was at the United Nations on a longish assignment. I was a member of a small group of United Nations diplomats who met very often to discuss everythimg from Pol Pot to the Post Adjustment for Ulan Bator that determined the salary of a United Nations official posted in Mongolia.
One of our favourite pastimes was at lunch in the United Nations Dining room overlooking the East River, which was at least four time a week. On any given day, there were at lunch more than seventy-five Ambassadors and the same number of Senior U.N. Staff members and junior diplomats from the Permanent Missions to the U.N. Each one of our little group – we were around six or eight – had to choose any ten diners at tables within hearing distance and guess their nationalities. Guesses on persons with special garbs like the Sari and some of the Africans and Arabs fetched lower marks. Points were allotted during the dessert. The winner and the runner-up had to foot the bill for all of us. No one could win or be runnerup more than five times a month. The U.N. staff members and delegates, who came more in contact with the delegates in the Committee rooms, had their points reduced by 29 %
After I left the UN and the Indian diplomatic Service this game all but vanished for want of suitable arenas for playing the game. After I got associated with the NGOs and especially after I became a part of The Banyan in 1994, I revived this game but as a solitaire. Everytime I met a new staff member or a frequent visitor to The Banyan – those were the happy days when I visited The Banyan thrice a week – I would get to talk to that person and in a space of the self-stipulated ten minutes, would guess her or his State in India. For my State of Kerala which next to Tamil Nadu probably has the largest representation among the Banyan staff, Trustees and Friends of the Banyan, I try to make the guess even at the District level because the Malayalam accent is very distinct in different Districts, Trissur being the broadest and Valluvanad (naturally mine ) being the best. I wanted to play this game with the residents but felt that they may not be very comfortable with my Tamil it being the Chenthamizh of Chilapathikaram vintage.
Recently I made a bloomer. I told Ranjitha, our very competent and equally charming newsbreaker, a la Professor Higgins, that her family was of Sri Lankan origin. This was way wide off the pitch and as embarrassing as the Aussies’ very unsporting high scores againt us in recent games. But this is not stopping my little game as the Aussies’ scores are not worrying our men in Blue. So, watch out when I approach you seemingly for a document or some data but in reality for one of my phonetic exercises.