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A Pondicherry Boy
by [?]

The result was astounding. He turned to me with an awe-stricken look, as he dropped his tin plate with its precious burden, and holding out both hands as though to embrace a fellow countryman, he exclaimed in French,–

“What–what, do you come from Pondicherry?”

For a moment or two I did not follow his meaning. I did not see what French meant to him; I could not tell that it represented his little fatherland. I had imagined he knew it was a foreign tongue. But it was not foreign to him.

“No,” I said, “I am an Englishman.”

He sat down on a thwart and stared at me as if I was some strange miracle. His next words let me into the heart of his mystery.

“It is not possible. You speak Pondicherry!”

He did not even know that he was speaking French, the language of a great Western nation. He could not know that I was doing my feeble best to speak the language of a great literature; the language of Voltaire, of Victor Hugo, of diplomacy. No, he and I were speaking Pondicherry, the language of a derelict corner of mighty Hindustan. Now he eyed me with suspicion.

“When were you there?” he demanded in a whisper.

If I was not Pondicherry born I must at least have lived there in order to have learnt the language.

“Pondy, I was never there,” I answered.

He evidently did not believe me. I had some mysterious reason for concealing that I was either Pondicherry born or that I had resided there.

“Then you didn’t know it?”


“And you have not been in Villianur?”


“Or Bahur?”

I shook my head. He shook his and stared at me suspiciously. Perhaps I had committed some crime there.

“Then how did you learn it?”

“I learnt it in England.”

That I was undoubtedly speaking the unhappy truth would have been obvious to any Frenchman. But to Pondicherry what I said was so obviously a gross and almost foolish piece of fiction that he shook his head disdainfully. And yet why should I lie? He spoke so rapidly that I could not follow him.

“If you speak so fast I cannot understand,” I said.

“Ah, then,” he replied hopefully, “it is a long time since you were there. Perhaps you were very young then?”

I once more insisted that I had never been at Pondicherry, or even in any part of India. All I said convinced him the more that I was not speaking the truth.

“You speak Hindustani with the bandaddy.”

It is true I had learnt a dozen phrases and had once or twice used them. To say I had learnt them in the ship was useless.

“Oh, no, you have been in India. Why will you not tell me the truth, sahib? I am the only one from Pondicherry but you.”

He spoke mournfully. I was denying my own fatherland, denying help and comradeship to my own countryman! It was, thought Pondicherry, cruel, unkind, unpatriotic. He gathered up the mess he had spilt and descended sorrowfully to the main deck to discuss me with his friends among the crew. As I heard afterwards from the wrinkled old serang, there were many arguments started in the fo’castle as to my place of origin. It was said, by those who took sides against Pondicherry, that even if I knew “Pondicherry” (and for that they only had his word), I also undoubtedly knew English. And when did any of the white rulers of Pondicherry know that tongue? Some of the Lascars who had been on the Madras coast in country boats swore that no one spoke English there. On the whole, as I came from England and knew English it was more likely that I was what I said than that I came from Pondicherry. But even so all agreed it was a mystery that I could speak it. The serang came to me quietly.

“Say, Robat, you tell me. You come Pondicherry?”

“No, serang,” said “Robat.”

“But you speak Pondicherry the boy say, Robat?”