Midnight In Paris – Finding The Masala Street
It was the 11th day into our Euro trip. I was with three of my friends in Paris on a 3-day visit. On the second day of the trip, we heard about the ‘Masala Street’ in Paris. One of our friends living in Paris said that you could get Indian food for a very cheap price if you spoke in Tamil (My mother tongue). I was away from home for a long time and the idea of Indian food sounded delicious. I am a South Indian brought up in Dubai. My mother taught me Tamil at home to make sure that I could read, write and speak my mother tongue. She always thought that language has strong ties with tradition and it is something that must be passed on.
How my mother tongue got us food after midnight in Paris
Coming back to Paris, we decided to walk to the Masala Street. It was a long walk from Jardin du Luxembourg. This turned out to be a bad idea as there was no official Masala Street. Masala Street was the name give to the area, which had a lot of Indian restaurants in Paris. We were getting very skeptical about the existence of the place itself as the shops around us were all closed, but we kept going. It was already nearing midnight and something crazy happened. We were seeing boards of restaurants and groceries written completely in Tamil and not in English or French. It was surprising because you do not get to see many shops having boards written only in Tamil even in Tamil Nadu (The Tamil state of India). It was already 15 minutes past Midnight, we passed by two guys who were closing the shutter of a restaurant. I stopped for a second because I thought that they spoke Tamil and I went ahead to ask if they speak Tamil and they said yes. I asked them if they knew any place that would be open at that time, because I knew that they were closing. One of the two guys repeatedly asked me ‘‘What would you like to eat?’’ in Tamil. I said that we wanted to find a place to eat and he said that all the restaurants would be closed.
He asked me what I wanted to eat again and I replied ”Biryani” with a big smile on my face.
Now, he turned to the other person who appeared to be the owner, and told him something, before I knew, they opened the closed shutter. I asked them if they were sure about opening the restaurant again, the owner said ”Come on! You speak Tamil how can we let you go hungry?”
Honestly, I did not expect that. I was going through emotions with a mixture of happiness, confusion and excitement. Siva was the name of the guy who invited us in. He got the chairs out and started the kitchen. We were served with some boiled eggs and chicken without even asking what we wanted (Very much like Home). While our main meal was getting prepared, Siva was mimicking all his favorite Tamil actors with a beer in his hand. He shared his story of working as a waiter in Leela palace, Bengaluru and all his hardships before he made it to Paris. He repeatedly expressed how happy he was to meet someone who spoke Tamil. He watched us with anxiousness till we finished our meal. We took some pictures and Siva insisted that he would drop us at the Metro station with the clock almost ticking at 1 am. Siva was from Pondicherry in India and the owner was from the Tamil part of Sri Lanka.
It is fascinating how languages cross borders and brings a sense of community between strangers. I am still wondering if I would be having this story if my Mother never taught me my mother tongue.