I wish I had read Gerald Durrel when I was younger. Being educated in what is politically correct I could not help but wince through all the ‘masa’s’ and the unwittingly patronising ‘me white man’ tone the book hits on several occasions. As a child I would not have noticed it and would have just enjoyed the mad animal stories and the madder people that live in his books. Even now, once I got past the wincing, the giggling began. The tales he tells are tall, (even taller for being true!), funny and very often touching. So for those that have not already read him – I recommend.
I particularly noticed this little extract where Durrel reports on a conversation he and companion had with a couple of locals about a possible python acquisition
‘Where is it?’ he (Bob) asked, his voice quivering with ill-concealed eagerness.
‘’E dere dere for bush,’ said Augustine, waving a vague arm that embraced approximately five hundred square miles of forest. ‘‘E dere dere for some hole inside ground.’
‘Na big one?’ I asked.
‘Wah! Big?’, exclaimed Augustine. ‘’E big too much.’
‘’E big like dis,’ said the giant, slapping his thigh which was about the size of a side of beef.
‘We walka for bush since morning time, sah’, explained Augustine. ‘ Den we see dis boa. We run quick-quick, but we no catch lucky. Dat snake get power too much. ‘E done run for some hole for ground and we no get rope so we no fit catch um.’
‘You done leave some man for watch dis hole,’ I asked, ‘so dis boa no go run for bush?’
‘Yes, sah, we done lef’ two men for dere.’
I turned to Bob. ‘Well, here’s your chance: a genuine wild python holed up in a cave. Shall we go and have a shot at it?’
It startled me to read so much pidgin. About half the book is, so I soon got used to it, but this passage made me pause. It reminded me of how much I used to wince (okay – I still notice them and then consciously decide NOT to wince) at signs like “taxi available for higher anytimes”. At work I find myself doling out ‘ you must improve your oral and written communication skills’ which is really corpspeak for ‘go get your english straightened out’, and I think of all the times that I am caught out by the dhobi and the grocer and any of the many people I deal with on a daily basis to whom I hesitantly hand over Rs. 31/- when they very clearly said ‘Ektaalees’ to me. They must think I’m a moron.