H.R. BAPU SATHYANARAYANA writes: During the 1970s, I was working in Tanzania on a foreign assignment where there were expatriates of many nationalities.
Amongst the expats there was a German with whom I hit it off well. He was a young bachelor and very intense. I was alone having left my family in India and had heard about the German attributes for precision, accuracy and quality. My German friend was no different.
His only weakness was his command of the English language. For some reason, he elevated me to the position of an expert in the use of the Queen’s Tongue. And I allowed him to have his illusion, for not to do so was to be like the God that failed.
Before finalising any report, my German friend would give it to me to vet the spelling, syntax and grammar.
I had heard about the Western proclivity for mixing freely with women and cases of falling in and out of love for the flimisiest of reasons. And this impression was reinforced by my German friend.
He used to narrate to me his many amorous dalliance. Since I was a good listener he was quite free about it. However, it landed me in an amusing situation.
Once, he fell head over heels in love with an American tourist who had come on a holiday along with her boyfriend. This did not deter my friend. His moves initially were tentative: a furtive glance, a chance meeting of the eyes, a faint smile to gauge any encouraging signs etc.
These exchanges always took place in the promenade of the hotels which was a very popular rendezvous amongst expats.
My friend's “love affair’ blossomed under these congenial conditions. One day, he came to meet me all charged up announcing that he had found the girl of his life. He wanted my approval.
Therefore, he wanted me to accompany him to the hotel which was the haunt of the American girl. While we were having drinks, his lady-love was already seated with her boyfriend a few tables from us.
My friend tugged at my sleeves, pointed at the table and announced under his breath that she was the girl. The only disconcerting factor was the presence of her boyfriend.
It was clear to me that it was a one-sided love affair.
But my German friend was nothing if not persistent and there was a mutual meeting some days later.
The rub came now.
He wanted to write a love letter to her. He wrote and as usual gave me the draft for correction. I altered the draft, filling it with due passion and ardour.
The German managed to get it delivered to her room.
However what followed was not my friend had in mind.
Some days later, he told me that he was relaxing on the beach after a swim when he spied his lady-love with her boyfriend in the same beach. When she saw my friend pointing to him, she whispered something in her boyfriend's ear.
To my friend's consternation, her boyfriend came over to him and sat beside him. Then, in a quiet but stern voice he said that he had killed many in Vietnam and that breaking another neck would not be difficult, and walked away.
My friend was shaken and told me so.
I felt guilty. I wondered if I had been a little too passionate in my alteration and modification of the love letter that my friend had written. Had I put too much ardour in it?
But my guilt was short lived. For, no sooner had the American girl turned him away than my German friend had already fallen in love with a fellow German girl who had come with her mother as a tourist. Here, he was on safer linguistic ground.