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Azziz - My Friend!

There are many places in this world that hold a link to one of our fond memories. We like some places because of its sheer beauty, some because of its historical importance, some because of its culture and we remember some places only because of its people.

This was the time when we were in a small place called Clermont Ferrand in France. Clermont is located almost in the center of France and because of its geographical location, many other cities in France are easily accessible. Clermont in France is better known for Michelin - the tyre company. Michelin is the heart of Clermont. Almost everyone in Clermont works for Michelin in some way or the other. In fact, people working for Michelin are highly respected.

As a person unknown to foreign culture and foreign language, here I was all left to myself to find my way through. My husband gave me this huge responsibility to look for a house in Clermont. Since I did not know any French, I had to manage in English and this was very tough. The very first lesson my husband taught me was to speak English the way the French would understand and not the way an Indian would. This is tough as the way we speak is quite fast and the pauses in our sentences are differently placed. I slowly learnt this and then, my husband gave me a ready reckoner. This had a list of some important things to say in French right from what to say for 'Hello', to 'can you help me' to 'good bye' to 'thank you'. I was thrilled and I was all set to explore the French world and find us a shelter.

I carried this list always and mostly I could not find the French translation to what I wanted to say. Sometimes I would make up my mind as to what to tell someone and then look up the list and then tell myself the French translation ten times and then look for the person only to never find it. It sometimes proved to be embarrassing when I made a person wait and then look for the French translation only to not find the translation for what I wanted to say!! So, this list was proving to be useless. But still, I had to find the house for which I needed the translation to say 'We need a house!' I enquired the hotel reception where we were staying and the got the translation and I practised it well. In Clermont there were many real estate agents and I went from one office to the other saying 'I need a house!' I don't know what the reason is but nobody could help me. So, I thought there was a problem with what I said. So, I started miming. Even this did not help. So, at last my husband found a guy who could speak little English and who could also help us get a house. I was thrilled and so, I waited for Azziz !

I had not met Azziz and so, I was wondering how I could go with a man whom I don't know and look for houses! I waited patiently for his call. Azziz called me one fine morning and said he would come in an hour's time. I got dressed and waited nervously for him. Azziz arrived sharp at 10 and then we started out. Azziz, a short and plump man looked like one of those comedians eager to make you laugh. As I sad beside him in his car, I started getting scared. My fertile mind sprouted with imagination and it was running wildly. "What if this man is not genuine?" "What if he going to take me some place, beat me up and take up the money?" "What after that if he throws me in a ditch?" "What if he takes away the money - how will I find my way back? Especially in a foreign country?" My head bounced in all this imagination and I sat nervously. Meanwhile Azziz spoke at length about houses and how the house we were about to see was good and how he could help me out with other things like laundry and he went on and on about how in the past he had helped many foreigners get a house especially Indians and how most of them still keep in touch with him and so on but I could hardly concentrate as I had other things to worry about. While he spoke I was thinking if he was telling the truth. I could not tell but surely I knew it was slightly exaggerated.

Azziz said that he was taking me to the neighbouring town called Chamalieres. I was dumb struck. 'Are we going to the next town?' I asked him and he said 'Yes'. How? How? How? I kept asking myself but we were already on our way to this town. This town later I learnt is just next to Clermont and it was quite normal for many people to live there, as the atmosphere in this little town was much cleaner. But, that day I did not know and this made me fret like never before.

The first house Azziz took me to was a house with doors and keys. It had too many doors and they all opened with many keys. Azziz explained how good the house is and how it is one of the most sought after houses. The rent matched our budget and though I would have loved to select from a range of houses, I wanted to end my search. As if reading my mind, Azziz said that that was the only house, he could show me that day and then if I wanted to see more, I had to wait for at least another week or two. I wanted to put an end and so, I said YES to the first house I saw that day. He showed me around the house and I noticed that it had a small garden with a sit out, small kitchen, a small bedroom, a dining hall and a sitting room. I sort of liked it.

We then went to Azziz's office nearby. Azziz pulled out many files and explained the terms and conditions and then asked me if I had any questions. The only question I had was if I had any to sign any papers. YES - he said and I was really frightened as everything was written in French. There were many papers and I signed quite a lot of them and then I carried all the copies to the hotel back. Here I opened all the papers and spread them all on the bed and looked earnestly at them hoping to understand but having seen so many bollywood films, I was worried. I felt like an illiterate and imagined myself to be one of those farmers signing some stupid bond!! That really jolted me. It was good on the screen but I could not imagine myself to be one of them. I gazed endlessly at those papers and in my heart I cursed Azziz at the state I was into though for some reason I was glad that I had finished the trip with Azziz with success and above all I was safe!!

Before signing the papers, Azziz had actually read those papers for me but I was in no mood to believe him. They were never true in bollywood films so, how could they be in real life? I sat in one restaurant for lunch and suddenly I found myself as a bonded labourer sweating it out and the zamindar scolding me hard. I woke up from the day dreaming and cursed myself for being so stupid as to sign on some papers without even knowing what it was. I could have been easily duped but now that the act was done, I had to find a solution. I sat and dreamt endlessly about the outcome of my act and told myself I would find a solution and fight it out till the end. Azziz's face appeared everywhere and I cursed him. But, now, I had to find a person who could translate this for me. I walked to the hotel where we stayed and then suddenly it occurred to me that I could ask the receptionist and I gingerly walked to her. Once she was free I asked her to translate . She read the whole thing, slowly and carefully and explained everything. It was just what Azziz had read it out. I laughed in my heart and patted my head for being so stupid. Back in my room, I laughed aloud and now I was feeling so stupid. How could bollywood films be true? - I told myself. I then called my husband and narrated the whole thing. We then had a hearty laugh.

After 6 months when our contract ended with the house, we had to find another one. No matter how hard we tried, we could never trace Azziz. We often thought how he had helped us with the house as house hunting now seemed tedious. We saw a number of houses but they never matched the house we had stayed for six months. We thanked Azziz in our hearts. Now, every time I went to an estate agent and explained in broken French about my needs, I missed Azziz . I was now on a look out to find one Azziz to help us find another home!!

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