Whistlers in Istanbul

When my friend, who now spends time designing microchips in the arid deserts of Arizona, told me this story, in his own peculiar way, I laughed so much that my stomach hurt for the rest of the day. You can easily make out from the account that he was a good story teller. Whether I will do justice to that story in text, I am not sure, but I will try. The persons mentioned and yours truly were all living in Istanbul – Turkey, during those years.

Istanbul had always been a mysterious and colorful place, from historic times to this day. I have so many fond & interesting memories, starting from meeting the president KR Narayanan to meeting varied personalities like Hon
Najma Heptulla who complained of unseen mosquitoes which could bite her, when the windows of their new house were ceremoniously opened by the Consul General to get in the breeze from the famed Bosporus straits, into their living room. We had a small group of Indians living there in those times, all of 40 if I remember right, in a city teeming with 18 million people. When we met in each others houses, talk drifted to comparing the lifestyles of Indians and Turks, the similarities and differences, exchanging various anecdotes and of course yapping about colorful football heroes like Hakan Sukur and well endowed media stars such as Hulya Avsar and Sibel Can.

The Indian Consulate in Istanbul is strategically located next door to the only strip joint in town. There was just one Indian restaurant and a Pakistani Tandoor, the weather was great, the people were cheery, the history was fascinating & life was fun. We had to bring in coriander leaves, ginger and many other spices from India, during each vacation trip. Freezing them was the only way to stretch the stocks for a few months till somebody brought in some more stock & distributed the surplus.

Into this bustling city came three South Indians, to work for the telecom giant Alcatel. Two from Tamil Nadu and one from Kerala, the Mallu being the one who told me the story and who now lives in the deserts of Arizona. They were put up in a first floor apartment and quickly geared themselves up for hard bachelor life ahead (you will realize how hard only after you see them beauties of Turkey!). Life can indeed be very difficult in Turkey till you get used to the people and the language. Turks by & far do not speak English, at least the ones on the streets and shops, and so it is a matter of necessity to learn the language quickly. But the good thing was they are a friendly sort. They liked people from Hindistan, termed Hintli’s. After a few days the boys were in possession of a smattering of Turkish words, forget all that stuff about grammar though – they made themselves understood. Soon the house was set, the stove was up and running and the ‘sadam’ preparation was in full steam…Turkish yoghurt was a perfect accompaniment and curd rice came along famously. However our Mallu boy had his personal share of problems, without some eggs & chicken, he felt stifled, so he too took turns making the ‘asaivam’ varieties for himself, food that (thankfully) only he could eat & enjoy. I do not remember if the two Swami’s took dubba’s to the office, but that is not important in context. I heard that they had no choice but to eat the rice if served, some Turkish Ayran (buttermilk) and the sweets for lunch. They had a good home cooked dinner everyday, though. The prestige cooker stood in good stead, even though Turkish Pirinc (rice) is more like sticky Chinese or Thai jasmine rice.

Till one fine day they heard a loud rattle on the door just as they were about to get ready for dinner. Their neighbor from the lower flat was at the door and he was gesticulating wildly and sounding abusive. He hollered, but nobody understood anything, he gesticulated, but with no effect and so he went back. The three roommates looked at each other asking what this was all about. Next day around the same time, i.e. 8PM the man came and again did all the above. He mimicked better this day, he showed signs of a child, sleeping and he started whistling with his fingers in his mouth. Again, the three boys looked at each other, aghast, wondering if their neighbor was indeed off his rockers. He seemed so anyway, making strange signs and noises. After a while, the neighbor left again, in a huff.

The story repeated itself for one more day. The man came and repeated his tirade, the boys not understanding anything. The neighbor, let us call him Mustafa, was becoming redder each time and getting closer to a stroke.

Till the fourth day when Mustafa and another man from the building (of Persian extract, I believe) who knew a few English words came along. He explained that his friend could not stand the boys whistling every day and that their child was waking up from her sleep and crying. The boys asked each other, did you sing in the bathroom? Did you whistle or hum or go into a longish ‘alapanam’ perhaps? They swung their heads rapidly sideways signaling the negative, they were really mystified. One of the chaps who did think at times that he was a reincarnation of Shemmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was a bit unsure, he had tried out his vocal calisthenics at times, but well, no so loudly. He kept studiously quiet.

The fifth day Mustafa and his neighbor came a little earlier than usual and were even more emphatic. They said ‘See, can you hear your friend whistling? Can you not hear it? See how loud, sharp & irritating it is?’

Well, all three had finished their baths, they were taken aback, they looked at each other, till they also heard the sharp bleat and finally understood – it was our Desi pressure cooker at work. The Prestige was whistling every now and then, as the rice got cooked. Four whistles, one mother had said, but with Turkish rice it had to be many whistles before it became ready for the matrimony with curds….

Probably the self righteous Turk thought these boys were whistling (shuki-fying) at his wife or elder daughter. Anyway after seeing the cooker and its working, which was alien to the Turk, Mustafa let matters lie, left with a wry smile muttering ‘bu yabancilar’ (these foreigners). The thing was, Turks are used to the slow cooking method with a lot of butter added to the rice!

The ‘sadam with the prestige’ activity continued, but the rice was cooked by the person reaching home early, and after a few years, the boys moved along to other countries and separated, they are all married and fathers now and telling this story to their partners and offspring. Of that, I am sure..…

pics: Wikipedia


Nice, amusing one, Maddy. Made enjoyable reading. Learnt a lot of things about Turkey too.
narendra shenoy said…
HaHaHa! Enjoyed that story.

Deserves a bit of verse, I thought

"The Turkish neighbour's missus was quite a looker
Proud as a peacock, till that whistle shook her
Came her husband, mad as a snake
To see who such a pass would make
And felt silly to find a Prestige Pressure Cooker."
Praveen G K said…
As usual, a nice post :-)
By the way did you learn the "Turkish" baashai? :-) It was funny to see you address a fellow Malayali as Mallu :-) Many of them consider it offensive!!!!
Viky said…
Hilarious! Total fun :D
I'm sure this story makes its way out everytime you friends meet over drinks!!! :P
Snow Leopard said…
Hi Maddy;

Great post; cool post. Greatly appreciated. Some how it reminds me of the style of Hardy - my favourite writer. Now i need to read all your posts.

I personally know the 'hero' of this story; a great guy. More often loved than hated..

bye.. i am in a hurry

will post later after reading all your posts

Anonymous said…
Hi Maddy,

Great story and good read. Knowing the culprits in the story adds more falavour too.

Expects more on the Turkey heroics.

kallu said…
Fun story, Maddy. Must be doubly hilarious when you know the guys and the country.
Are you getting poorer or richer with your travels? :-)))
Maddy said…
raji, Thanks a lot..
narendra - the verse was fun, the bard from mumbai is on a roll it seems!!
praveen - thanks, the usage mallu was not meant at all to be derogative..i am a mallu myself. and yes, i can manage a bit of turkish
viki - yup - right you are..
anil - hari - thanks..looking forward to your comments
kallu - thanks, richer in mind & experience, not poorer though - maintaining status quo...
harimohan said…
dear maddy
sorry for the late comment ,cud read it only today ( yet to answer to ur tag sorry )
it was great fun xlnt writing and the poem by narendra shenoy was like payasam after a good meal .
Nanditha Prabhu said…
Ha ha ha !... that was fun and i could relate to some of the experiences of the language problem and stocking up stuff till our next trip home: and making tayir sadam from the sticky japanese rice....
@narendra... wow! enjoyed your shayari too:)
Happy Kitten said…

and I thought that common cooking vessel was adorning every kitchen! Cant think of a kitchen without it!

Mallu an offensive word?
better watch out for that word the next time!
Maddy said…
thanks hari, nanditha and HK - like somebody said many malayali's take these things too seriously - like others referring to them as mallus. i myself do not take offense..