"Is the master at home?" I inquired of the servant who answered the telephone. There followed a lengthy reply in Singhalese, the majority language of Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
I tried vainly to catch at least one word I could recognize with my small understanding of the language, or at least one English word in the outpouring of Singhalese ones. There is a common intermix of the two languages referred to as "Singlish," but this time there was nothing to help.
"Is the madam in?" I asked, trying again. Another wordy explanation, as incomprehensible as the first.
Then I remembered two words most servants seem to understand.
"Gone out?" This time a very short explanation and then, very firmly, some English words which explained everything.
"Anybody's not." And then more firmly, "No anything."
I thanked her and hung up, positively warmed by the miracle of successful communication between two people who do not speak each others' language.In fact, it sounded an improvement over the commonplace, "Nobody's home," worthy of future consideration.