Big Gora Learns Hindi

Big Gora Learns Hindi

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Back to India!

Next week I return to India! The only way I could be more thrilled would be if my wonderful wife were coming with me!
I'm going for two weeks, leading a group of students and alumni from my university, along with trip organizer extraordinaire Christian Alyea from Oklahoma Study Abroad. We're hoping this will be the first India trip of many. Ideally, we'll do this every year, between fall and spring semesters when India is a bit less boiling hot than usual.
We'll spend about a week in the Delhi area, including an overnight trip to not-that-far-away Agra. Then we have a couple of days in the south, in the Kochi area, traveling on a backwater boat and visiting a beach resort. We'll wrap up with a couple of days in Jaipur.
Naturally, I'm working on my Hindi. I'm at that in-between, frustrating stage--which I'm still in with French--where I recognize most of the words, and the subject of the conversation, but I'm lagging considerably behind the speed of the chat with my comprehension.
Here are a few phrases I'm working on, to say while I'm in India.

"This food is really delicious! Please give me some more!" [Ye khana bahut swadisht hai! Krpya mujhe kuch aur dijie!/ये खाना बहुत स्वादिष्ट है! कृप्या मुझे कुछ और दीजिए!]
"Excuse me, where is the bathroom?" [Sunie, bathrum kahan hai?/सुनिए, बाथरुम कहाँ है?]
"How much does this cost? Are you completely crazy?" [Iska daam kya hai? Kya aap bilkul pagal hain?/इस्का दाम क्या है? क्या आप बिलकुल पागल हैं?] (Note: this one amuses me. I use the respectful form of "you," "aap," though of course the content of the sentence would suggest the more familiar "tum.")
"I want to live here. May I do that?" [Main yahi rahna chahta hoon. Kya main us karun?/मैं यही रहना चाहता हूँ. क्या मैं उस करूँ?]
"How well do you like Pomeranian dogs?" [Kitne aapko kutte Pomerania se pasand hain?कितने आपको कुत्ते पोमेरानीअ से पसंद हैं?]
"If I bring several cats with me, that's okay, right?" [Agar main kai billiyan mujhse laoon, ye bilkul thik hai, na?/अगर मैं कई बिल्लियाँ मुझसे लाऊं, ये बिलकुल ठीक है, न?]
" I think I lost my passport. Now I can't go home. I will ask my wife to meet me here!" [Main sochta hoon ki mera pasport bhula. Ab main ghar nahin lautna sakta. Main meri patni se yahan mujhse milne punchunga./मैं सोचता हूँ कि मेरा पासपोर्ट भूला। अब मैं घर नहीं सकता। मैं मेरी पतनी से यहाँ मुझसे मिलने पूँछूँगा।]

If I do indeed come back, I'll tell you all about the trip and show some photos!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shuddh Hindi?

A few years ago, when I was just getting started learning Hindi, I started a Facebook page called "Hindi and Sanskrit Learners." The Sanskrit was there in the title because one very self-motivated grad student I knew wanted to learn it, and of course it's the mother of Hindi. I figured we could encourage and motivate each other.
I had no idea then about what I know now: to a certain conservative type, that combination of words--"Hindi and Sanskrit Learners"--signals a whole worldview in shorthand, one that I find repugnant.
Let me back up to where I first began getting inklings about this whole thing. There's a wonderful memoir called Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language.



Katherine Russell Rich published this account in 2010. She describes moving to first one dinky backwater Indian town and then another and learning Hindi full-time, as a sort of extended timeout from life. If I could somehow take my wonderful wife, and our adorable pets with us, I'd love to do this myself. Rich says she became "near-fluent" in that time; she could completely understand any Bollywood film without subtitles. (Wow!) Each chapter contains a well-researched meditation on a related concept: how learning a second language influences our first; how adults learn vs. how children do; the relationship between Hindi and Urdu, and so on.
That last topic was introduced with a little anecdote. One day she took a bicycle rickshaw somewhere, and when she paid the driver, told him "शुक्रिया" [shukriya/thanks]. He glared and told her she should instead tell him "धन्यवाद" [dhanyavaad/thank you]. The former is considerably less formal, and therefore much more commonly used. An equivalent in English, as I understand it, might be something like "Thanks" vs. "I am grateful to you." His annoyance was at her use of an Arabic-root word rather than a Sanskritic one. Maybe an American equivalent would be expressing annoyance at someone for saying "Gracias," on the grounds that it's a "foreign word." To the driver, "shukriya" is a foreign word, "not Indian."
I did this reading a few years ago, and since then, I've learned more about this kind of Indian conservatism. There's a party, the BJP, that expresses the value of "India for Indians," meaning these "outside," "foreign" influences--American/Western values, Arabic/Urdu words, and religions other than Hinduism (especially Islam)--are simply not welcome. These "foreign" things "aren't really Indian."
The phrase used to describe this ideal as applied to language is "शुद्ध हिन्दी" [shuddh hindi/pure Hindi]. The phrase, and the attitude, has a lot in common with the sentiment expressed by, for example, the crowds of "real [white] Americans" currently screaming at buses full of desperate immigrant children. "Pure Hindi!" The attitude finds Bollywood Hindi, Muslim-influenced Hindi, impure, corrupt, not-Indian.
Back to my well-meaning Facebook page. To me, Hindi is Hindi. If it's in my dictionary and/or my Teach Yourself book, it's Hindi. I don't know (though now I'm starting to) whether a given word's roots are Sanskrit or Arabic; it's all new to me, all equally not-my-mother-tongue. Also, I consciously try to live an inclusive, tolerant attitude: a Hindu and a Muslim are equally my siblings. In fact, one of the reasons I love India and her culture so much is the frequently-expressed ideal of diversity.
About a year ago, I guess as a result of improved search capabilities on Facebook, some "shuddh Hindi" folks started joining the page. They thought because of my title, "Hindi and Sanskrit Learners," that I was one of them. Sanskritic Hindi only; away with those filthy Urdu words. More joined. One poster began encouraging members to join his other, "more Sanskritic" page instead. Then someone began posting, almost daily, subtly pro-Hindu (and anti-anything else) religious messages with old-fashioned Sanskritic wording. The page had become its own entity, one I didn't like or support now though I'd started it.
So I left it. Let the "shuddh Hindi" folks talk to each other without me.
The attitude makes me sad. I love all of India, all her languages, all her cultures, all her diversity, सब कुछ भारतिय [sab kuch bhaaratiy/everything Indian].

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dhire dhire!

धीरे धीरे!
That means, essentially, "slowly, slowly," or maybe "gradually" or "a little bit at a time." I think anyone who's ever studied another language has that response all the time: "Please just slow down a little!" Apparently linguists have found that there's no significant difference in the respective speeds at which different languages are spoken; but of course, the languages you don't know as well and struggle to keep up with seem to move lots faster. One's native tongue has to be spoken super-superfast to seem like it's going that speed--like in the old Federal Express commercials.



1970s Federal Express Commercial

Nevertheless, I blame Shah Rukh Khan for the high speed at which Hindi barrels toward me.
Maybe if I knew more about Indian popular entertainment I'd have additional guilty parties to name, but for now I blame him! In several of his movies, especially everyone's sentimental favorite Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, he adopts a persona that is goofy and hyperactive.



He never stops moving, twitching, mugging; he speaks a mile a minute. See this, for example.

SRK in DDLJ

He's still one of the world's biggest movie stars, so he was bound to be copied. Uday Chopra in particular seems to be channeling hyper-SRK most of the time. It comes across (to me) not as funny and appealing--just as hyper and annoying.



Maybe that's why Uday Chopra hasn't made many movies lately--no one wants to listen to him!
I've become a fan of the Indian soap opera Pavitra Rishta. I checked out several, and this one (for me) has the best combination of elements I'm looking for: things actually happen (as opposed to one American soap I watched for about a year just out of morbid disbelief in what I was seeing--Passions; any simple conversation there could be repeated and rehashed for weeks); moment-to-moment implausibility is held to a minimum, by soap opera standards; and most importantly, it features current everyday Hindi that I can use to practice and improve my fluency. (I also, by the way, like Qubool Hai, but it features a lot of Urdu, so it's not as useful.)



A longish digression on Pavitra Rishta: the show did something very strange a few months ago, something I'm still trying to process. The man and woman on the far left and right of this picture were (in, yes, one of the more implausible elements) supposed to be husband and wife, parents of the female behind them. (The two women look the same age to me.) The husband in back--Arun, was it?--was an aggravating hothead, always picking fights with his wife. The older and younger couples were the main characters, then there was also a major subplot in which the older couple's adopted son was frighteningly stalking a beautiful young doctor. This doctor was engaged to marry someone else, but the stalker "knew" she was "destined" to be his, so he would never be turned away. Anyway, the stalker apparently kidnapped the pretty young doctor, killed her in an accident (?), and ran away. Cut to: it's now 20 years later, just like that. There's no warning or explanation, it just is. (Despite the fact that cell phones and other prominent markers of technology were current with ours now, 20 years ago, and in the new timeline still are.) Somehow this crazy stalker guy, still alive and well in Mumbai despite his horrible alcoholism, has five kids but no (living?) wife, including a beautiful 20something daughter whose love life is at center stage.
But get this. Said daughter looks exactly like Archana, the implausibly-young-looking mother pictured above, did those twenty years ago, although there's no blood relation or even contact between them. (For now.) Even the alcoholic stalker was only Archana's adopted son. Archana is now old, grey, and tired, and lives with her husband (who did not visibly age) somewhere in Canada. The show's focus stays on the circle of people around the young daughter in Mumbai, named Ankita, with occasional brief reminders that Archana and her family are still out there, much older now.
Ankita is married to a "mad genius" named Naren. For reasons just now beginning to be explored, he has a persistent delusion that his wife's name is Ahana, and he always calls her that. She'd married him for his money, to help her family, which was socially and financially devastated by the drunken father's perpetual bad behavior; however, Ankita/Ahana has now fallen in love with Naren, living up to the Indian ideal "Marriage first, then love."




Now, at last, to the point: Naren is a fast talker to rival the Federal Express guy! Check him out here, especially at about the 1:00 mark.

Naren talks fast on Pavitra Rishta

Look what you've done, SRK! Just LOOK at what you've done!
धीरे धीरे!
And शुक्रिया भगवान को लिखित भाषांतर के लिए! [shukriya bhagwaan ko likhit bhaashaantar ke lie/thank God for subtitles!]

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chalte chalte

First, let's get this out of the way: I didn't get the Fulbright for fall 2014. I spent about a week feeling very depressed, then another two coming out of it very gradually. Damn. That was going to be my excuse/occasion/motivation to work super-hard on my Hindi in 2014; now I'll just have to do it for its own sake!
One thing I'm amused by about Hindi, which actually it shares with English, is the repetition (or echo/rhyme) of words, and the use of two similar words together, for effect. Think how often we do this in English:
Hustle and bustle, wear and tear, willy-nilly, shilly-shally, kitty cat, puppy dog, tick-tock (also used in Hindi), and so forth.
One really common instance is चलते चलते [chalte chalte/gradually, over time]. Here it is in one of my all-time favorite Bollywood numbers, from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: it's "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" [see you later, down the road].

Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte
The wonderful (and earlier-posted) song "Dard-e-disco" includes लम्हा लम्हा [lamha lamha/from moment to moment].

Dard-e-disco
Here are a few more I've learned that I especially like:
अलग अलग [alag alag/different-different, separately]
एक एक [ek ek/one each]
कौन कौन [kaun kaun/which various people]
बड़ा बड़ा [baraa baraa/great big]
मीटिंग-शीटिंग [meeting-sheeting/ meeting or anything of the kind. This is an example, too, of the vast potential of echo words to convey mocking. That usage is very common in English-language novels with Hindi-speaking characters; they import this tendency into English, all the time.]
नौकर-चौकर [naukar-chaukar/servant of some kind (the words both mean "servant"]
गप-शाप [gap-shap/idle chatter, gossip. This approaches to onomatopoeia, I think--kind of like saying, "Blah blah blah."]
सब हैम लोग तालियां बजाइए [sab ham log taliyaan bajaie/let's all clap hands] for repeating words in Hindi!