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Yes, my dining room table really looks like this when I'm studying. Really

Yes, my dining room table really looks like this when I’m studying. Really

Right now, I should be doing my Hindi homework. It’s Thursday morning, and in about two hours I will be headed up to the Consulate to bluff my way through another disastrous class. Don’t get me wrong – I really want to learn Hindi. I had the best of intentions when I signed up. I was going to do homework one or two hours a day, every day, until I got my clearance and started work. So in the approximately 3-4 months that should take, I’d be good to go and practically functional in Hindi.

Fast-forward 8 months. Still not working, waiting for that damn clearance. And, um, Hindi? It’s a qualified train wreck. I go to class faithfully most Thursdays, missing only on kid school holidays and for illness. But I wait until the last minute to do my homework for a variety of reasons, so it’s slow going. There is always an excuse: kid stuff, a reception I have to attend, exhaustion. I suppose I should be honest and say that the class is kind of boring. Like, really, really boring. Our teacher, A, thinks that the best way to learn Hindi is by assigning us homework in the back of the book and having us go around the class reading sentences line by line and taking turns trying to read the script with the phonetics and English translation covered. It’s freaking painful. After several months, we were able to sidetrack A often enough that we go some good cultural information out of her, which was great, and often very useful. After digging in on homework, we got a little more practice in making up our own sentences rather than just book regurgitation.   Sometimes, I decide I’d rather write an essay on some adventure instead of doing the exercises at the back of the chapter. A has decided to tolerate it. It’s actually more difficult than the exercises most times.

Part of it is the book’s fault. Apologies to Rupert Snell, but your book stinks. It’s BORING. And no, it is not the thing the average person can use to “teach yourself Hindi”, no matter how much you seem to think it is. I used to teach a foreign language, so I think I know a little of what I’m talking about. Your students, Mr. Snell, do not care that Gita is a doctor. They want to know how to say their name and where they live. They do not care that Moti the dog is fat, they want to know how to say they are American (or English, of German, etc.) and live in BKC (or Colaba, or Bandra, or Delhi). So why do you put that off until chapter 6?

I also take issue with my beginner’s Hindi dictionary. It is seriously lacking. Words it does NOT provide in its contents that I have found necessary include “parasite”, “conniption” and “dentist”. All three were necessary to know within my first month’s introduction to the language. I was, however, very happy to find that it included the word “vomit” in it. Needed to use that word too. More than once.

After seven months of Hindi, I have learned how to say many things. They include:

Mere bete accha nahi hai. (My sons are naughty.)

Ozzie kutta hai. Ozzie billi nahi hai. (Ozzie is a dog. Ozzie is not a cat.)

Kya apka nam hai? (What is your name?) Use it. And remember the names. Too many invisible people in Indian society from your doorman to the guy who delivers eggs. Why shouldn’t you address them as Mr. Mahesh if you can? This is actually useful.

Hamara makan gandi hai. (Loose translation: my house is a freaking disaster.)

Kitna? (How much? How many?)

Kyo Nimbu subzi hai? (Why are lemons considered vegetables?) I still really, really want to know. Thik. (OK) Bus. (Finished. No more.)

Things I have taught myself in spite of A not really wanting to help me with this:

Mera pati mudjko marege. (My husband will kill me.) Best used when bargaining and you want a lower price. Substitute “meri sas” – my mother in law – if you want even more bang for your buck.

XXXXX I cannot print this in good conscience. But it is used to tell someone that they have an unusually close and inappropriate relationship with their sister. Typically taxi drivers who refuse your fare or take overly long routes on purpose.

Salman Khan garam hai. (Salman Khan is hot.) B and I do not know if it is correct to say “hot” like “spicy hot” when referring to Bollywood actors, but we don’t really care. It works for us.

What I NEED to be able to say in Hindi:

My children will bite you if you don’t quit touching them.

Quit taking the longest possible route you idiot, I live here.

Not spicy in a white child way, not in an Indian child way.

This is DiploMom on the Xth floor. The #*^%$$ing power is off again.

That is beyond awesome.

Of course I drink, I have children.

Don’t be offended, this one doesn’t eat anything but hot dogs, pizza, and mac and cheese.

My dog may have a Mohawk, but at least he doesn’t look like every other street dog.

In a few minutes’ time, I will throw my homework, my flash cards, and my trusty Hindi dictionary in my bag and head off to class. I will spend two hours forgetting what the letter p looks like and confusing the hanging I with the hanging O.   I may get at least one light bulb moment that inspires me to return the following week. I will leave, determined to spend a minimum amount of time on Hindi every day for the next week (at least) until two days’ later when I realize my motivation is dwindling and well, there’s a chance to meet a friend for coffee instead and there’s this book I just got on my Kindle . . . .

In my very weak defense, I use my Hindi. I toss out a random expression, statement or question when I am taking a taxi. When I bargain at Chor Bazaar. When I see a grandma on the street who just has to touch my blond child’s head.   When I listen to Hindi pop or see a Bollywood movie, I pick up about every 45th word and that’s kind of cool.

I use it a little when I go shopping at my regular stores and very often the shop folks help me out and give me a new word, which I generally remember, because it is much more useful than knowing how to say that Rajesh is a student, unmarried, and unhappy. When I am out driving through Mumbai, I try to read some of the shop signs. I’m pretty good at it when they English is next to the Hindi – figuring out the letters, that is. I once found a shop when I was looking for something particular and another shop owner said he didn’t have it, but shop “X” did. I walked down the block, looking for the shop and realized that all the names were Hindi only. Two minutes later, I found it, and congratulated myself heartily.

Just ten days ago, I was with DB2 at a modeling shoot and the clothing manufacturer, our agency rep, and the photographer started having a heated discussion. I knew enough to figure out that they were trying to ask DB2 to reschedule part of his shoot because they could tell he was tired and they weren’t getting the photos they wanted. After listening to this go down for about five minutes, I stood, and calmly told them that it was no problem to reschedule, we would be there tomorrow at five, and could someone text me the address? OK, so I said it in English, but that’s half the battle, right? I still got the gaped mouth stare and that was kind of fun.

When I use the occasional phrase or word, it also opens a door or two. I’ve made an effort. I am interested in remembering something in the local language (semi-local, really – Marati is the language of this state). I care about the Indian culture. All are true. But what it really does, at the end of the day, is keep people honest. They never know what I can understand and what I can’t. I’ve learned how to bluff. That is especially helpful. Especially in Hindi class.

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