India blog: Getting my Hindi on

2012-01-14 00:00

Location: Delhi

Before embarking on my trip to India, I was bombarded with advice from every single person who had set foot on my apparent Motherland. "India will change you" was as common a message as "don't drink the water" and "don't pay any attention to the beggars".

Engulfed by a thick smog, Delhi left me thinking that I was still in the sky when we landed. The city seemed to be whitewashed as we drove through roads that made me feel like i was still in South Africa and driving in the 'red zones'. I expected India to seem foreign, but nothing really surprises me here and for the first time I understand why many South African Indians still call India home. There's a familiarness and astounding similarities between Indians here and Indians in South Africa.

Even the language buzzing around me makes sense. I have never formally learned Hindi but from my typical Indian childhood i manage to understand more than I thought i would. Within a day i was armed with some basic phrases and bursting to show off.

"Kitne hain?" I asked a shopkeeper, holding up a random object that i found in his store. He chuckled as if sniffing out my foreigness and a scene from some Bollywood film that i had watched aeons ago jumped to mind - an actress that vaguely looked like Madhuri Dixit exclaimed "hota hai hota hai" (which in my head meant 'laugh laugh). Luckily, i didn't respond before he did...

"Pachaas hazaar," he said.

And there i encountered my first problem with attempting to blend in with the 'natives', they replied in Hindi... Which went beyond my ability to vaguely understand them.

I catch a few words in most conversations, my brain connecting them with arb songs or film scenes that i didn't even think i remembered and bringing about some sort of translation.

Person holding three small boxes: "something something something chooriyan something something"

My brain: *someone dancing and banging their wrists* cha na na na na chooriyan

Me: "ah let's see the bangles that you bought..."

It's amazing... Until people start thinking that i really understand their language and i get trapped in conversations that start going around in circles. In those moments, i search the folders in my head for anything that i can find...

"Me nay bolo Hindi nie"

At one point, I found myself desperately wanting to say 'Angaaz'.

However, in Delhi,most people know some English - if the ricksha doesn't understand you, some passerby will help out and translate. Though the problem is that once people realise that you are a foreigner, they try to con you. I guess it helps that if i keep my mouth closed I look like any other young working local.

By the way, that shopkeeper said that the item i picked up cost fifty thousand rupees. Iheld a shawl in myhands. Either i heard him wrong or he saw through my brownness.

* Tharuna Devchand went to India courtesy of the India Consulate for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that is being held in Jaipur on January 7-9, 2012.

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