Friday, June 07, 2019

Hindi gothilla. Bas.


Well, frankly speaking, I passed my high school Hindi exam only because of Doordarshan. That too, specifically because of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Well I guess that really means I passed because of Salim-Javed.

I can’t remember exactly when Hindi was introduced in school. Middle school? By then I was tying myself into knots over Kannada vyakarna (grammar) – especially those sandhis. As it is the gerunds and infinitives in English grammar was giving me a blood clot in the brain.

By high school, Hindi was real problem. Coming from an absolutely non-Hindi family (although my paternal grandmother held a Hindi vidhwat, and she passed on when I was barely in my primary school) Hindi homework was becoming quite a circus. Nobody in the wider community interacted in Hindi so there was simply no way to develop one's communication skills in the language.

Our Hindi teacher, I remember her as a very beautiful lady, totally sagar jaisi aakhon wali, worked really hard to help us. In Hindi, even non-living things are assigned gender, and this affects the construction of the sentence. As a native Kannada and Melkote Tamil speaker, this flummoxed me no end – see in Kannada and Tamil we don’t give a rat’s ass if a table is male or female. It’s just, well, “it”. But I was losing marks, no matter how leniently she corrected. I was also making a lot of spelling mistakes and she said the only way I can come to grips with the writing is by writing. What on earth do I write in Hindi? My brain would switch off the minute I saw the textbook.

Sometimes it helps if your brain is wired in a very weird way. See, by then I was addicted to Hindi movies – good, bad and ugly – that was aired on Doordarshan. I was always humming songs which are now considered age-inappropriate for 13-15-year-olds by conscientious parents. Like, samandar mein nahake aur bhi namkeen ho gayi ho. Summer holidays meant listening to bhoole bisre geet in the morning, aap ki farmaish in the afternoon, and jaimala for fauji bhais in the evening, all on Vividhbharti. I started to note down the lyrics as the songs played on the radio, and I automatically wrote them in Devanagari script. One listening was not enough to complete the lyrics, I had to wait for the next time it played. By the time summer was over, I'd filled up a diary. When I returned to school, my teacher was quite pleased with my improved spellings and asked if I’d taken extra tuition. And that’s when I started paying closer attention to the film dialogues and songs – I knew who my real teacher was, and my lessons commenced.

Teri zulfen. Teri nazarein. Teri aankhon ke siva...ookay…so the “ee” because it’s in reference to her? Hold on. What about Isse apni jeb mein rakhle Peter. Ab yeh taala mai teri jeb se chaabi nikaal kar hi kholunga? Crap. Is the key female or is the fucking pocket female? I ploughed on. When do you say tumhara, tumhare, tumhari? Okay so, tumhara pyar chahiye; ilakha tumhara hai, aur mai akela hun; hum tumhare hai sanam; yeh pulees station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin; yeh tum nahin, tumhari vardi, tumhari kursi bol rahin hai;  tumhari nazar kyun khafa ho gayi?  

Well, this sort of improved my vocabulary too – as far as Kannada was concerned, “kafa” meant phlegm, especially when you cough. So that didn’t fit in with the question tumhari nazar kyun khafa ho gayi…unless we’re talking some real horror shit here. But Joy Mukherjee and Saira Banu sorted it out with woh hai zara khafa khafa. This was further confirmed by Dev Anand/Rafi …baito na door humse, dekho khafa na ho…

Of course, all this meant my Hindi improved, but not in the intended way. The thing is your language skills can develop only when you speak and interact. In my case it was a bit schizophrenic, having conversations in my head, scripted mostly by Salim-Javed. So, my repository of Hindi skills included an assortment of dialogues - Mai aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahin uta tha.  Hum bhi woh hai jo kabhi kisi ke peeche khade nahin hote. Jahan khade hote hai, line wahi se shuru ho jaati hai. Jab tak baitne ko kahan na jaye, sharaft se khade raho. And an assortment of phrases. Izzat loot liya. Izzat bachaya. Not to forget the iconic and cataclysmic mai maa banne wali hun.

I didn’t progress much on the numerals. I knew ek to dus. Then gyarah because gyarah mulkon ki pulees was behind Don. I knew sola because it was supposed to be baali umar. Bees because bees saal baad. I sort of knew sow, hazar, laakh, karod. And for some reason, now-sow-ninnajji ninnyaanveh.

Guess what? The above repository was pretty useless when it came to answering exam questions – Sita dukhi kyon thi? (5 ankh, prabandh likhiye). This Sita was not Mrs Rama, but if memory serves right, she was a little girl who had lost her pet or something. Well, I tell you Gabbar Singh was yelling Bahut nainsafi hai in my head. I started paraphrasing from whatever songs came into my head. Theoretically, it was a sound approach, already demonstrated by the song mere jeevan saathi. So I started off writing snippets of lyrics and then paraphrasing them. Badi sooni sooni hai. Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai? Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua, kyon hua? Kya qayamat hai? Kya museebat hai? Hum bhatak the hai…kyon bhatak the hai? Na koi umang hai. What about tum log mujhe dhoond rahen ho aur mai tumhara…yahan intezaar kar raha hun? Crap. That would be the puppy talking. Which would be creepy. I did think of comparing Sita’s pet-less life to a kati patang, you know, just to add depth to the experience, but something told me that would overcook the essay. Eventually I finished off by describing how her life had become kora kagaz without the goddamn pet. I wonder if my poor teacher had a conniption. I passed though. Big ehsaan. Actually I think it was survival instinct for the teacher. Imagine dealing with me for another year. 

My academic engagement with Hindi stopped after high school, but I continued my film relationship. I picked up some beautiful Urdu words along the way. But being a teenager also meant the world was one big zanjeer around my neck, so I picked up a good amount of maa bhen stuff too.

Years later, I did think of relearning Hindi properly but by then I was seduced by Bengali. Ki korbo? At least I didn't have to worry if the table is mey or chele. 

The bottom-line is I still can’t converse fluently in Hindi, unless we speak in film dialogues. I do have Hindi-speaking friends, but I tend to converse in English lest I refer to the coffee table as female or curtains as male or something. Or worse, get frustrated in figuring out the gender of the coffee mug and then inadvertently resort to maa-bhen vocab.    

You know what, I’m not the only one who’s learnt Hindi this way. I strongly suspect whoever wrote the qatal ki raat speech also belongs to my category. In fact, I think this speaker and his best friend often look in the mirror and secretly say kabhi kabhi lagta hai ki apun hi bhagwan hai.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return to mai aur meri tanhayi …

© Sumana Khan - 2019

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