Ek gaon mein ek kissan raghu thatha’. If you grew up in Madras in the 80s and 90s I needn’t say more. You know the movie, the actor and the scene. If you didn’t, don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you.
This line is a dialogue from the 1981 movie Indru Poi Nalai Vaa (Go today, come tomorrow) starring the actor Bhagyaraj as a Hindi tutor. The dialogue is a one line synonym for a ‘person trying to learn Hindi and who speaks with a horrible accent’.
When people tell me I remind them of actress Hema Malini I don’t take it as a compliment. The only resemblance I bear to the Dream Girl is when I speak Hindi. I’m one of those terrible stereotypes of South Indians trying to speak the official language of the country. I hang my head in shame as I admit this: native Hindi speakers’ ears begin to bleed when I speak the language.
To be fair, it’s not my fault. I joined the Indian education system in grade 6, way too late in the day to learn Hindi or Tamil. So I opted for Sanskrit — a fail proof option. I had a brief dalliance with Hindi as a third language; till I realised my terrifying Math teacher doubled up as the L3 teacher. I was suffering enough with her at the time so I made a quick change to Tamil as my third language. Something I am eternally grateful for; it’s the only reason I can now read and write my mother tongue.
Over the years I have learnt whatever little Hindi I know thanks to a steady diet of Hindi films, watching K serials as an antidote to homesickness when I first moved to London and speaking to cabbies and vendors in Mumbai. My version of the language is spoken sans grammar, gender and tense. It is a sequence of nouns, prepositions, adjectives and verbs strung together with only one objective in mind. Like: I want 1 kg of ladiesfinger.
So you can imagine what a joy it is to help my son with learning Hindi. Though maybe ‘help’ isn’t the right word.
Last night, we prepped for a Hindi test together, something that I have now come to dread.
“Make a sentence with Main,” I instruct.
“I go to school very early in the morning. I am sleepy and I hate it. Do I get more marks? I used it three times!”
“Only if you can say that in Hindi.”
“I bet Google can.”
Google. Google translate. Google Input tools. HindiKhoj. I worship at their altar. So we ask Google. But the sentence that comes out reads like I translated it.There are some things Google just cannot do.
My husband walks in as I read aloud a passage for comprehension. He covers his ears as though I am blowing a high-frequency dog whistle.
“It’s main! Not mayn.” he exhorts.
Soon the air is rent with what sounds like the bleating of many bewildered sheep. We all find this so amusing that we forget about the Hindi test and continue making Universal barnyard animal sounds. Later that evening, I realise we have gone to bed without covering prepositions, synonyms and opposites.
Does anyone have Bhagyaraj’s number?
(The writer’s parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)