Posts Tagged ‘Hinglish’

My favorite -ollywood starts with a “B”

January 25, 2011

About a week ago, I went online and looked at a list of popular American songs for the first time since coming to India in July. Before leaving, my musical taste was undoubtedly pop-centric, with about 25 songs from July’s Top 40 among my favorites. So it was with mild shock that I realized I hadn’t heard a single song on January’s list. I know it’s in the nature of such lists to change often, but seriously, not one song?

I guess Bollywood has filled the void for me pretty well.

Since the New Year, I’ve dedicated myself to finding the Bollywood songs that I’d been hearing on the radio and humming to myself for months. Whereas in December just three Bollywood songs had a home in my iTunes library, over ten times as many have now joined them. And I haven’t even tapped into my host brother’s vast collection (yet).

Note that I refer to the music that populates the airwaves here as Bollywood music rather than Hindi music. The reason for this is twofold. “Bollywood” normally refers to the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, but its movies are known worldwide for their heavily choreographed song and dance numbers. Unlike in America, the music and film industries of Bollywood are very closely intertwined. The majority of songs you’ll hear in India come from its movies – in fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a song that hasn’t.

And after listening to songs like I Hate Love Storys (sic), is it really fair to call these Hindi songs? Like their accompanying Bollywood scripts, an increasing number of songs have at least some English. In most cases, use of English is sparse – with only repeated phrases like “People on the floor” or “Oh girl, you’re mine” – but some songs are nearly half English. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to label these Hinglish songs. Then again, that wouldn’t be fair to the many songs still written in pure Hindi.

But for me, even the pure Hindi songs are no longer the garbled strings of sounds they once were.

Since the end of December, I’ve been taking private Hindi classes five times a week, and my rate of learning has skyrocketed. I can now read almost every character in the alphabet, and I’m able to write a one-paragraph self-introduction in Devanagari script. Speaking Hindi makes bargaining with rickshaw drivers a lot easier, and I keep shocking my Indian friends by tossing new Hindi words into our conversations.

But the real rewards of learning Hindi come in understanding the words that are spoken. Bollywood songs have truly been instrumental in my language learning process. Frequent are the instances when I’ll recognize a word, pull out my pocket dictionary, and see if I’ve guessed its meaning correctly. I guess you could say I read the dictionary for fun.

In full disclosure, I’ve since added eight of those Top 40 American songs.

But I have to admit, Bollywood music is the far more educational form of fun.


P.S. Here’s a sampling of Bollywood music for your enjoyment.

A. Pee Loon
B. Anjaana Anjaani Ki Kahani
C. Aal Izz Well
D. Udd Udd Dabangg
E. Sheila Ki Jawani

Bonus question: To which of the above songs did I perform a Bollywood dance in front of 100 people at a RYLA camp in November? The first person to answer correctly gets a prize(!) and a detailed explanation of the performance in context.


South Tour: Mumbai & Nagpur – It’s not “Goodbye,” it’s “See you again”

January 3, 2011

13 Dec – 14 Dec

NAGPUR: I’m trying to remember when I first fell in love with the city of Mumbai.

Was it when I walked through the train station to see the facade up front, after passing through a lobby that was the most crowded, bustling room I’d ever been in?

Was it when the skyline of the city’s downtown suddenly appeared on our bus ride in, a maze of skyscrapers sandwiched by pale blue sky and pale blue sea?

Was it when our bus pulled up between the Gateway to India and the Taj Hotel, as if one historic monument wasn’t enough for the moment?

Whatever it was, it was enough for me to seriously consider buying an I (heart) Mumbai t-shirt, although I ultimately decided to pass.

I think the consensus we reached is that Mumbai is like New York, Chicago, Miami and Toronto – like New York as a country’s metropolitan hub, like Chicago with its iconic skyline, like Miami in the glimmering marriage of city and sea, and like Toronto because…Toronto is also a big city that people know. Whatever city Mumbai most resembles, we spent our time enjoying the world’s largest city, not dreading our departure at the end of the day.

And that’s the way it should be.

Although our breakfast at the train station was probably the worst of the tour, that hardly mattered, given what we were to see that day. Our decision to skip the Elephanta Caves was a good one, as it gave us a full day to enjoy the city. Our morning was filled with great opportunities for photo ops. Both the road coming in and a park overlooking the sea provided outstanding views of Mumbai’s skyline. The Gateway of India, of course, looked great no matter where the picture was taken from.

While staring at the Taj Hotel, I was overwhelmed by poignancy as I realized what I was staring at. Saddened as I was by my memories of 26/11 and my recollection of the events from those days, I was equally inspired by the scene Wednesday – of people milling about as normal, Indians and foreigners alike. All the while the Taj Hotel stood monumental as ever, unscarred, as if nothing had ever happened 25 months before.

The rest of our afternoon was mostly spent shopping. Some of us got early starts on Secret Santa shopping, while others picked out souvenirs for themselves. We also visited a mosque at the end of a 500-meter long pier before splitting up and spending our afternoon in three separate groups. Our final four hours together were relaxing and free of obligation in one of the busiest cities in the world.

And just like that, the tour was over. One last walk back to the bus. One last group photograph. One last ride to the train station. Outside the terminal where the Indore kids were dropped, everyone from one district had a goodbye hug for their friends in the other. Some eyes were glossier than others, but I think we all agreed our goodbyes were too abrupt, and a narrow street next to heaps of trash was not the ideal setting in which to bid each other adieu.

Except it’s never “goodbye” with Rotary, they say. It’s “see you again”. When will “again” be? That’s the question.

But I know that day will come – for everyone on this tour.

Until next time, whenever that is, I have the memories inscribed in this journal to fall back on.

For me, “that day” has already come for fourteen in our tour group. For the nine others from District 3030, it came soon hereafter, as everyday practices began the next Monday for our Christmas Day presentation. For Sabrina, who left the tour early to attend a wedding in Mumbai, it came the day after the tour ended, in Nagpur. For Jordan, Amanda and Kelsey [Vermont, USA], it came about two weeks later, as they also came to Nagpur to prepare for the presentation. For RK, it was Christmas Day. For Nikolas and Hannah [Germany], it will probably come when we embark on the North Tour in February. That only leaves Sebastian and Aafreen [India], who I’ll be sure to meet on some future date.

You know home won’t be the same when you spend a month away from it.

Even though the home I came back to is my second home, halfway around the world from my first, a lot changed in the 25 days I was gone. Saket-dada, my host brother, is now staying in his hometown of Pune as he enjoys his school holidays. A new ping-pong table sits next to Jojo and Diana outside. A new rug lies upstairs, a MacBook Pro is my host dad’s new laptop, and the TV that used to sit idle in my bedroom is now featured by the dining room table.

It’s also a lot colder here, to the point that I actually wore my jacket – for five minutes. The 60-degree (F) nights will have everyone back home jealous, but here such weather is cause for two sweaters, a woolen hat, and a scarf.

Several nights, the temperature has dropped into the 40s, cause for me to wear my jacket to bed on more than one occasion. My tolerance for cold, while still higher than that of anyone I know here, is lower than it was in the US. It has dropped below freezing in parts of India, and there is snow in Kashmir.

This past week has been my vacation, not the 25 days before coming back. Because at the end of a vacation, aren’t you supposed to feel relaxed? Aren’t you supposed to be rejuvenated? Aren’t the monkeys supposed to have climbed off your back, leaving you ready to once-again face the world?

It’s because of my last week in Nagpur that I’d argue this tour was not a vacation. A departure from normal? Yes. But not a break. The only fatigue I’ve felt comparable to this is that of the first days of school breaks each year, following months of uninterrupted study. And this tour was just 25 days.

These were my thoughts as I lay in bed exhausted my first day back, my body still swaying to and fro as it had on the train, happy to finally be lying on a stable, familiar bed. You can’t make these kinds of memories in the places we did and call our tour a vacation.

That’s the best argument my mind can make right now, anyway.

As for my body, it’s too tired to argue. I’m bas.*


* – Bas is Hindi for “enough”. Although not proper Hinglish, we often used the phrase on the tour to say “I’ve had enough”.

Click to enlarge

Kindly read with regards: On English in India

August 11, 2010

Scene one: After I woke up Monday morning, my host brother told me we’d be going for a “picture”. Having already had an ID photo taken my first week here, I was confused. Should I put on nice clothes? Who would be in the picture with me?

As it turns out, “picture” means “movie” here, and I watched Predators in Hindi that afternoon with Mayank and two of his friends.

Scene two: I’d just finished lunch, and my host grandmother sent a water bottle with me as I was about to go upstairs. I asked if I should bring down the empty bottle from my room.

The problem was, she didn’t quite understand what I meant. Instead, she and my host grandfather explained I was not to drink the tap water, something I already understood. Only when I brought the empty bottle down did we clear up the misunderstanding, and it was all smiles from that point on.

Scene three: As I read a headline of the local print English newspaper, The Hitavada, I did a double take. I wondered how the “largest circulated English daily in Central India” could let such a headline slip by. “Surely it must be a misprint,” I thought.

The headline? Exactly as it reads here, except there were no apostrophes. See the power of punctuation?!

To be fair, the article was about cricketer Salman Butt, and a “dead ball” in cricket is when play stops, but my point stands:

Indian English is very different than American English.

In Maharashtra, Marathi is the language in which most children speak their first words. Conversations within the house, among friends, and with locals are usually in Marathi. It’s the language my host family and many of the people in Nagpur are most comfortable speaking.

Hindi is the language that usually comes to mind when people think of the “Indian” language. On the street in North and Central India, Hindi can be very useful. Since 29 languages in India are spoken by over 1 million people, Hindi is a language Indians use from Gujarat to Odisha to Uttar Pradesh.

So English is a second or third language for most Indians. But it has a unique role in the Indian lexicon. Whereas Hindi has failed to unite the country linguistically, English is now a language of hundreds of millions throughout India. As it becomes the language of instruction in more and more schools across India, people are becoming more and more comfortable using it. Many video games, movies, songs, books and websites are English-only, making English not just a language of education, but entertainment as well.

The ethos of English has changed over time, too. Because English is a remnant of India’s colonial days, it was initially an unpopular language with the majority of Indians. But as more and more Indians have come into contact with the outside world, the taboo against English has lessened, to the point that India by some estimates will soon have more English speakers than any country in the world.

That said, there’s something to be said about the power of the mother tongue. I could certainly survive the year without learning a word of Marathi or Hindi, but that’s not my intent. I know and use only a few short words, such as bas (enough) or nai (no), but each time I do, smiles show up on my family members’ faces. Just as food, religion, and holidays define a culture, so does its language.

India is about the best country I could have chosen for this blog. Only here or in Australia could I have traveled to a country where writing in English wouldn’t hinder my growth into the culture. But were I to have chosen Australia, I wouldn’t have learned a separate local language. By the end of the year, I want to be able to speak Hinglish and Minglish – perhaps not fluently, but at least conversationally.

As for this blog… I think I’m going to stick with American English.


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Hinglish, soccer in the streets, and Indian video games: Answering your questions about India

July 25, 2010

August 12, 2010: UPDATE: Marathi is also commonly spoken on the streets in Maharashtra. Hindi is a secondary language for most people. See this post for more updated information about language in India.

Ask and you shall receive.

How many host families will you have?

I have only one host family the whole year. So I’m very happy that I got placed with a good one! Everyone in the family has been supportive and helped me learn all the new facets of the culture. One of the students I met at the conference had five though, if I remember correctly, so the number of families varies from student to student and country to country.

Are you going to go through an intensive language week or two through Rotary during your first few weeks? I know they do that in some of the European countries.

No, but I actually wish I did. Almost everyone I’ve met speaks English, and most speak it well. When someone wants to talk to me in English, I’m usually able to understand what they’re saying without any difficulties. I have become self-conscious of my American accent, since it’s quite distinctive.

But almost everyone here speaks three languages fluently: English, Hindi and Marathi, the latter two of which are quite similar. I find it remarkable how so many people are so fluent in all three languages. In the house, Marathi is commonly spoken. On the streets, everyone understands Hindi. Friends often talk amongst themselves in Hindi and Marathi, so I wish I had learned more of each before I came. They’ll interchange between Hindi and English a lot, so I guess you could say everyone speaks Hinglish.

Are you taller than anyone you see?

Yea… In fact I haven’t seen a single other person with blond or brown hair since I left the Nagpur airport. But I haven’t gotten as much attention for my difference in appearance as I thought I would. A small child noticeably pointed at me a couple days ago, and a baby girl stared at me as I rode by in the car, but if adults have been looking at me, they have been discrete. No one has come up to me and tousled my hair or anything like that.

Are there kids playing soccer in the streets?

Cricket is the big sport here in India, but it’s definitely not the only popular sport. Basketball and football (I’m just going to call soccer football, so hang with me) are very popular. Field hockey, badminton and volleyball are also played a lot. But these are all played on well-maintained courts and fields for the most part.

So no, I haven’t seen kids playing soccer in the streets. 🙂

As for football, I was going to go play this morning with my host brother, cousin and friends, but it was raining too hard.

Have you got a phone yet that works?

No, not yet. Everyone I talked to beforehand said I shouldn’t bring a phone, so that’s why I remained one of those weird people without a cell phone in the months before the trip. One of my friends here recommended I just change the SIM card on a phone from the US, but I really didn’t know enough to do anything.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting a phone eventually, but seeing as I survived 15 of my 17 years without one, I’ll think I’ll be able to survive one more. 😛

Watching tv??? What about… video games ?

TV is to India what the internet is to the US. Actually that’s an overgeneralization. But TV seems more influential here than in the US. My host brother, cousin, and friends watch a lot of movies in their free time, clicking between HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and the Indian Disney Channel. We’ve also watched the WWE.

Yes, I know. I didn’t come to India just to watch TV…

As for video games, some people play video games on their PCs. Internet cafés, I’ve heard, are filled with teenagers on World of Warcraft and Age of Empires. I haven’t had the chance to play anything yet.

I did, however, sing YMCA and We Are The Champions on the family karaoke machine…

Did you take your malaria pill?

Only you would ask that, mom. Yes, of course! No worries.


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