Posts Tagged ‘Marathi’

RYLA, Part one

June 20, 2011

From 8-10 November:

Five days before my tour of South India. I’m standing by the only swimming pool I’ve seen in four months. My costume, which has been given to me minutes earlier, consists of jeans, sneakers, and a purple sequined long-sleeved shirt about two sizes too small for me. A crowd of small school age Indian kids has gathered around me, some costumed and sitting quietly, others in plainclothes and joking loudly in their native tongues. The choreographers of our Bollywood dance have their cameras out, and they’re pointing them at me. The sun has set. Loud speakers are blaring loud Hindi music to entertain the hundred or so parents of these children, but the stone bleachers on the other side of the enormous pool are mostly empty.

Funny. If the people sitting forty meters away knew they were about to see a 6′ 3″ blond-haired foreigner perform a choreographed dance to Anjaana Anjaani Ki Kahani, there probably wouldn’t have been any empty seats.

The three-day Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp, otherwise known as RYLA, has culminated in this performance. My group has spent the last three days learning a dance to a recent popular Bollywood song, and several other students – including the camp’s only other foreigner – have dances to perform as well. I’d been coerced into the optional performance just 32 hours before, under the impression it was compulsory. Thus I was shocked when all but three of the boys my age opted out. Now it’s too late.

I didn’t realize I had a choice.

———

In the weeks before RYLA, the Nagpur exchange students and I had been bombarded with requests for activities, usually on one or two days’ notice. We attended some. We turned down others. Some were interesting. Some were awful. It was always better when the others were present, so at least if the proceedings were unbearable, we’d have each other. But I was relying on the other exchange students for my RSVPs. I needed assurance that I wouldn’t venture into the unknown alone. Otherwise my response to an invitation would be “maybe.” And “maybe” normally becomes “no”…

Franzi, who had turned into a courier of sorts for these activities, was the one to break the news of RYLA to us. In fact, she’d given us a week’s notice, enough time for us to discuss amongst ourselves whether or not we should go. But except for Franzi, we’d all decided not to go, unwilling to subject ourselves to the attention we’d receive. It wasn’t worth it.

My host dad had found out about the camp the day before its onset. I told him I didn’t want to go. “Why aren’t you going?” he said. A legitimate question. I had no reply. For a month and a half or so, I’d been caught in the daily timepass I’d vowed to avoid. And indeed, I had no valid reason not to attend. So it was set. I packed my bag, and the next morning I was out the door. But reluctant to leave, I couldn’t help but think:

Why am I doing this?

———

Indeed, I considered that a legitimate question as I ventured the grounds of Bhonsla Military School just outside Nagpur on the morning of 8 November. I was the tallest and oldest in a group of about two dozen boys, but I was having trouble standing up straight. The sanitation of the breakfast that had been provided was suspect, and the bus ride in had violently jarred the contents of my stomach. Now my innards were in disarray; even though the Hindi-speaking army officer in full military regalia was instructing us to stand straight, I couldn’t.

I wanted to go home. I wanted to quit.

But a military camp is not the place to be weak, show weakness, or quit.

As the day went on, I was relieved to learn RYLA wasn’t really a military camp. Saket-dada had told me stories from camps in his childhood, how he’d been forced to run for miles on end and had been deprived of sleep for nights on end, unsmiling officers in the background shouting and pushing him on. But quick glances at the other members of the camp showed me it wouldn’t be like that. Though some of the boys came within an inch of my height and a year of my age, many of the boys and girls stood about two-thirds my height and looked as if a 100 meter jog would exhaust them – let alone a 10,000 meter one. So we spent the morning walking, not running, through the Bhonsla grounds and Vidharba fields, stopping at regular intervals as much for our rest as the attractions we were stopping for.

My stomach settled as morning gave way to afternoon, which was good – otherwise the day’s swimming and horseback riding would have been impossible for me. There was nothing significant about these activities to me – I’d ridden horses before, and I’d spent regular intervals each summer in swimming pools. But seeing the excitement of the younger kids vanquished my apathy. I saw it as the small kids smiled proudly on horseback – probably their first rides on such steeds, maybe their last. I saw it as they splashed wildly in the swimming pool large enough to accommodate five times as many campers as it did – especially in India. I saw it in the dingy Spartan sleeping quarters – a place where ones goods mattered not as much as the good friends around you.

Naturally, these kids took an interest in me, the likelihood of an ulterior motive correlating with age and ability to speak English. I was surrounded at every available moment, asked the normal foreigner-in-India questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? How do you find India? Do you like Indian food? What kind of music do you like? How do you find the heat? After dinner, the crowd around me had swelled to 30 and the questions had ventured into dangerous territory: Indo-Pak relations. Which country do you like more, Chris?

I was relieved when the group dissolved to assemble for the night’s nature walk.

Day two was more of the same. An early morning run through an obstacle course. Some laughably inaccurate attempts in riflery and archery. Military men teaching us about guns. People trying to teach me the prescribed steps to Anjaana Anjaani Ki Kahani. Again, I was unintentionally surrounded by kids for an evening interview, and again the questions ceased to relent.

This time I tried taking a different approach, seizing the opportunity when a brief lull arose. I turned the same questions back on the people asking them: What are your names? What are you all studying? What are your hobbies? These were group questions, and their replies were curt; they seemed uninterested in giving me the same information they were requesting of me. Most of these students were in the higher standards; the younger ones generally stood idle, either unconfident or unwilling to try their English on me.

It soon became clear there were two rather distinct groups of boys. The first group mostly consisted of 9th or 10th standard boys who would ask me peculiar, often crude questions and follow up my answers by turning to the others with laugh-arousing remarks in Hindi or Marathi. Unable to understand them, their remarks didn’t frustrate so much as confuse me.

(And these were only boys. The girls were strictly separated from us for almost every activity of the camp. My contact with them was limited to the occasional brief conversation with Franzi or a quick five-second self-introduction. It was probably better that way. Most members of the camp were wrongly convinced Franzi was either my girlfriend or my sister.)

But whatever this older group was saying, it was clearly affecting the members of the younger one. Most of the younger boys were in my camp – at least that’s the way it was made to appear. On the eve of night two, a group of older boys were sitting on bunks 12 feet away from me, telling jokes in Marathi that I couldn’t understand. The young Hindi-speaking boys around me couldn’t understand them either, but they’d gathered the older boys were speaking of me unfavorably. These small children – none probably higher than 8th standard – had firmly chosen righteousness, and to them, that meant sticking with me. Despite their difficulties with English, they sat in the bunks surrounding me, trying to communicate to me the atrocity of some things that had been said against me, surprised that I remained unfazed.

I reassured them that I was fine. I was.

They were just trying to help. But I didn’t need it. Not this kind, anyway.

———

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North Tour: Jaipur: What language is that?

April 17, 2011

Wednesday, 2 March

JAIPUR TO JAISALMER: India is a land of many languages. But even though it has 29 languages with at least 1 million speakers, those aren’t sufficient for its exchange students.

Despite having just three different mother tongues, the 13 of us use at least ten different languages. We’ve increased our use of Hindi at least fivefold since the South Tour, our vocabulary now extending beyond bas (enough) and chalo (let’s go). Select Marathi words such as fukta (only) have made their way into our conversations. Because of the efforts made by some to stretch their high school knowledge, Anaïs can occasionally communicate with some of us in French, and the three Germans have no trouble speaking their native tongue amongst themselves. We’ve used Spanish, Italian, Sanskrit, Korean and Japanese with various degrees of fluency and success. And of course there’s English – the Indian variety, at that.

So what do you call the language we speak? Fre-Ger-Spa-Ita-Kor-Sans-Jap-Mar-Hinglish? Spicy English? Or my favorite: The exchange student language for dummies properly perfectly itself only?

Whatever language we use, we can always understand each other, even if our lack of knowledge in one language creates more confusion than comprehension. So as not to take tension, one of the activities I do whilst one of us is speaking non-English is speak a made-up language with Serenity, Jordan, and whomever we’re not driving out of their mind. We’ve yet to decide on a name for it, but it has many kha‘s, badada‘s and words fun to say, such as chalakamata.

It’s harder than you’d think to carry on a fake conversation, but I think we do quite well. While conversing with Serenity at the Hawa Mahal, one half of a couple we passed distinctly asked the other “what language are they speaking?”

Good question.

As for the settings in which we had such conversations, they once again proved spectacular – or whatever the accompanying synonyms in Exchangese. I’d already seen three majestic forts since coming to India, but I took no issue with visiting a fourth today. Both that and the Hawa Mahal gave us great views of Jaipur and the surrounding area. The 12 km long “Great Wall” of India adorned the surprisingly lush countryside, and we spent the better part of the afternoon hunting for bargains in its wake. Finding souvenirs in Rajasthan has not been a difficult task, and while I already have three keychains, a decorative string, and a mini-wire bicycle to show for it, that’s still less than the haul most of the others have added to their suitcases already.

Today, too, was a good one.

🙂

P.S. See the glossary for more information on how we speak!

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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