Monday, November 15, 2010

A Hindi Revelation

There are these funny little moments when you realize that even though you think you know what your mother tongue is, you don't. When you realize you've been speaking another language for so long that its eccentricities have crept into your "own" tongue and that your own tongue has changed forever.

This evening, Vikram told me that one of the tires on my car was flat. He had used the car in the morning on a rough road with many sharp stones and though it had seemed fine when he drove back into our driveway in the morning, it was now, seven hours later, like a pancake.

"Aacchaa", I said in Hindi. "Lagta ta ki teek tha, lekin slowly, slowly, patta lagta ki . . " ("You thought it was fine, but slowly, slowly, you realized. . . ")

Vikram finished the sentence for me: "Han. Puncture hogaya." ("Yes. It was punctured.")

He was on his way out the door to change the tire as he said this. I remained inside, surprised and amused by my use of the "slowly, slowly" construction which didn't give him a moment's pause, even though it was in English.

Well, how to unravel this little linguistic complexity? Vikram's comfort with my English-Hindi, my adoption of his language's oddities, his unconscious use of the English technical word "puncture", our joint cooperation and understanding?

Why bother? It works. We now officially speak each other's language without having giving up our own. It's what I love about India. The embracing, inclusiveness of this country which absorbs the best of whatever is out there yet retains what is best about itself.

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