For those of you who don’t know, Hindi is one among the 22 official languages in India. It is the first language of millions in our country. But for me, Hindi is like this ‘poovalan'(swain) guy who keeps following me no matter how many times I reject him. It seems I can’t get this guy off my back no matter how much I try.
I am from Kerala, a southern state in India, where the native language is Malayalam. My relationship with Hindi started when I was in the 5th standard of school. Mine was an English-medium state syllabus school where the emphasis was given to the native language Malayalam, and English in the early academic years. Hindi was introduced only by the 5th standard. We had this gorgeous little textbook filled with a lot of colorful and pleasant illustrations, short stories and poems.
Honestly, even I was in love with Hindi then.
But, things changed suddenly when our school suddenly declared that it’s granted CBSE (central board) affiliation. For your information, in CBSE schools, Hindi starts from lower grades along with other languages. So, we moved to the 6th standard with the new CBSE curriculum. It wasn’t as hard as I expected. I was fine with almost all the other subjects, expect Hindi!
Remember our colorful cute textbook? The CBSE Hindi textbook for 6th is one of the most hideous books I have encountered in my entire life. It was brown in color, thick as a brick, hardly had any pictures (the ones that were there, were boring and had an orange-brown shade), and the font size was so tiny that the entire fifth standard textbook could be contained in a single page of this one. Ok! I may have exaggerated a bit, but it was certainly very tiny! I was devastated by seeing it.
It was then I started hating Hindi.
From cutesy short stories, we went straight to autobiographies and philosophical stories, and poetries with words we could not even digest. The toughest essay we had to write in the 5th was about ‘Gaay’ (cow). You know right? The ‘Gaay ek palthu janvar hai! Woh humein dhoodh deti hai!’ (Cow is a domestic animal. It gives us milk) one. While in 6th, we straight away advanced to writing a travelogue about a recent trip. Holy cow! I still vividly remember our Hindi teacher warning us that she will not give a single mark in the next exam if we write English or Malayalam words in Hindi while giving away the first midterm answer sheets.
What else are we supposed to do when we don’t know the Hindi for a certain word?!
Somehow I managed to learn enough Hindi to pass 6th. In the 7th, we were given choices for our second language, either Malayalam or Hindi. No points for guessing what I chose. In fact, 99% of the students in our class chose Malayalam over Hindi.
I was finally relieved that I got rid of Hindi from my life completely.
Fast forward 12 years. It’s 2014, my software engineer days. My Amma(Mom) was on the lookout for a potential prospect to marry her daughter. One day, a lady called and told my Amma that her software engineer son, currently working in the US, is interested in meeting me. Software engineer and US in one sentence! I am sure, Amma would have already figured the possible dates for the marriage in her mind. However, she sent me the profile to see if I am interested.
Amma had already done some detailed background investigation through some relatives and told me that the family is good and the guy seems like a decent person. I wanted someone from a similar educational and career background. The profile looked OK.
I was about to call and tell Amma that I am OK to meet the guy in person.
And, that’s when I noticed! His school, college, previous employment are all based in Bombay. Bombay?! Does that mean the person speaks in Hindi?! The thought itself made me so worried. I called Amma immediately and told her that I am not interested in the proposal. She asked me the reason for it. I told her that he is brought up in Bombay. There is every possibility that his first language is Hindi, despite being a Keralite. Amma laughed and told, “His mother already mentioned that he knows Malayalam. If he doesn’t, either of you will learn a new language. I am going to tell them that we are OK to meet. I am done with your stupid reasons.” I got furious hearing this. But, I knew its pointless to argue with my Amma.
So, I decided to handle this during the ‘pennukanal’ (the meeting where the guy goes to see the prospective bride).
It was the ‘pennukanal’ day. I was totally determined to frighten this guy away no matter what. They arrived. We all sat and talked, and had chai along with snacks (I am basically there for this part. During pennukanals, I could see all these sophisticated snacks that my Amma never bothered to buy otherwise). After that, the prospects were given some time to talk alone and sent to the balcony of our house. I had this smirk on my face. Finally, my time has arrived. Buhuhahaha!
He started the conversation with mundane questions like where did you study, likes, dislikes and all. To my surprise, he did speak in Malayalam; not super fluent. But, sounded just fine. He seemed pleasant and well behaved. It was just when I was about to have second thoughts on rejecting the proposal, he received a call from his sister. Quickly, he switched to Hindi.
OH NO! Hindi! Rejecting right away! My mind snapped.
After finishing the call, he looked at me and asked if I have any questions. The much-awaited moment! With full-on attitude, I asked him, “You were brought up in Bombay. You completed all your studies there. Then, why are looking for a bride in Kerala? You can easily find someone who can speak Hindi and understand your way of living there.”
He smiled and replied, “We are still Keralites at heart. My dad moved to Bombay when he was very young. He wanted to move back here since forever. But, I think he stayed there for his kids’ convenience. If I move to Kerala, my parents will have a chance to move back here.”
“Awww! He sure is sweet and considerate.” My heart melted. But, my mind recalled “Oh yeah. But he speaks Hindi! Don’t fall into the trap.”
Pennukanal got over and I was asked my final decision. I immediately declared that I am not interested. Amma asked for the reason again. I replied with the same answer. He is more comfortable with Hindi. Amma scrunched her eyebrows and asked again, “Any other reasons?!”. I said no. “You better give it one more thought. I can’t tell them that we are rejecting just because of a language. Let me know your decision by today evening, or I will let them know that we are fine with taking it forward.” My amma was determined this time.
I cried and made a big scene. I looked at my brothers who usually support me with all my decisions. But even they washed their hands off this time, “He seems like a good guy!”. Ugh! You too Brutuses!
I decided to give it a deep thought. After all, it is just a language. It is silly to reject a good proposal merely for this reason. There are many more important things to consider when it comes to a relationship. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with it and told Amma that I am willing to move forward with the proposal.
And, that’s how I married Mr. Scorpy.
His zodiac sign is Scorpio and he calls himself ‘The Scorpion King’. I can’t roll my eyes enough for this. It seems a bit too much for me. So, I call him Scorpy. I may not have learned much Hindi. But, I sure turned him to a first-class mallu within the 5 years of our marriage. People who already knew him say his Malayalam has improved so much now, and those who meet him for the first time are amazed to know that he is not brought up in Kerala.
The initial months of marriage are meant to be crazy. It’s all about knowing each other and understanding the differences, which means a lot of arguments. You know how women are when they are angry. If we could write essays in seconds on Whatsapp, imagine how fast we talk in person.
I used to yell non-stop with really long and complex Malayalam words.
It was so tough for Scorpy to process the whole thing that fast. Eventually, he would lose his cool and start yelling in Hindi. It’s not the usual Hindi that we hear in Bollywood movies. You know the kind Sharukh speaks. The long pauses he gives in between the dialogues are essentially processing time given for non-Hindi people. Scorpy speaks the typical Hindi that the natives of Bombay use. It’s super fast!
In short, I wouldn’t understand a single word he utters and vice-versa. This whole thing did help us in the long run. You know how couples bring in old arguments and quote dialogues during a fight.
We never did that, simply because we don’t remember or understand what the other one said on previous arguments.
After marriage, I left my job in India and moved to the US with Scorpy. One may think it is easier to survive in US if you know English; not if you are married to a Bombaywala malayalee. Most of his friends were from the northern part of India and spoke Hindi. Weekend gatherings were a nightmare for me. They spoke in English to me. But when it comes to a group where the majority speaks one language, its only natural that everyone prefers that. We would sit in a circle and start discussing something or play a game. I would listen to one person speaking in Hindi and try to decode it into Malayalam. By then, another starts talking. Two of them speak at the same time. then, three! Don’t even get me started on playing cards. All of them talk at the same time. When I found it difficult to process things that faster, I stopped trying. I concentrated on the game rather than talking, which may be the reason why I won the game most of the time.
But, slowly I started getting better at Hindi. The best way to learn a language is to be in a live environment where it is used. I started following their fast Hindi better with each get-together. Even though I could understand them, I always responded in English as I was more comfortable that way.
I knew my Hindi has improved so much when this onetime, Scorpy took me to a mall in Bombay during a vacation. As usual, he left me free to roam around the stores and asked to give him a call when I am ready to bill. I did marry a sweet one. Don’t you think? Thank God I said yes that day! Anyhow that day, I was able to communicate pretty well with the staff in Hindi.
And, I had been secretly feeling so proud of myself.
Fast forward to today, after 5 years of our adventurous married life, my Hindi processing has reached a level that I am not even bothered when someone switches between Hindi and English. I can watch Bollywood movies without looking at the subtitles. Hindi and I have become good friends now. I still respond to Hindi in English, which is still a work in progress. I am just worried that I will go wrong with all the hai ho how hum ha. But, I am sure I will get there soon.
P.S. – Do you remember the pennukanal scene where I was intimidating Scorpy with my terrifying questions? After engagement, once we started talking over the phone, I asked him why he agreed for the marriage even though I asked all those terrorizing questions to him. His reply was, “What terrorizing questions? I thought you were being smart and bold. Those questions are one of the reasons why I thought you would make a great companion for me.” If real life had a background score, in this situation it would have been –
“avanavan kurukkunna kurukkazhichedukkumbam gulumaal..gulumaal parasparam kuzhikkunna kuzhikalil pathikkumbam gulumaal.. gulumaal“
Non-malayalees, please don’t ask me to translate this! It pretty much means not to dig your grave with your own fork and knife.
Jokes apart, the moral of the story is,
“If something is bound to happen, it will happen… right time, right person and for the best reason.”Aristotle
Just like Hindi and me. Oops! Just like Scorpy and me.