Tag Archives: Hindi

How A 10-Year-Old Tried To Teach Me Bengali

On the train ride from NJP to Kolkata (allegedly 10 hours, actually 14), I am sitting across from a mother, father, and their 10-year-old daughter.  She is wearing a delightful purple and rainbow zebra-stripe outfit.  I cannot understand the words she says, but I understand that she has sass.

A man comes by and asks if we want dinner.  I answer in Hindi without thinking about it: “Nahin.”  The couple across from me look delighted.  They say something that I can’t understand but that involves the word “Hindi.”  I smile and give my standard reply: “Meera Hindi — thora thora.”  My Hindi — little little.

They speak about as much English as I speak Hindi.  We manage to communicate that I am from the U.S., New York, and they are from a town a few hours outside of Kolkata, which is where they are returning to now.  Also, I am going to Kolkata, and I was just in Darjeeling.  How long?  “Five days, Darjeeling, beautiful. Very beautiful.”

I explain in Hindi that my name is Chelsea, then ask the girl: “Apka naam kya heyn?”  She shyly responds something I can’t understand, and her mother gives me an anglicatization: “Mona Lisa.”

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa has been shy at first, but now she hops over to my side of the compartment.  “You are from U.S.?”  “Haahn.  Yes.”  “Tell me about U.S.”

Hmm.  “Okay.  I’ll draw you a picture.”  I get out my notebook and draw a map of the world.  I circle both the U.S. and India.  I write “India” in Hindi next to the subcontinent, and everyone informs me I have spelled it wrong.

Then I draw a map of the U.S.  I ID some relevant cities: LA, NYC, Washington.  “Would you like to see some pictures from the U.S.?”  She would, of course.  We look at literally every picture on my camera.  When we get to pictures of my cooking, she frequently interrupts to explain the picture of a cake/curry/piece of bread to her parents in Bengali.

I show her my Hindi book to explain how I know Hindi.  She reads both the Hindi and English lines out loud.  Then she quizzes me.  “Parivar.”  “Family.”  “Dur.”  “Close.”  “No.  It is ‘far.’ ”  “Ahh.”  She teaches me a few words in Bengali.  Our train leaves a half hour late, but I hardly notice.

I take out my Lonely Planet book and we look at maps of India.  “Once the British were in India.  Then the freedom fighters fought, and the British left, and now we have independence and we are free.”  I smile.  “You know your history!” She bobbles her head.  “I go to school and we have history book!”

She begins calling me “didi,” which I gather means “auntie.”  “Didi!  I want to look at your Hindi book.”  “Didi!  Show me your map of the world.”  “Didi! [Bengali Bengali Bengali].” We go to sleep around 11, but we pick up right where we left off in the morning.

Mona Lisa and MeAt one point she asks me about music and offers that she can sing a song in Bengali.  I say I would like to hear her sing it.  She does, at 8:00 in the morning, with half the train still attempting to sleep.  Then she sings the Indian national anthem, which I recognize because it was sung every day at the school I taught at in 2010.  “Would you like to hear the American national anthem?”  This is the first time of many that I learn singing American songs to Indians has the potential to make me emotional.

Speaking of emotional, Mona Lisa then asks for paper and we use it for practicing drawings of India and the world.  She adds some very sweet captions, like, “I love my didi.”  What really gets me is when Mona Lisa writes, in English, “The world is a beautiful place.”  She adds a carrot and writes “very.”

India drawing


This is the purest sweetness of a child that I can imagine and, especially thinking about why I came to India and what I am doing here, it is hard to respond.  “Yes,” I manage.  “It is.”



Also, I Speak Hindi! (ok not really)

But I did have my first complete conversation in Hindi today with people who could not speak English!  They were those lovely gentlemen in the white garb from the last post.  They saw me taking a picture with a few boys, and then they came over and gestured to the camera and started lining up.  But they didn’t have a camera.  So I was confused about what they wanted me to do.

My Very First All-Hindi Conversation ensued.  Here it is, in its entirety:

Me: [pointing to camera] Meera?  Apka?

Man: Apka.

Me: Accha.  [takes picture] Accha tikke!

Translation: “Mine? Yours?” “Yours.” “Good, OK. … Very good!”

And…that’s it.  Although, actually, addendum — then the  boy who asked for a photo earlier heard all this, came back to where I was standing, and said:

Boy:  Madam! You speak Hindi???

Me:  Chhota, chhota.  (Small, small.)  ….bahut chhota.  (…very small.)

Making Friends With Old Indian Men, Or, Delhi By The Pictures

Today I had a very good day. I woke up in my little room at Hotel Namaskar…
IMG_5397 namaskar room

…and walked to the train station to buy tickets. The streets were packed, as usual.

Yup. Plenty of people in India.After I successfully bought train tickets (!!!!!! it only took an hour and a half of waiting in line.  Believe me, this was a very small price to pay.  I consider it a miracle that I was able to buy tickets for all three of the trips I wanted), I went to Old Delhi for some sight-seeing.

First I walked past a beautiful gurdwara, or Sikh temple…

Sikh temple

…and then I went to the Red Fort (Lal Qila), a huge fort/mini walled city built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (the same one who later commissioned the Taj Mahal for his wife).

Red Fort

It was hot, but I didn’t think it was too bad, until I saw that the birds were panting.

Maybe birds don't pant? Do they have tongues?

I had my picture taken alone…
Me and red fort

…and then with new friends (a LOT of Indians at tourist sites ask foreigners if they can take a picture with you, so I just asked if they would take one with my camera, too)…

I must have stopped for like a dozen pictures…including some old men who I would have thought would be more likely to call me the White Devil than request a photo.  But I was wrong!  They were very nice and friendly.

Seriously, they were totally niceThen I traveled to south Delhi to see the beautiful Baha’i Lotus Temple.

Lotus Temple ahoy!

I learned a lot about the Baha’i faith.  Their major tenants include “equal rights for men and women” and “we should  improve the condition of life for all humanity” and “there should be universal education.”  I’m not in the market for a new religion, but that sounds like a good set of principles to me.

Then I had dinner at a(n overpriced semi-tourist trap but the food was fairly good) restaurant in Connaught Place, where I made friends with some American college students.

Afterwards, I discovered that there are currently free outdoor concerts happening in the middle of Delhi!

Delhi concert

It’s apparently part of a Culture Week or something to that effect.  An MC came out at the end and handed each of the players in the band a bouquet of flowers.  I cannot explain.  I love this crazy country.