Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Teach Yourself Hindi Stereotypes

Now that Nickel and Dimed has closed, I've got a few more hours every evening to devote to alternative pursuits.

So... I got myself a copy of Teach Yourself Hindi. (Best marketing scheme ever -- I googled "teach yourself Hindi" and there it was, a book with that very title. It's like it branded itself into my own precognition!)

Never mind that the Devanagari is already making my head spin (dear Teach Yourself people: why did you have to put this brand-new alphabet into 10-pt font??? GRRR!!!).

But, in case you're not familiar with this particular text, I thought I would share with you a passage from its introduction. To help us learn the language, we are given a series of dialogues which comprise "a soap opera based on the life of a Delhi family." I've deconstructed authors Rupert Snell and Simon Weightman's description of this family for your amusement. My comments are in italics.

Quoting Snell/Weightman: "Pratap (21) has come to India to study Hindi at a private college run by Sharma ji (apparently there is no one willing to teach Hindi in London). Pratap's divorced mother Anita (ooh! divorced!), living in London, has arranged for him to stay as a paying guest with the Kumars. The Kumar family consists of the strong-willed Kamala and her obedient husband Prakash (see! we're breaking stereotypes!), their daughter Sangeeta (19) (here comes the romance plot), sons Rishi (14) and Raj (12) and Prakash's elderly but spry mother (guess the stereotype-breaking only went so far), whom everybody addresses as Dadi ji ("Grandma"). Tensions between Kamala and Prakash are not helped by their shared concern about the future of Sangeeta: they would like to see her married, but she strongly cherishes her independence (yep, stereotype-breaking is officially over). Sweet-natured Dadi ji, meanwhile, has a calming effect on the whole family (gee, you think?).

"Prakash's younger brother, the aspiring author Arun, often stays wtih them (this reads like a mashup of two characters from Suitable Boy); he speaks a rather Sanskritized or formal Hindi (whereas his co-author Prem speaks a Hindi liberally sprinkled with English) (Hinglish rep... check). Suresh, a neighbour of the Kumars, is another frequent visitor; he is closer to Kamala than to Prakash (and they're totally boinking).

"Prakash works in a company recently taken over by Mr. Khanna, who has a rather pathetic office peon called Chotu (please let your readers make up their own minds about Chotu's patheticity, thank you). Khanna's younger sister Pinkie is a close friend of Sangeeta Kumar (ten bucks says she's comic relief -- can't have an Indian story without a quirky character named Pinkie, right?). Khanna's son Harish, like Pratap, admires Sangeeta from afar (yep, there's the romance plot); but Sangeeta's heart is engaged elsewhere (well, that's what happens when you admire women "from afar;" they tend to fall for guys who talk to them "in person")."

Stay tuned for further updates on the Kumar/Khanna story! Also for my confounded struggles with spelling and grammar. The first page of the text says "Devanagari is quite easy to learn." The next four pages, with their two hundred tiny characters, seem to prove that it is not. But I'm clever, and I have fortitude. Time to jump in and take the ride.

5 comments:

Daniel said...

Please tell me there's no one in India named Pinkie. Please!

That's like one of the characters you'd find in an anime.

^__^

Is it a "teach yourself" series book? W/ the bright yellow square, screaming "Teach yourself"? If so, I have the Finnish version (yeah, I'm, um, teaching myself Finnish...sure!) and I'm jealous! I want a soap opera in mine! All I got was some lousy "my name is and I come from" stuff...

Blue said...

Daniel -- it is part of the Teach Yourself series. Though on mine the yellow square is pushed into the corner to make space for a photograph of blue fabric blowing in the wind.

Is Pinkie any worse than, say, Danny? They're just syllables, in a mutual tradition of giving people cutesy pet names. ^__^

Daniel said...

Well, my Finnish one has a picture of snow-covered grasses.

How romantic.

Pinkie is SO much worse than Danny! Danny wasn't an animaniacs character! :)

Zoey said...

Pinkie likely isn't her given name, but her pet name.

And yes, it's a really common Punjabi diminutive -- in my husband's family, there's a Minnie, Princie, Nannu, and a Shelly. Only one of them has ever been out of the subconty. Oy!

(Also, hey there, post author. I started with the "Teach Yourself Hindi" book, but I guess I'm too nonlinear to follow. However, when you're surrounded by Devanagari, it does get easier. I can read the backs of busses, I can read dhaba menus, and it's almost become a party trick -- watch the white girl miraculously read Hindi!)

Gene Solomon said...

Well in my universe it's a wonderful book, and this my first opportunity to proclaim it in public. In the first place I enjoy studying languages in my spare time. The book is really clever, and took me from knowing just a few spoken Hindi words, to now having a good knowledge of Hindi grammar and some basic vocabulary. The book is schlepped with me on the train, or accompanies me in doctors' waiting rooms. You really need to *start* with his other book that teaches you to read and write Hindi letters. The dialogs are progressive, and the personalities therein keep you interested.