"are you hindi?" asked the drunk guy standing next to me. i knew exactly what he meant - "you mean hindu". "oops", he said, "sorry. you musht shink i'm obnoxious. so what ish hindi?". and thats when it struck me. what is hindi? am i just a hindu, not a hindi? that statement had just woken up a ghost i thought i'd exorcised a while back. hindi has long been torturing poor tamil souls who would've loved to take math twice instead. of course i was different, i'd have sat through approximately 276 classes of all the other subjects instead of math.hindi wasn't far behind math though
it wasnt all that bad to begin with. at 5, i had the tamil vocabulary of most 5 year olds (except maybe the numbers, see note abt math above) and english at that point was mostly words rhyming with cat. when hindi was introduced, it seemed exotic in comparison and i took to it with mucho gusto. as i stood up to read about my favorite thoyhaar(1) or why vignyan(2) was a bane and not a boon, an audience would gather at the class door. several primary school teachers would stand by the class door admiring the flawless diction and command i had over words like "kyon ki"(3), "nahin"(4) and "isiliyae"(5). none of them knew hindi but like the sole hindi newscast on the only tv channel (it was just DD then and yes i'm from the stone age), I was pretty much the only source of entertainment for many. some predicted pundithood and at least a few were sure that i was prequalified for a Ji at the end of my name. i surfed the gentle waters of primary school hindi on the strengths of really long sentences that confused my really nice hindi teacher
when i switched to a new middle school, i found myself amidst a new set of characters. among them a hindi teacher who not only taught hindi but that supreme ancestor of hindi, sanskrit.i was no super hero but it quickly became apparent that if i'd been one she would've been my arch nemesis. her aims were very clear - total world domination of tamilnadu through the use of hindi grammar. to say i struggled would be like calling hindi a dialect. my fights against sandhi(6) and munshi premchand's tragedies were chronicled in school history as being among the most one-sided. tuition didnt help either and things steadily went downhill till independence was thrust upon us rather suddenly by the arrival of a new teacher. i probably treated the whole class to poppins and eclairs. the new guy was a total pushover and my scores steadily improved.
the brown cover of my course A hindi book slowly started fading a bit. tears appeared all over and the label slowly lost its stickiness till it was hanging by the last molecules of adhesive.it was time. i finally faced the ultimate challenge of the 10th standard board exam. the day our scores came out, i went with my mom to the school. we'd barely entered the school office when the hindi master came rushing out, all beaming and said i'd scored 97. he even thought i might be the national topper. imagine that. a tamil kid topping in hindi, beating all those northies who had supposedly invented the stuff. there was no way out now, i had to take up hindi in college and become a hindi pundit. i shall be a good teacher i thought and an even better speaker. i'll be the one to demolish that stereotype that mehmood had so carefully built in padosan. as these thoughts lit up like fireworks inside the hindi half of my brain, the teacher came around again. this time he was rather subdued. turned out that it was the other arun who'd scored 97. that genius had jumped to french a while back. that exam was the last time i wrote in hindi. i still speak it though and till recently it was always greeted by peals of laughter from my northy roomies.
a prod to my ribs brought me back to the present. obviously the amru unable to disturb my reverie with his belches had resorted to this physical gesture. he still wanted an answer to his question. "hindi", i said, "is the national language of india". "can you teach me some curse words then?"
(1)thyohaar - i think it actually means festival but to me it always meant diwali
(2)vignyan - is not scientology. it is just science and is a boon
(3)kyon ki - see isiliyae
(4)nahin - illa, ledhu, kidayathu, kaadhu, nein, NO
(5)isiliyae - that's why..if in doubt see kyon ki
(6)sandhi - the peculiar set of rules that govern how two words collide to form a new one or how one breaks up to give birth to new ones or the most torturous feature in hindi. no examples, if i'd studied that well, i'd have gotten 97