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Early Hindi lessons

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I continue with the next episode of Kuchalambal's diary, catch the full details at

Kuchalambal's Diary

‘School teacher stabbed to death in Chennai’ screamed the headlines. Kuchalambal strained to read the details below, hurriedly searching for her glasses. The winter morning haze did not help much in illuminating the room. She struggled up to switch on the lights, so as to be able to read the newspaper.
“A teacher was stabbed to death in the classroom of a private school here on Thursday, allegedly by a 15-year-old student who was upset at being repeatedly reprimanded by her for not doing well in studies. The boy had failed in Hindi. The teacher had written remarks in his diary which had angered him.”
What a shame she thought, two precious lives destroyed beyond redemption, , children rendered motherless, parents in distress, and scores scorched by the event. All because of a child’s inability to learn a language!
She was reminded of their own travails, of landing up in an unknown city, not knowing much more than a smattering of English. Her knowledge of Tamil & Telugu, was of hardly any use in this strange land, where people seemed to understand only Hindi and nothing else. Of what use is English when one has to buy a kilo of pulses, from a grocer, or for that matter in asking for Asafoetida, or tamarind, camphor, sesame oil, curry leaves from a shop keeper who had never been near a word of English. She could not imagine a life without any of the above items of cooking.
Thankfully buying veggies out of the vendor’s cart used to be an easier task. One just had to just pick up any item and ask him for two hundred grams of the stuff. Someone in the crowd would translate for her and the job would be done. But the funny thing was that if the vegetable that one wanted was not displayed up front, she could never ask for it by name; she never knew in the initial days what to call what. ‘Alooo’, was the first word that she learnt, it sounded so easy, ‘alooo’, she rolled the word around in her mouth, it felt so good, ‘alooo’, yes she though, it may not be so difficult after all. And it was easy to remember too, her brother’s name was Balu, and he looked so like an ‘alooo’ to boot, she smiled to herself. ‘Muli’ was the next one she learnt, again because it spelled like her cousin Murli’s name. She was now having ball learning Hindi.
Buying milk turned out to be so much easier. She learnt that it goes by the name of ‘Doodh’ but the difficult one was to get the preferred milk of one’s choice, ‘Cow’s milk’, she struggled with the milk man the first day. She had caught hold of him delivering milk from a can, a few buildings away, and had somehow made him come over to her own gate. She was warned earlier, that buffalo’s milks is more prevalent in Delhi, so she was trying to convey to him that she did not want buffalo’s milk. As if ordained to save her from embarrassment, a cow ambled across the road in slow motion. She indicated to that animal, and said to the milkman ‘Cow’ ‘Cow’. By now the milkman whose whole world revolved around bovine creatures understood, like a mathematician understanding a difficult puzzle, and promptly took out the precious contents off a different can. “Gai ka Doodh” he said. She nodded, as if a great awakening had dawned, Gai, similar to bhai, she giggled to herself.
She balanced the vessel full of milk on one hand, and navigated around the puddle in the courtyard, holding her sari pleats in the other hand. Pattabi watching from the terrace above could not hold a smile. She looked so divine, he thought, the radiance of a newly wedded bride, the hope, the wonder, in her eyes, the milk in her hand as though symbolizing a brimming cup of life. The soft thud of her foot falls as she climbed the stairs, the clinking of her anklet, as if echoing the distant peeling of temple bells, entranced him as he watched his goddess incarnate, walking into the small kitchen which was just across the terrace, to return with that invigorating cup of coffee in her hands.
Providence solved her communication problems to a large extent. The second day into her life in Delhi, she met ‘Lakshmi Mami’. Mami & Mama for those not familiar with the term, is a common reference to a lady and a gent respectively. (The term Mama & Mama is also means Maternal Uncle and Aunt). When she first saw a familiarly ‘tamilian looking’ lady walking past her house, she jumped after her and almost grabbed her hand in glee saying ‘neegal tamizha ? (are u a Tamil), and when the lady in question nodded in acknowledgment, Kuchalambal was awed, and gaped at her as if she had met an Eskimo in the African jungles. Forty eight hours of not having met a tamilian was too harsh for the young lass.
The easy going well to do Lakshmi Mami, a good ten years older to her, had herself come to Delhi a decade back and lived a few rows of houses beyond. A tall impressive lady at first sight, she maneuvered herself with elegance unmatched. Her husband too like Pattabi was a civil servant, but financially well settled, which reflected in her own demeanor. A brilliant singer, with a perfect grip on spoken English and Hindi, the lady oozed confidence in her every step. Kuchalambal was impressed and totally in awe of the lady and her persona partly also because she was lost out here in the huge Hindi jungle. On her part Lakshi mami, had never had a younger sister, she had grown up always being bullied by her older siblings, and in Kuchalambal she found the sweetest little sister she could ever find. They struck an instant rapport.
The ladies, alone, after their husbands left for work, had all the time in the world to explore the markets of Karol Bagh. Lakshmi seems to know exactly where to look for items of need. And she was only too happy to act as interpreter whenever required. Thanks to Lakshmi, she got to know of the South Indian Store, on Ajmal Khan Road. The day Lakshmi told her about the store, Kuchalambal dragged her out of the house wanting to immediately go and get her ration for the month. She was fed up with the struggle of buying grocery. The challenge in figuring out the Hindi word for things so simple as rice floor & jaggery, of being confronted by the shopkeeper in his dirty pajamas, scratching himself uncontrollably at forbidden places, as he tried to figure out what was that she wanted to buy. Not to speak of his constant muttering something’s about Madrasi’s under his foul smelling breath.
The ultimate test of her communication skills was yet to come. Lakshmi and she had planned to visit Birla Mandir. Unfortunately Lakshmi boarded a crowded bus from the front, and she from the rear. Kuchalambal got separated from her in the crowd which was packed as if going to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Panic struck her when the conductor asked her to buy a ticket. Seated on his high pedestal, he would not climb down to jostle thorough the crowd as they used to in Madras. He was roughly five layers of humanity away, and her frail frame could not budge an inch, as the conductor’s rhetoric got shriller and shriller, pushing everyone to buy tickets, she looked around for help, but none was forth coming, the bus had moved a good few kilometers in the meanwhile, not stopping anywhere as it moved along, people standard in the bus stops in between making a run for the bus in vain, and the conductor would smile at the running mass in sadistic pleasure. ‘Birla Mandir’, he screamed as the bus came to a halt, before it could even stop another mass of desperate humanity came running to cling on to the entrance of the bus, preventing anyone from getting down. ‘Stop Birla Mandir’ her frail voice echoed lost in the crowd. ‘Stoooop’ she sobbed in panic. Thankfully the word stop did make sense to the conductor whose whistle went ‘Phrrrrrrrrrrrrr’ in single shrill call. But to her horror the bus would not stop. A sea of humanity kept running on the ground, chasing the bus like a truck load of ambulance chasers. But the bus went on without stopping. Kuchalambal burst forth in a flood of tears. ‘Roko’ shouted someone in the crowd, to no avail. Finally when the bus stopped it was two stops away from Birla Mandir. By now the plight of the lost girl dawned on the passengers, who de-boarded to make way for her to get down. The blast of fresh air as she got down from the bus, put fresh life into her, enough to make her trek back two kilometers down, to rejoin a worried Lakshmi.
The first few years were harrowing to say the least, But she managed bravely, the energies of youth, provides one with a zeal to deal with the toughest of challenges. She slowly discovered her linguistic capabilities. Within two years she had mastered spoken Hindi, and latter as her children started going to school she also managed to master Devnagri, learning it, along with them, from their text books.
She knew from experience that a language was just a means of communication, however the best of human emotions can be communicated without the use of any language. Hence it seemed to be such a waste that a teacher had to lose her life in such tragic circumstances, her eyes went moist as she silently cried for Uma Maheshwari, the teacher who had lost her life
Hi Arun,

Good write-up. But you could have posted the above two pages in the same thread you had started earlier!

Any special reason for starting a new thread? :noidea:
Just that this is a different episode, if I post in the same one people will overlook

The earlier one just had a link, whereas here I have posted a complete episode
Just that this is a different episode, if I post in the same one people will overlook. .......
People will NOT overlook, sir! Once they start reading a thread with interest, they will be actually looking forward to new posts,

which could be easily noticed by the thread heading appearing in bold letters. :)
Experiences of Colour
Delhiteshad packed up their woolens. The bone chilling cold had given way to warmerdays. The city’s forenoon chill was enough to freeze the unsuspecting youngmigrants from Madras, who were used only to the much milder days of Margazhitemperatures. Even at those high temperatures it used to be a standard protocolto wrap a muffler around the head while heading out in the morning. But havingalready faced the much harsher first winter in Delhi, these milder days seemedto bring in a relief to the stricken couple.
‘Splat’’the balloon burst on her back, as a chill ran down her spine. The imaginaryfear of ‘Holi’ now stood transformed into reality, as she stood in the marketplace, drenched and shivering. She had just stepped out to buy some groceries,knowing well that with a day left for holi, she would be lucky not to beambushed by water balloons or a splash of color, from any of the endless rowsof balconies and terraces which she had to cross on the way to the market. Forthose with a ‘holi’ phobia this was a terrifying ordeal, of having to navigate throughthe narrow lanes, with half an eye on the sky, to spot an incoming missile andtrying to avoid it, and at the same time appearing as nonchalant as possible.As the children in the balconies, resembling snipers, waited to take as manyvictims as possible, each successful hit would be greeted by a big cheer fromthe balconies around, as the unsuspecting victim stood around sheepishly, somegrinning in disbelief and some gesticulating wildly at the mocking children inthe balconies.
Shelooked around for her tormentor, but found tens of children perked in ledgesaround the buildings, it would be futile trying to guess as to who had firedthe deadly missile at her. As the chill made her uncomfortable she wrapped hersaree more tightly around her shoulders and proceeded to finish her errand. As she started her return trip, she found alarge group of revelers coming her way, all of them adorned with bright colorsand dancing merrily and spreading color all around. She froze in her tracks, lookingfor a doorway of escape, and thankfully found a grocery store a few steps aheadand quickly ducked in, to let the group pass. The grocer looked curiously ather, as she beat a hasty retreat back into the street.
Theholi eve brought in more revelry, a huge bon-fire was lit few doorways down thestreet. The street folk gathered around the fire merrily dancing. As the couplelooked on in curiosity, there was a call from down below asking them to jointhe group. They looked at each other, Pattabi smiled his usual smiled andjumped up to go, egging her to join him, and she reluctantly accompanied himdown the stairs. The ‘Dhol’ started itsbeat just as they reached the cross road, as people jumped up in a burst ofdance. To her surprise the ladies joined in the dance too, a big taboo downsouth. One of the young ladies grabbed her hand and pulled her into the dancingcrowd. Too dazed to react she tried doing a few dance steps. The little dancingthat she knew was the ‘Bharatnatyam’ that she had learnt as a child. She would lookawkward indeed trying out those moves out here in this group. For a short while she managed swinging herhands in sync with the gorup, and when she found the men folk watching her, anxiety got the better of her as she brokeaway from the dancers and regained Pattabi’s side.
Thegame of ‘Holi’ elicits extreme reactions from people, on one hand are themajority who swear by the fun and frolic of anointing each other withcolours and chasing each other withwater in hand. The fervor & gaiety marking the high point of camaraderieand brotherhood, and has a deep symbolic effect on the participants who swearby it. On the other hand you have those who simply can’t make out what the fussis all about, the invasion of privacy, aversion to the touch, the inconvenienceof being drenched, the slight shiver of the cold water, make it hard toconvince them about the greatness of the festival.
Kuchalambalwas not part of the latter group, but the concept of ‘Holi’ was new and toomuch of a cultural shock for her, the initiation yet to happen.
‘Holi’ dawned and what started off as a soberday, slowly burst forth in a mix of colors and noise of Dhol beats. Kuchalambalnot adequately forewarned, had her bath early in the morning as practice wouldhave it and got ready for her prayers. The children had begun their fun in thestreets and were heard shouting with joy, throwing colors and water at eachother. The couple watched stealthily from the floor above, at the rapidly increasingfervor on the streets. The elders had started gathering in the street below,applying colors and sandal paste on each other, it was not long before they rememberedthe Madrasi couple. Raamanji! went the call.”Come down, come join us”. Thecouple eyed each other. Fear writ large on her face. “You go”! She urgedPattabi, before they could decide what to do, the banging on the door started,a group had assembled outside the door, and was wanting to drag them out toplay colors. Pattabi opened the door and the group barged into the small room.Within seconds Pattabi was transformed into a unknown figure, all black andblue and red, his veshti and white shirt suddenly transformed into an artist’scanvas, ‘Holi hai’ cheered the crowd, as Kuchalambal cowered in the kitchenbeyond, a few ladies barged into the kitchen, and began the ceremonies on her.The myriad streaks of colours now adorned her fair face, as she helplesslytried to wipe away the grime from her face with her forearm, and hopelesslymanaged to rub in the colours into her arms too. Happy to have done thecustomary anointing, the crowd faded away again into the streets. The couple,although rattled by the experience, felt good to have participated, if onlysymbolically, if they regretted anything, it was the loss of one good pair ofdress which the colors had spoilt, and of course, the need to bathe again. Never again during their stay in Delhi wouldthey ever have their bath so early in the morning on a ‘Holi’. Never.
Eachnew festival seemed to bring in new experiences to the Madrasi couple. The lastten months of stay in Delhi had showered them with varied surprises, the RakshaBandan, the Lohri, the brightly lit Diwali and Durga puja, all brought withthem, joys never experienced so far.Life seemed so different here in this northern city. The late night festivitiesof Delhi contrasted with the early morning hustle bustle in Madras. While itused to be a mad rush in the mornings to attend marriages in Madras, with someof them scheduled for as early as seven, the marriages in Delhi would bescheduled for the late hours of the evening. The New Year morning’scelebrations and gaiety in Madras, seems sadly absent, as all of Delhi seem tobe relaxing in deep slumber till late in the noon, tired after the whole nightcelebrations of the previous night. After almost a year of stay in Delhi,Kuchalamba’s for the longing for her home grew with each passing day.Telephones were nonexistent in those days, the yearning to hear her mother’svoice, the comforting presence of her father, the smell of jasmine, the crowdedlanes of T Nagar & Mylapore, the temple chariot and the utsavams, the beachvisits and the Music Festivals all seemed to beckon her as she sat thinkingabout the day just past.
The memories of her first holi flashed in hermind now almost fifty years later as she sat in the balcony watching the roarof the revelers. Vishwa and Gomati had escaped to a movie hall, and she wasleft alone with her memories, some good and some heart wrenching, her soulsearched for the meaning of it all, the years gone by, the experiences, thestruggle, the pain, the joys of motherhood, and the achievements of life, finallyculminating in this balcony all alone, like a solitary bird in the sky, lookingfor its salvation. She could not phantom her emotions. She scanned the horizonfor some signs, but she got no answers, until a tiny voice exclaimed ‘HOLIHAI’, she slowly turned around to find a two year old in the balcony aboveholding a small spray gun in hand, trying to drench her with the tiny steam,from the small water gun. The few drops of water that touched her face gave herthe answers, it was all about life, the unending cycle of birth and death, ofthe blooming flowers and wilting leaves, the new blades of grass, replacing thetrampled older lot, bursting forth with new hope, new energy, to keep the cyclelive, ‘HOLI HAI’, she exclaimed withthe spirit of Holi rekindling her hopes again.
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