Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Getting my Hindi right! April 25, 2010

Filed under: Indian literature — benjamuna @ 3:32 pm
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I know how to swear in Hindi! Not that it is important, although you never know when certain words may become useful…. For some reason almost all novels, written by Indian authors – includes a lot of words that are not translated, but kept in Hindi. Some books even include a glossary.

One of the first words I came across, was charpoi. Clearly it was something to lie down on, a simple bed (without any mattress) – often used outside. The first time I saw a charpoi, outside a dhaba north of Delhi, I instinctly knew what I saw.  And a dhaba? Clearly some kind of eatery (I concluded the first time I came across the word,) – along the road. Used by truck drivers and other passers by. But in the beginning I thought a dhaba was very poor and simple. It is simple yes, and most of the time (from what I’ve now seen) chairs and tables are outside. Toilet conditions can be a challenge, for over-hygenical Westernes….
Some say the food is poor. I guess it can be poor, sometimes. But go and eat at the Norwegian equivalent, the veikro, and food can be disastrous!  I had the most delicious, hot tomato soup in a dhaba last year. So fantastic that we had to stop at the same dhaba on our way back to Delhi several days later.

And there is the dhobis (who wash clothes), the dupatta (female shawl), and the dacoits who might rob your train through Bihar…. And the almirah (chest of drawers or cabinet   ) and the ayah (the live in baby sitter) – and the wallah, the tiffin, the sherwani, the mangalsutra, the ghats and women in purdah…. together in their zenana.
Not to mention that always-come-useful word accha.

Obviously, every one of these words cannot be translated easily into one word. But some can, without doubt. But it is as if a certain collection of words are never translated anyway. It’s a long time since I have come across a new word, though. I read Indian literature almost constantly, and my vocabulary that has been picked up from novels seems to have hit the roof. Sometimes I wonder if there exists a small hidden book somewhere, that contains the “untranslatable words of Hindi….”

All these original words definately give the books a certain Indian flavour, and if you have an interest in languages it is a big bonus! But I don’t think I’m able – yet – to strike up a conversation in Hindi by using this diverse lot of words…..
Oh, and the swearing comes almost solemnly from Vikram Chandra’s fantastic novel Sacred Games – about policeman Sartaj Singh,  criminal overlord Ganesh Gaitonde, a Bollywood film star…. but on second thoughts I’m not going into that!

And something more about Indian novels; they made me put a book of Indian trees on my wish-list for last Christmas. But that’s another story….


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