Monthly Archives: November 2011

Aside

i’ve been asked a few times now, exactly what language people speak here (“¿Indian?” “…no.”) so here is my explanation of that answer and why it’s difficult to learn.

short answer [i.e. you can read this paragraph, and have the basic question answered]: the “official” language of India is Hindi, but as this is traditionally, and historically a ‘northern’ language, it has not caught on in the whole of the nation, particularly in the south [where i am]. the language ‘officially’ spoken in Bangalore is Kannada (as Bangalore is located in the state of Karnataka), but as this large city is located fairly central to most of southern India, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi are also spoken, as is Urdu for anyone practicing Islam. in my personal Bangalore experience, the average person on the street will speak a minimum of 3-4 languages, even if they cannot read/write in any of them. in Bangalore, because of a long history of British influence, a great many people speak at least a small enough amount of English that i can get around with fairly little struggle.

the longer answer and explanation:
first off, what you need to know is a brief lesson in history. before ‘india’ became a major center for trade with european countries, the sub-continent itself was extremely diverse. one could move only, say 100 km and the language, culture, and customs would be quite different. in India’s long civilized history the sub-continent experienced a long list of different ruling cultures which influenced various aspects of Indian life, to varying degrees. because of the diversity of the place, one could almost argue that this vast place could have been made into 30 different countries (though this would require a whole other post altogether, and a great deal of time i don’t have at the moment for research).

not only does each individual state have its own official language, but those states [like, say, Orissa] that have large populations of tribal people have unending numbers of ‘dialects’ that have sprouted off of that language some hundreds of years ago. in all, i’m told, the number of languages and dialects spoken within the borders of this nation may number in the 400’s. though i seriously wonder how one does a census of such a vast and sometimes obscure place.

my [personal] speculation for how so many languages have been sustained over so many dynasties, rulers, and kingdoms is that for one, there is a very high value placed on the learning and procurement of languages. traditionally, the first language an Indian child will speak is their “mother tongue.” they may also learn the “father tongue” if it is different, plus the local language which is often something else. let me give you an example (not an actual story, just a compilation of various students i have questioned about it); i ask a 9th grade student which languages he speaks and how he learned each of them. his mother tongue is Tamil as his mother was born there, he also speaks Tulu (learned while living in Mangalore), Kannada – as the village he has lived most of his life is in Karnataka, he also speaks Malyalam as it is related to Tulu and he once lived in a place where it was spoken, somewhere along the way he picked up Telugu, and at CHI the students begin learning English in the 1st grade. in case you weren’t counting, that’s SIX DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. yes, maybe the person is not completely fluent in all of these languages and certainly not literate in all, but the thought of just speaking even 5 different languages in a half-way decent manner is incomprehensible to most Americans at least. (i could probably write a whole other blog about why i don’t think this should be the case, but i digress)

as i mentioned, the official language in Bangalore is Kannada, but Tamil, Telugu, English and Hindi are also common. the most common next to Kannada is definitely Tamil. and at CHI, a great many of the students claim Tamil as their mother tongue. politically and culturally, Tamilians are very proud and attached to their language and Tamilians have moved to give it a higher status in India as it has some 60 million speakers.
because of all of this, learning one specific language is difficult. though it would be advantageous for me to learn Hindi if i want to travel in the rest of the country, learning, and especially practicing Hindi, is not particularly easy in Bangalore. my current project is learning Tamil, as the children at school get extremely excited if i can even come close to mimicking something in their mother tongue [which they get scolded for speaking in school or on the bus]. personally though, where possible, i try to use their language, be it Tamil or Kannada, when i am teaching vocabulary because i am interested in attempting to pick up a few words myself. it also engages them more if i take an interest in what they speak.

well, there is your long answer, i’ll let you know when i actually pick something worthwhile up and can actually communicate 🙂
also; soon to come is a post on “Indian English” which is another animal altogether.

Namaskara,
Sarah

what the **** language do they speak there?! …and are you learning it?

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now for 1,000 words on October…

Standard

oops 🙂

obviously i seem to have been neglecting my blog and as one might expect in India, quite a bit has happened since september!

here is a quick run-through of all i’ve been up to in the past month and a half:

  • the first week of October was spent on the South Indian holiday of Dhasara. since we had an entire week to ourselves, NC and i decided to spend a couple of days in Pondicherry. Pondy was originally a French port and the small area near the ocean is very reminiscent of a small european town. many people even still speak French here. though, as is most of india, Pondy was most definitely HOT. though we got some relief from the heat by visiting the home of an acquaintance which was right on the beach and very peaceful with a nice sea-breeze. sitting on the beach and putting my feet in the water was one of the most relaxing things i’ve done in a while. i definitely wish i could have stayed there a bit longer, but we came back on a friday to greet a friend of NC who was just starting a tour of india. it was nice for us to show someone else around for a while, made me realize how much i’ve learned about where i am and how to navigate the city.
  • after a week back to the grind of school, we spent a nice weekend socializing with some school colleagues and visiting homes of some of our students. its a truly unique and enjoyable experience to be welcomed into an indian home, and most of the time they cannot wait to stuff you full of biryani, or chicken curry, or kebabs, or just rassam and rice. and obviously something is wrong with you if you deny a second helping, literally they will pile your plate again and say you don’t like the food if it’s not sparkling clean by the end. we also got the amazing experience of going to our first official indian festival. though a little late for Dhasara itself, we went with a colleague to the place where he has lived his entire life in Bangalore for the most unique experience i think i’ve had yet. we didn’t even arrive at the thing until 11pm and apparently it was “just starting.” I can only liken it to a stationary parade with “floats” built and funded by family and neighbor groups. each with a special seat for a hindu deity statue. apparently at some point in the night the floats actually make a trip around the central blocks of the area… but we were there until 4am and saw no movement. YES i was out on an indian street, at a festival, until 4AM!! the strangest part was the families with small children were also out enjoying festivities, shops were open selling snacks and chai, and large drum groups were egging on festivities and copious amounts of dancing. it was beyond incredible, to say the least.
  • the second half of October was slightly less exciting except that we had two working SATURDAYS in a row which was painful to say the least and one thing i don’t appreciate about indian work culture (working a couple saturdays in a month is standard for most jobs).
  • Diwali, however was a bit of excitement in that final week of the month. being the Hindu “festival of lights,” Diwali involves copious amounts of oil lamps, candles, and especially fireworks (aka “crackers”). in the way people celebrate, the holiday is similar to an American Christmas celebration in that it involves getting together with close family and friends. Hindus perform special poojas (prayer ceremonies) on this day, burning oil lamps to invite the goddess Lakshmi inside the house, and bursting crackers to frighten evil spirits away from the home. i got to spend this lovely holiday with a small group of friends in the home of a Gujarati couple (Gujarat is a state in western india). the evening was definitely enjoyable and almost made up for my missing the 4th of July at home, though there weren’t any large gatherings for professional fireworks displays. we had a very nice “savory and sweet” meal and enjoyed watching everyone set off extremely loud and bright crackers on the street.
  • unfortunately diwali was followed by yet another working saturday and utter disorientation as to what day it actually was (we had 3 days off for diwali, then 2 working days, then 1 sunday) especially since the following week we had tuesday off for the celebration of Karnataka’s statehood.
  • throughout all of these weeks, NC and i have started spending sundays at a boy’s hostel where about 10 CHI students stay. the hostel is very near to CHI itself and about a 20 minute walk. we have also been commissioned by the Father there to help a few of the older boys (who do not attend CHI) with improving their English. the time we spend at this place is like nothing else i’ve experienced in india. for one, the place is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, with a small, rambling, mile-long dirt road, for which “pot-holed” is not nearly an accurate descriptor. the hostel itself is a fairly large 4-story building that has the beginnings of a school within its walls. thus far, the school only extends to the 3rd grade, hence older boys go to CHI or other nearby schools or PUCs for the older ones (in India, Pre-University College is the format for the 11th and 12th grades). i’ve found that the utter peacefulness that exists at the hostel is an extremely welcome break from the chaos of the city. also, there is a certain amount of simplicity of life there that makes it a breath of fresh air. the boys all have daily jobs/chores and there is a fairly regular schedule followed which daily includes recreation (usually football [soccer for my american friends], sometimes cricket). though it’s not perfect, as nothing is, the work that the Father does here is nothing less than highly admirable. the boys that stay there come for a wide variety of reasons; many are from small villages and were looking for better education, some want to become priests, others come from homes that simply cannot support them in some way. whatever the reason they are there, most of them refer to one another as ‘brothers’ and treat each other as such. the family camaraderie is what makes it so enjoyable to visit and to see some of the students outside of the school atmosphere.
  • most recently, this past week the school celebrated Children’s Day with a “special assembly” put on by the teachers. yes, i participated in a short indian dance with some of the other teachers. the program was enjoyable, though i did feel bad for the students as they pitifully wilted in the hot sun for nearly 2 hours, but i believe it was successful none-the-less, and i discovered just how musically and theatrically talented some of my colleagues actually are.

as you can see, the month of october was a banner month for indian culture and experiences. i have immensely enjoyed most everything. not to say i haven’t had my bouts with homesickness, but keeping myself busy has gone a long way in keeping my sanity. i have friends and especially NC to thank for keeping me centered and focused on why i’m here… CHI and the kids. that’s why i came back and why i can keep myself balanced. i love what i’m doing and am rewarded everyday with the relationships and academic successes i see in my students. more on all this later, hopefully you all can feel updated now.

thanks for reading 🙂

Sarah