How living abroad has made me reflect on my Hindi


*** This is an introspective post. What I am writing is a result of my experiences and opinions***

*** This is not a politically inclined post***

Let’s go?

When you go through a new experience – is it really a brand new experience or just changes your perspective about an old experience? Multiple encounters and situations have made me reflect on what this post is about.


I visited a couple of countries recently and lived in four in the past 1.5 year. The most striking thing was how people of each country greet “hello” and “thank you” in their local language. It’s easy for people if you use just these two words – it makes people happy and open to help you. I realized that back home, we have stopped using the Hindi for Hello and Thank You –Namaste and Dhanyavad all together. Namaste is used to only greet elders to show respect and way too formal in our culture. With parents, friends and anyone new we use Hi, Hello, What’s up. As for Dhanyavad, it is happily replaced with Thank You as everyone does understand Thank You. Last time I went back home, I tried using Namaste and Dhanyavad and see how it felt. I said Namaste to the immigration officer and Dhanyavad generally to my friends, grocery guy, auto-walah. I just felt good, as if I am doing something right. When I used Namaste and Dhanyavad with my friends they just said who uses that. I mean if context be explained, it is really uncommon to use our own language greetings and if I think about it, it is purely strange.

Teaching Hindi:

While I was in Yangon, I became good friends with Ling. I met her at a walking tour and we hit it off, given our cultural exchange. I had learnt Mandarin and she was trying to learn Hindi! So we got talking and eventually she asked me to teach her basic Hindi. I had three months in Yangon and I thought if someone wants to learn my language, I should be helpful! So we started off with some basic lessons. Two things which were difficult to really explain were the importance given to respect i.e. how verbs change depending on whom you are talking to and of course the change of verbs based on the gender of the noun. One day Ling messaged me in Hindi on Whatsapp as practice, she found the word “Arrey Wah” quite fun to use. I realised I did not have the Hindi keyboard enabled on my phone. I or the circle of people I know do not use Hindi text at all. This was a realization. Yes, we talk in Hindi on text but we write it in English itself. I still can’t figure a reason for this.

Digging deeper:

Since childhood, I learnt both Hindi and English together at home. More importantly, the medium of instruction for education was English. This is a key differentiator when compared to generally people from other countries where they learn English as a separate language while other subjects are taught in local language. So I learnt Hindi as a second language. Also, speaking in Hindi and learning Hindi at school were two very different aspects. We just don’t speak the way we write it or are expected to express ourselves for exams. Over time, our colloquial speech has become Hinglish, where we mix and mash Hindi and English words as we please. If you asked me to speak 5 sentences in pure Hindi, I’d probably struggle with that.

Another aspect was that the Hindi teachers at school were plain uninspiring. I am not disregarding their knowledge but their presentation, delivery and approach to teaching the language was so dry and not something we looked forward to. I can only remember two authors whom I enjoyed reading: Kabir ke dohe (couplets by the poet Kabir) and Premchand’s stories. Out of school curriculum, I read Chacha Chaudhary (Hindi comics), which was super engaging and a fun experience. I don’t think school focused on anything beyond the curriculum, which in my opinion is a recipe for disaster.

My mother used to teach me Hindi and I remember how frustrated she was with me. Her Hindi is super and she was sad to see me 1) not enjoying learning the language 2) not making much effort except to get those marks in exams. I eventually dropped the language in Class 8th and chose French instead.

Position of English:

English has been one of the most useful legacies of the British era. India is united by English, given its multiple languages in different regions. Our adaptability to English has enabled created plethora of jobs and taken Indians further in life and the world. Today, if the Chinese could master English, Indians would really have causes to worry.

With all its merits, English also brought a significant class division in society. It is perceived often (at least where I have grown up in Delhi) that if you don’t know English, you are not educated. It is sad and improper, but it has been quite blatant.

When I reflected on why I am not closer to my mother tongue, I found an answer. My thought process is in English. My urge to express -when I feel something compelling be it in doses of love or bouts of anger or this blog post- is in English. But then, some forms of expression are just possible in Hindi: for instance certain songs have such nuances which only Hindi can bring out or sometimes you want to abuse in a way only Hindi abuses would suffice haha.

So what now?

I think we adapted to certain things through which we saw progress and a way to a better life. But for me, it should not be about leaving those things behind which define you or are your identity. Personally, I need to make an extra effort to ensure that I am satisfied with my Hindi. I look at Amitabh Bachchan as an inspiration. He is someone who can express beautifully in both Hindi and English- his articulation is impeccable. When he hosted the super popular game show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, his use of Hindi was so perfect that one was intrigued to understand or learn words which were unfamiliar. This year, I plan to read some Hindi literature – to touch base, to revive, to be better at the language which is mine.

Ending note:

Unrelated to this post, but I composed a few lines in Hindi randomly. I was chatting with my friend and just wanted to be a bit dramatic given how life is at times. It took me just a minute to write in the flow of the conversation. I’ll share that as an ending note:

“कहते है कि अपनी मंज़िल खुद तह कर सकते है। कहते है और हम मानते भी है। लेकिन अब तो  ऐसा लगता है कि सब लिखा हुआ है और हम तो बस कठपुतली है।”

(They say that you can decide your own destiny. They say and we agree. But now it seems everything is already written and we are just puppets in the hands of destiny)


4 thoughts on “How living abroad has made me reflect on my Hindi

  1. Shakun says:

    Very beautifully expressed. Lothe of Indians face this problem if class differentiation when using one’s Mother tongue. Somehow collectively we have to rise above this and take pride in our language!!


  2. Ashok Mandal says:

    Very aptly written! It is sad. Talking about it , I was lucky to have studied in my mother tongue ,Bengali till school with English as second language ! Time for serious introspection.


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