Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for I

I is for I. First person singular. I in English. Main in Hindi.

I've had a really odd relationship with this word. In Hindi. My dad got transferred to Bihar when I was six, and that's how I picked up Hindi. And because it was Bihar, it wasn't the kind of polished cool-sounding Hindi we hear in most Hindi movies. It was the kind of Hindi that villains in movies like Dabangg 2 speak. The "Hum kah rahe hain na" kind of Hindi. Dad had a few more transfers in the next 12 years, but they were all within Bihar. (He went to Calcutta, Vizag, Hyderabad, etc. after I left India.) So as I shuttled from school to school within Bihar, my Bihari Hindi just got stronger and stronger. Of course we learnt proper Hindi at school, so my written Hindi was always good, but I have always spoken Hindi like a true Bihari. And even though all of the 7 schools that I studied in before coming to Singapore were English-medium schools, we only spoke to our teachers in English. Hindi was always the language of choice when we spoke amongst us. And we always used 'hum' for 'main'.

So, after a dozen years of hum-ing, I suddenly found myself in Singapore, being ragged by my Indian seniors because I was the only one in my batch who spoke like that. The first time I said something like "Hum Bihar se aaye hain...", the senior ragging me looked behind me and said, "Aur kaun kaun aaye hain tumhaare Bihar se?" I didn't get the sarcasm so I replied, "Aur koi nahin. Sirf hum aaye hain." Much to my surprise, they broke into peals into laughter. I also got ridiculed for calling them "bhaiya" and "aap", but that's a different story altogether.

My 'hum' became the point of amusement for everyone. It took me a while to understand why. No one else around me said 'hum'. One, they almost always spoke to one another in English, and two, even when they did speak in Hindi, they used 'main'. I tried real hard to change, not because I thought 'main' was cooler, but because I knew it was correct. But much as I tried, I simply could not shrug off the 'hum' that had been laminated in my brain. I'd start off my sentence with 'main' and would have switched to 'hum' halfway without even realising it. It got very annoying, so I decided to just switch to talking to everyone only in English. That was helpful in a way because it really brushed up my spoken English, which wasn't great because of my years in Bihar where I didn't have to speak much English at school. And of course, even though everyone at home read English newspapers, magazines and books, we never spoke English at home. I used to do well in the written English exams, but I wasn't confident enough to rapidly rattle off sentence after sentence in English. I'd have to think them out in Hindi, translate them in my head, think of the correct pronunciation of each word, and then start speaking. It was very stressful. But it was very helpful to me in the long run.

But I love Hindi and I always have, and I couldn't bear to stop speaking it completely. The only person I continued to speak to in Hindi was Viv, and he didn't mind my 'hum' at all. In fact, he'd use 'hum' back when speaking to me, even though he spoke to the rest of the world using 'main'. I did make an attempt to make the rest of it sound a little polished -- more Lucknowi than Bihari -- but the 'hum' stuck on. I've continued like this for the last 16 years of my life -- English with everyone else, and my hum wala Hindi at home with Viv -- and I thought I could get away with it.

Until I had a kid and my kid started speaking.

Viv and I had decided that since both of us have different mother tongues, we'd ditch both and teach Xena Hindi, a language that will serve her well in any part of India should she choose to go there, and one that we can help her out with when she takes it as a subject at school. So now was my chance to start from a clean slate. To teach her correct Hindi from the beginning. But it was hard. Bewdas who have kids will know that when they start speaking, they refer to themselves in the third person because that's how they've seen themselves being addressed. So Xena too started off with "Xena ko chahiye" for "I want it." And I followed suit by saying things like "Mama ke paas hai" and "Mama ko de do" and so on. So I still didn't have to change my 'hum' because I was not using it yet, I was using 'Mama'. When I started teaching her pronouns, I made sure she used 'main' for herself' and 'aap' for me. But in my efforts to teach her 'main', I'd not realised that I'd have to drop referring to myself in the third person too because everything was getting all mixed up. She was joining her 'main' with the verbs in my sentences such as "Mama karegi". I realised it the day she declined my "Mama ka help chahiye?" offer and said, "Main apne aap karegi."

Main apne aap karegi.

Great. This was even worse than my 'Hum apne aap karenge'. The mother was talking like a Bihari bhai and the daughter was talking like a Mumbaiya bai. At least according to what the movies show.

So I'm now trying really hard to correct it all. And I finally have a good enough reason to ditch the 'hum' once and for all, and really focus on 'main'.

Mushkil hai, lekin hum koshish kar rahe hain main koshish kar rahi hoon.


Thisisme said...

Yaaay me first!

By the way, this Bihar style of hum n aap was something which I also found hillarious! As a teenager I lived in africa n v had some friends from Bihar n they wud go hum hum, aap ...v used to mimic them so much n tease them, all in good fun! So much was the influence that I speak v well bihari Hindi. Its been ages since I'm away from them, but I'm perfect in bihari Hindi! Also, I have a knack of picking up languages n accents very I speak mumbaiya Hindi, south Indian Hindi n UP wala Hindi also v well! N I speak English at home! When I lived in London, I expected my English to get even more accented n all but guess what, thanks to my Punjabi landlady,I ended up learning excellent Punjabi !!! Lol! N my English accent also got twisted in the process!

Thisisme said...

In my house, I have my niece n nephew..v have learnt to b careful in our talks around them. Esp my niece who is 8 now...she points it out whenever my language is not up to the mark!!!

I'm sure Xena will do that for u too! :)

??! said...

I've often thought the cow-belt 'hum' is used because it implies "main, aur meri izzat, aur mera khandaan, aur mera gaon. Tu kya ukhaad lega?" :)

Lavanya Vadavalli said...

I was myself born and brought up in Bihar and am much too familiar with the "hum" hindi...I think it sounds much more sweeter to the ears than the "mei" hindi... giving a bit more respect to urself as well :)

Thisisme said...

I do agree with lavanya here , hum feels much more polite

Varsha said...

I have learned Hindi in school/college for 12 years... and I do speak the "shuddh" Hindi, with a strong South Indian accent. I often got stares from the North Indians for using the correct gender for each of the objects/non-living things (as Hindi does not have a neutral gender) when they themselves made mistakes. My 'mujhe' compared to their 'mere ko' etc. But I think it is cool to speak Mumbaiya or Bihari once in a while. Kind of, know the difference between 'kitaabi' and colloquial Hindi. Xena is a cool kid after all.

Arun said...

You & Viv using "hum" - harbinger of the future. :)

Arun said...

""Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we'." - Mark Twain

Sayesha said...

LOL yes, she's already correcting me! :P I'll post a video where I am singing wrong lyrics on purpose and she catches me three times. :D


Yeah I'm really fond of it, but I have to switch because of the technicality of hum being the first person plural too. :(

Yeah after she masters Hindi, I'll teach her all this stuff. Kind of like how I want her to know and understand Singlish, but only after she has mastered English. :)

WHA... WHY????
LOL at the Mark Twain quote. I work as an editor, so I can? :P

sakshi sinha said...

Ek dum mast wala post hai ee hum bihariyon ke liye.

Jiya ho Bihar ke Lala

Nikita said...

Me and my husband also have two mother tongues between us but one of them is Hindi. So our daughter hears Hindi, Marathi and English. And ends up speaking like a Mumbai Bai. :)
That really is the way people speak in Mumbai (not just bais).

Sayesha said...

Thank you ji. :)

Seriously?! Like in offices too? :D

Nikita said...

Well not really in offices but the general "middle class" population :)

Ruminating Optimist said...

Amazing it is Bhai. We some times struggle with a vernacular language I learnt outside the state of origin, the same language my wife learnt in the state of origin, and teaching the language to my son again outside the state of origin. Needless to say, my son ends up correcting me on several occasions.