Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Several things got together over the past year or so, to push me towards reading more Hindi. It started with me buying a bunch of novels by Vrindavanlal Varma about 2 years back, but it really snowballed into a huge thing about 4 months back, when I picked up some thrillers by Surender Mohan Pathak in response to a discussion with friends. From there it went to several other pulp writers, and thence to poetry by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. And now the situation is that I hardly get the time to read anything in English.

It's turned out to be easier than expected. My Hindi reading speed was faster than the average thirtyish software yuppie anyway because we've been taking a Hindi newspaper at home for a long time and I used to follow at least the jokes and corny articles in it regularly. But it's taken barely ten books to get to a sustainable sort of reading speed, enough to follow the story while picking up the vocabulary where required. I would seriously think of reading a Hindi book now for pleasure, something I couldn't have dreamed of only 6 months back.

So does it feel any different? Reading Dinkar and Vrindavanlal Varma takes me back to my school days when we had excerpts of poems and stories in our text books. Some parts strike chords, some have nice wordplay or descriptions. They're nice reads, yes. The Dinkar poetry is especially nice at times.

But it's been the pulp stuff that has really hammered home that this is *my* language, with bits that ring true and that use words that I would never identify with in an English book. There's this line in a book : Woh chaar gilaas aur lota bhar ke paani le kar aaya. Meaning, he brought over four glasses and a lota full of water. I can't think of any exact english word for lota. And more importantly, I don't want to. When I sat down to dinner with my family, we used a lota to drink water out of. There are a dozen places in my life where I've used this vessel. [Please, I know what you are going to think at this point. Let's stick to the topic. Thank you.] Calling it a jug takes away all those associations.

There are dozens of other minor things in the books. What I'm trying to say is that for a guy who's grown up in India and who speaks Hindi as his mother tongue, good fiction in Hindi is going to have a resonance that no other language can have. Replace Hindi with your mother tongue if it's different. You can relate to the places, incidents, people, descriptions, in a way that you simply cannot, with Sidney Sheldon or Dan Brown or any of the English stuff. I'd say that even Indian writers, writing in English about folks in India, cannot give you the feel that Hindi can.

It's well worth the effort to practice reading in it, to pick up books that look interesting - not necessarily very difficult works - and struggle through the first few. It's only the beginning that's difficult. But the rewards are worth it. Try kar ke dekho...