(Please note: This is my weekly column that was published in The Goan on Saturday)
If you think you can survive in a city like Mumbai with only English, pack your bags and return to where you came from. You have an option to either learn Marathi or brush up your Hindi. How am I surviving? I absorbed some Marathi words from my co-commuters. Also, a Maharashtrian friend was my tutor when I was in college. She taught me one word every day and started conversing with me in Marathi. But what happens when I want to say something and I don’t know the equivalent word in Marathi? Then it’s time to put my bike in a safer gear – Hindi. Somehow, this gear is not as safe as Konkani or English.
My relationship with Hindi started when I was in school. Hindi was treated as second language after English followed by Konkani. During this time, I had moved into a new place in Goa, but as the building was still under construction, I used to try speaking with some construction workers in Hindi. I started with “Tumhara naam kya hai?” I later realised that this was not equal to “What is your name?” After coming to Mumbai, I learnt the difference between “aap” and “tum”. However, I still falter.
I remember clearly, when I joined Sophia college there were some classmates who tried talking to me in Hindi. And they burst out laughing at my attempt. In my defence I would say, we don’t speak Hindi in Goa. It’s either Konkani or English. But that wouldn’t work. It made me feel like I wasn’t a part of this country. A terrible feeling, indeed. But then my friends encouraged me to speak the language. “How will you fight with other women in the train?” they’d joke. They would also add that if I picked a fight in English, I’d be in deep trouble. And over the years, I realised they were right.
How many people will speak with me in Konkani in this city? And how far can I go with Marathi? Konkani keeps me rooted in tradition. I will talk in Konkani when I see another Goan. On the other hand, Marathi helps me commute peacefully in a bus, train or while picking up fruits at a grocery store. But Hindi takes me further. I can easily bargain, hail a cab and direct the driver, ask for directions, converse with a shopkeeper, chat up with a north-Indian friend, talk to the boy who sells cutting chai, place an order for some food at a normal dabha and so on.
Even though I studied Hindi in school and junior college, it was mostly to clear the paper. Hindi may be the official language of India, but it’s that one language that can get you out of any muck in this city. I no longer pronounce “Khar” station as “Car” station. Neither do I say “Bhaayaa” instead of “Bhaiya” any more.
Image courtesy: http://www.slu.edu