Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Language Love

Call it all bilge, but every language has its own personal delight of usage. Each one of them brings its own signature set of ideas, expressions, locutions and a constitutional curiosity while spoken out. It's difficult to see any foreign language in the same light as you would do to your mother tongue, and that's where the beauty lies. You develop a singularly new inner voice with each language you learn, for many of the expressional experiences and subtle nuances of one language can't be translated to another.

In childhood, I used to love Hindi, knowingly or unknowingly. Not that I was found of Hindi Literature or was a high-scorer, but because Hindi would often surprise me by furnishing words that could easily dissolve and evoke certain complex feeling of mine, hitherto inaccessible--like the way hot winds carve out sharp sand dunes over the desert. For example, the word 'dampati' means a married couple, but it is often used in comic, tongue-in-cheek manner, such as when you have to crack a joke on a couple's slapstick antics, or on the mundaneness of their internal life. I learnt this word and I "tagged" many couples around my family, and giggled inside. Then the words 'dampati' and 'jhagraa' (fight) would often appear together, and I would consider them under a single cluster-thought. Why should both of them so near to each other? They need not be, it was just so because that's how it was used around me. I raised no questions either. Those who do, tend to become highly creative, lateral thinkers. Creativity is just about connecting disparate disciplines/subjects which conservatively don't mix well.
Nevertheless, that's how with time you learn to form an association of words together, which later ferments your language-sensibility and overall thinking mindset and world-view. An idea cloud grows as your vocabulary grows. And your thought process flows only to the peripheral confinement of these self-made word-nodes that you've "learnt" in life hitherto--true to their core. That is, you are essentially confined to think, reason and perceive the world based on the limits of your vocabulary. 

Every word represents and encompasses a strictly irreplacable idea on its own.
Please dump the fucking Thesaurus.

I learnt the word 'budhiya' (old woman) way earlier when I was still sucking thumb in my mouth, but I was then also told not to use it for my own grandma or the elderly aunties. It always used to be either for that "other" person, some old lady on the roadside--that I won't be knowing of personally--or for the story-writing that I would have to do in school. Hindi surprised me again. This is the other sort of discovery of childhood everyone makes somewhere along the way--that most things and people have referential duality meant to deceive the words they are labelled by. And no way saying 'old woman' in English could substitute the figurative pleasure of imagining a 'budhiya' in Hindi, until unless you know specific words such as: 'termagant', 'harridan', 'crone', 'hag'... whatever closest it could be. But that's not the common colloquial English. That's the multiplicity you have to bear with while  practicing two languages in abundance--one the mother tongue and the other that everyone else says that its everyone else's tongue and you are supposed to master it [English].

Nonetheless there used to be many savouring discoveries like the ones mentioned earlier in the growing years. The just way of learning the language as an art; in its pristine form. But I didn't use and pursue the Hindi words much, didn't pursue my 'inner-voice' and interest of learning new terms (ideas) and giggling while using them, and that's why my Hindi is rickety weak now.

Early years you would also have learnt phrases such as 'gusse se tilmilana' (extreme rage) in your list of difficult words in the Hindi textbook, but those times you can't use it upfront to describe your dad's violent rage. Or hardly did. The word was always meant for your school study book. Always to be written as-is during make-sentences-of-the-following-phrases assignments. The study of language and literature in early years suffers from this duality. Just see how much of words from the lyrics of beautiful Bollywood Songs people actually use in their conversations. Not all of them are too lyrical to be of daily use.

And then Sanskrit shook my life. Sanskrit came and it appeared what Hindi would look just before committing suicide. It was forceful and aggressive, demanding extra effort in all of its verbs and nouns and phonology and what else. It was a loose baggage of crawling, pointy characters that aberrated the admirable compactness of Hindi. In writing as well as speech. Ask anyone the perils of studying Sanskrit in higher classes and s/he would've story to tell. S/he would be either a hit or miss. 

I missed the beauty of the language. 

After bungling with Sanskrit for few years, and realizing the future inevitability of looming English, my solidarity for Hindi grew a million times.

There's one thing Hindi has given to people that's too subtle to realize. You've the word 'Jantaa' in Hindi for 'public', and 'Jaagruk' for 'enlightened'.  Note that both start with the same letter 'j'. Needless to say, words starting with same consonant occasionally club together as distant lovers. It gives a lyrical swing to the sentence or the idea. The commenest of the Common Sense of a language. Look at the these phrases: Lady Luck, Tinkered Thought, Memento Mori, Perilous Plight, Part n Parcel etc. These coupling phrases have a greater impact than what would it have been without the ryhming first letter. 

So there you have the word 'Jaagruk', which is often used in Hindi to mention some sense of awakening of a being. The vernacular is ripe with its usage and cliche. However ask any native about this and the picture s/he gets of word is that of collectiveness and bordering out of the periphery of the self. That's because it is more too often used alongwith 'Jantaa' , or any other bloated rhetorical construction. Pardon my expertise in this, but I've rarely heard 'Jaagurk' in use for another construction in the common parlance. 
Just to test, start talking in Hindi --about a topic themed around 'Jantaa' for one minute long, and someway or the other you would jump to the idea of 'Jaagrukta' (enlightenment) in your line of thought after a an ant eventually finding its way to food after several iterative paths. Such realizations take time to settle inside your head. You are "wired" to think a certain way, based on all the words that you have only learnt/known, and the language leaps you into the word web you've woven for yourself --if you are not conscious enough to break through.
Similarly, think of the term aadmi (Man/Individual). The cloud of image that pops up in your head when you would start thinking around this term would invariably subsume the phrase aam aadmi (Common Man), because you are used (wired) to view it that way.

Hindi has given us that elegance in expression which allows us to float above the central idea of fact being stated, and savour in its longitudinal craft, rounded vowels and tense phonetics (credit also goes to the import of grace of Urdu). Hindi has given us the structural closeness of 'Bura' with 'Bhala'--a folksy illusion--which 'good' and 'bad' lack in English. Hindi has so much of a romantic word as 'Lamhaa' (a moment's time), without meaning romantic; Hindi has given us 'Jaagruk Jantaa'.


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