Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A multiculture tale

Thursday morning there was no electricity in our apartment. This had something to do with plugging in the sewing machine in the middle of the night, but that's another story for another author. After determining that toggling the circuit breakers in my apartment had no effect and that other apartments in the building did have power, I called the guard at the front gate and told him "There's no electricity in my apartment." He replied "English nahi." "Nahi" is a Hindi word meaning "not" or "no" or negation in any context.

I got out my English-Hindi dictionary and looked up "electricity" = "bejli". Armed with that word and my rudimentary grasp of Hindi, I walked down to the front gate. I told the guard "mere ger me bejli nahi." Which means something like "In my house there is no electricity." He responded "Hindi nahi".

After some pointing and gesturing, he seemed to understand that I needed the electrician to come to apartment 304. Of course, at 6:30 in the morning the electrician isn't on duty yet, and by he time he was, that guard had gone home. But Donna was able to get the electrician to turn the power back on after I had gone to work.

India is a land of many languages; The constitution officially recognizes 22 languages. By some counts there are 1600 dialects spoken within the country, this link to Wikipedia lists some of them. Although Hindi is the native language of 40% of the population of India, here in Bangalore, Kannada, Tamil and Telegu are more common. Being the night guard at an apartment building is neither high paying or high status, so they are not the best educated people and tend not speak English. However, they all know Luna by name and can say "shake hands" (which usually sounds more like "sheckens"), to which Luna gives them her paw to shake. Spoken language isn't everything.

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