Category Archives: Lucknow

Hindi hain hum!

My 20-month-old still just babbles, doesn’t speak much except a little bit of Mamma, Dada, Bua, Tata (for Papa), Didi, flawa (which is for flower) and lizza, for his favourite thing in the world — lizards! He also says, aao (come in Hindi), when he wants to call any of us. But I’m not here to bore you with my boy’s developmental stories (though as a mother, I think they’re far from boring!). I’m here to discuss one of those mothering dilemmas that come with our times. Should I tell my boy that the tree in the garden is a mango tree or an aam ka ped? Should I ask him if he’d like some cucumber or kheera? Would he like some milkie or doodhoo?

I’m essentially a bilingual now. Not by birth, but by education. My mother tongue is Hindi, so is my husband’s. And Hindi is still the language spoken at home. I take pride in the fact that I know my Devnagri as well as the English alphabet, though like everyone else from this part of the world, my Hindi is liberally peppered with Urdu. I also feel there’s nothing bright about not knowing your native tongue, given the right context. It’s quite another matter that years of English education has conditioned me to think in a language that wasn’t the first I spoke.

So where was I? Yes, about whether I should teach my son to say grass or ghaas, corn or bhutta… I have friends and cousins living in metros who converse with their children entirely in English, because that’s the language they also use to communicate with each other, and since there’s no one else at home, they feel no need to resort to Hindi, except while speaking to the helpers in the house. I’ve met those kids, and honestly, I’m mighty impressed at how they speak such good English at 3, 4, or 5 years! It’s the language of the educated in our country, and like any ordinary Indian still reeling under the belated effects of the Raj, my first reaction is to hope my son’s not going to look like an idiot for babbling in Hindi. But thankfully, I also know better than to let first reactions decide what’s right and not for us.  And here’s what I have decided: I’m not going to keep him away from knowing his mother tongue before he learns cat-bat-mat. I understand that I come from a culture that’s perishing in neglect, because we’ve not done enough to preserve it. But culture isn’t just about heritage buildings and folk songs. It’s so much about language. I have had the chance to meet a fair number of really successful people from UP, who’ve made it big in the entertainment world by the sheer dint of their language skills — the enunciation, the vocabulary, the diction, which still retains a certain degree of purity. It’s the kind of Hindi/Urdu that Mumbaikars can never speak. Why is that a skill I must not pass on to my son? I’m not saying he’d go on to be a wordsmith of  Hindi, or a singer, but it’s something he will take with him from the place he was born in.

I come from a completely Hindi speaking family, and I think my English speaking and writing skills are more than adequate. Yes, perhaps I wasn’t speaking fluent English when I was 4, 0r 5, or even 8. But it’s not a survival skill my life depended on. So, there’s no reason why my boy will not pick up another language, along with Hindi. And I understand children this young can pick up more than one language pretty well. But I don’t want him to be grappling for the right tenses in Hindi, and the correct syntax, and the proper word for an object, while he rattles off English without any problems. I just want him to take a little bit of his culture with him in the way he speaks. I like that idea.


What does the Nawab of Oudh smell like?

Browsing through the perfumes section at Harrod’s in London, I chanced upon this fragrance called the Nawab of Oudh.


The Nawab Of Oudh on display. Sorry for the poor picture quality, clicked on the phone.

We don’t even have an itr that’s named after the nawabs, and a perfume in London named after one? I was happy like only tourists can be to find a trace of home in a foreign destination.

Of course, the efficient sales guy quickly caught on to my enthusiasm, and asked if I was interested in the perfume. I said I was, not just the way he thought I would be.

“I belong to this place,” I said, pointing to the perfume bottle.
“Really? Is that what the Nawab of Oudh smells like?” he asked, offering the bottle to me. He wasn’t joking, he honestly wanted to know.
I inhaled the perfume, it was a strong, pungent smell, nothing I would ever buy. “I don’t know, I’ve never smelt one,” I said, smiling at the prospect of smelling a Nawab of Oudh! I’ve read about the clothes and jewellery the nawabs wore, and the food they ate, and the lives they lived, but somehow, I don’t remember reading anything in particular about the perfumes they wore. Or did he mean, what a Nawab of Oudh just smelled like without any perfume?
“I’m just excited this perfume is named after the place I belong to!” I simply replied.

“So, you’re from Nawauuub?” he drawled.
“No, I’m from Oudh,” I said, even more amused now.
“Oh, ok,” he said, “Where is this place?”
“It’s in India, near Delhi, it’s called Lucknow now,” I proceeded to explain, “The nawabs are the erstwhile royalty of the place.”
“Oh! I thought Oudh was a tree…a dying tree, and the Nawab of Oudh was the fragrance of the tree!”
I looked at him incredulously this time, waved an arm, shook my head, and said in my best English accent, “Never mind!” and moved on, still smiling!

PS: Yes, we went to London. Yes, I will blog more about that later 🙂

>Wrongs and Child Rights

> I don’t know if any of you in other parts of India have come across this news items about how an 11-year old girl was brutally beaten black and blue by a doc in Lucknow, but if you haven’t, you must go read it now. The little girl was working as a domestic help at the doctor’s place and had apparently been sent there by his uncle who wanted her to earn a quick buck for him when her parents died. She was rescued by a neighbour.

I know what most of us find appalling in the story is the way she was beaten, but what’s sadder is that we don’t feel sad or surprised that a child like her would have to go to work at an age when she should be in school. And that’s because we’re just so used to seeing child labourers around us, we don’t even stop to think about them when we see one.

Last weekend, my friend celebrated her daughter’s third birthday with kids and mommies. In a conversation I can’t get out of my head, a young mother of a one and a half year old told me ruefully that maids for children were so difficult to come by. Her daughter was accompanied by a six-year boy at the party to take care of her! To quote what she said, “There’s so much awareness among maids also these days that they don’t want to send their daughters to work and want them to study instead.” “Good,” I said. “Ya,” she replied, “But bad for us. We don’t get any young girls to work for us.” I don’t think I can have another conversation with this woman who is educated and yet not enough to know that education is a right everyone should have.

First of all, I can’t understand how a parent can entrust their child to another child and think the latter will be equipped to take care of her. And I can’t understand how people can get over the guilt of exploiting an underprivileged child’s situation to serve their purpose. How do they do it?

It’s simple, isn’t it, that you wouldn’t want your child to go working somewhere even if life put you in the worse possible situation? Then why would you think you are “helping” a family by employing their child? When you let a child work for you, do not deceive yourself into believing that you’re actually supporting the child. You are not. You’re just encouraging child labour. Imagine for a moment what would happen to the child if you did not allow him to work for you? He would go and work some place else, you will say. But what if no one allows the child to work? Will the child not return home? Will the parents not be compelled to take care of him and provide for him? If they’ve brought the child into this world, they must take his responsibility.

Also, if you really want to help the child and his family, you can do it without bringing the child home to work. Send him to school, for instance. Pay his fees and it’s a paltry amount to pay in a government school. It may not cost more than what you spend on the cake on your child’s birthday. And surely, there’s enough surplus money in rich people’s pockets to feed a single child.

I would like to mention here that these are not just my personal views. Organisations working with street and working children also say that the only way to ensure that children get treated as children irrespective of their socio-economic background is by stopping their parents from sending them to work. Even though they don’t know it, children have rights too.

I have been working with one such organisation in Lucknow since its inception five years ago – Ehsaas, (the website is still under development). And I have never spoken about it here because the NGO was started and is run by my sister and she doesn’t need me to talk about her; her work speaks for itself. However, I thought it was pertinent to talk about the work that the NGO has been doing because it is through their work that I have been sensitised to this cause. I was as clueless as any one of you about what to do with children who’re out there working to make ends meet. But I was made to realise that paying them for their work isn’t going to solve the problem. Because these children laugh and smile and seem happy does not mean they are getting what’s their due. Without an education to help them in the latter years of life, we are ensuring that they never become part of the social mainstream. We are ensuring that the government continues to ignore them.

Sometimes, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and say that even though it makes me feel good to hand a ten rupee note (sometimes lesser) to the boy who works at the tea stall, the child who sells bottles at the railway platform, the girl who sells balloons at the crossing, it’s not the best thing for that child. And believe me when I say it’s not. What can you do instead? For one, be part of efforts to rehabilitate such children. Find out what social organisations in your city that work for them. And let them do what is best for the child. Also, as privileged sections of the society, we must force the policy-makers to take cognisance of these children. It will not happen overnight but gradually – by creating awareness and raising debates about the issue. After all, they’re as much citizens of India as you and I.

Don’t take a selfish shortcut. Take a stand.

>Hum aur Tum…

>…is the way I say me and you. You can say main here but tu would be considered rude.

I’m a Lucknow girl and if there’s anything you need to know about Lucknow, then it’s the language. The city has given birth to many poets and they owe in large measures their success to this city where the confluence of Hindi and Urdu lends a lyrical lilt to the language. So it’s only natural that as a Lucknow person and a literature student, I’m quite intrigued by the use and function of language.

In India, a person can be identified by the language he speaks and the way he speaks it. As you travel across UP, the dialect of Hindi changes through the cities and towns – refined in one place, rustic in another. A samosa from Kanpur would become a samausa in Meerut, if you know the difference!

I remember travelling to Haryana for my cousin’s wedding a few years ago with my family and being immediately identified as a Lucknowite there because of our aap and hum! Some say this language of thou and thine is too formal, that there’s a camaraderie that grows when you let this stiff upper lip-ness (I just made that up. So?) pass and come down to more comfortable tu and tera. Ask Mumbaikars, they’ll answer the how and why of it better.

A few months ago, The Guy was in Chandigarh to attend a business meeting. He came back extremely flustered because he didn’t understand why the man on the other end of the table was being so offensive. That man did not understand why The Guy minded what he said. Turned out, it was a simple case of lingual misunderstanding. The Punjabi fellow spoke a corrupted Punjabi that didn’t go down well with The Guy from the town of Nawabs!

Not that our language hasn’t corrupted and we can’t say anymore that if you find two people quarrelling in Lucknow, they will not be resorting to tu or tera (oh yes, they used to say that about the language here) but it’s still different from what you’re likely to hear in, say, Delhi.

And no, I’m not insinuating that the language we speak is the best but because I’m familiar with its nuances, I can appreciate it better. There are some languages though that you cannot understand but which still come across as incredibly sweet. Like Bengali. It has a tone that’s melodious even if you don’t know what the words mean.

When you transfer the tone of one language to another, it sounds unsettlingly fake. Like how they speak Hindi on Discovery (or some such) channel. Even though the pronunciations are right, the tone is still of English, lending the Hindi commentary a strange quality. When people speak a language that is not their mother tongue, they often bring the inflection of their mother tongue to that language. The result may be amusing or offensive!

But it’s the prowess to manipulate a language to make it say what you want it to, that impresses me. How you can say “kaminey” and get away with it.

Gulzar does it so well. Hear this and decide for yourself.