Monday, 7 September 2015

Learning Hindi With Chetan Bhagat

I’ve been trying to learn Hindi ever since my late teens. I learnt some Hindi at school, but a small dusty town down South is not the best place to learn the most widely spoken Indian language. As far as I can remember, I had a Learn Hindi In 30 Days with me for the entire five years I spent at law school in Bangalore. I made some progress, I could easily count up to hundred, but I could never bring myself to speak Hindi fluently.

After I moved to Mumbai, my comprehension skills improved tremendously, I could understand everything I heard, but I still couldn’t speak Hindi with any degree of fluency. My interest in learning Hindi waxed and waned, but the real reason I never learnt Hindi properly is that I couldn’t bring myself to watch either Bollywood movies or Hindi soaps. For someone who is otherwise surrounded by a non-Hindi speaking crowd, that’s fatal.

After 4 years in Mumbai, I went to the UK and didn't return for 8 years. I forgot almost everything when I came back.

Recently I re-kindled my interest in learning Hindi. I actually hired a teacher to take me through the basics once more, until I could read Hindi text with some speed. The problem was that my Hindi vocabulary is so very poor, I need to refer to a dictionary every two minutes to understand what I read.

In order to improve my vocabulary I tried a number of tricks. I would buy Hindi newspapers and read them. I tried reading schoolbooks, but Indian school books are essentially meant for children whose mother tongue is Hindi. Unlike English textbooks which seek to teach English as a foreign language, Hindi textbooks seem to assume that the learner can speak Hindi well.

I tried reading novels, but most Hindi novels have a lot of Sanskrit or Urdu words which aren’t in day-to-day usage. I wanted a novel written in the simple Hindustani spoken by the common man. It was then that I remembered Chetan Bhagat, the man who writes for the Common Man, in the Common Man’s English.

I have read all of Chetan Bhagat’s novels and have even reviewed some of his most recent works, such as Revolution 20/20, What Young India Wants and Half Girlfriend.

And so I bought Five Point Someone, which I had read many, many years ago at the time of its release and its Hindi translation. Bingo! The translation was practically sentence-for-sentence! I got started. I would read a couple of lines of the Hindi version, then read the English version and then go back to Hindi version again. My progress has been slow, but there has been progress. Right now I have covered around 80 pages and have another 140 pages to go.

On the whole, the (unknown) translator seems to have done a good job with the translation. Is it my imagination (for I am in no position to form a judgment) or is the prose a lot smoother than the English version?

However, there are a few bloopers. For example, “for the record” is translated as “records ke liye” In another place, where Hari, after taking his balcony seat inside Priya Cinema with his girlfriend Neha, cribs that paying Rs. 35 per ticket to watch Total Recall is a total rip-off, the Hindi translation says that the seats are ripped up! Rs. 35/ticket, total rip-off" is translated as 35 rs. prati ticket, poori phati huyi seat.

Wherever, Hari, Ryan and Alok say “Screw You”, the Hindi translation uses the same phrase, which I guess makes some sense since Hindi doesn’t have an equivalent which would convey the same meaning in a given context. However, every time our heroes say “Fuck You”, it’s been translated as “Bakvaas”! Why this discrimination I wonder? "Bakvaas" simply doesn’t convey the same meaning as “Fuck You”.

Let me stop nitpicking here - the Rs.125 I paid for my copy has been worth every paise. My only serious grievance about Five Point Someone’s Hindi translation (published by Prakash Prakashan) is that the translator is not named or given any credit.

Another 140 pages to go. Please wish me luck!

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