Cross, Karie

Name: Karie Cross
Location of Study: India
Program of Study: Hindustani
Sponsor(s): Robert Berner

6 thoughts on “Cross, Karie

  1. I have been very interested in meeting people from the northeast region of India. This region of 7 states is geographically isolated, and its people are not only ethnically different from the rest of the subcontinent (their Mongoloid features suggest Tibet more than India), but they are also different from one another. Thus each tribe within all of these states is a national if not regional minority. I’ve spoken with several people about minority status within the northeast, which is occupied by central government soldiers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act because of frequent social agitation. From my very small sample of conversations, those who are from the central subcontinent do not see the AFSPA as anything to worry about; sure, soldiers sometimes hurt civilians but they are serving the greater good by preventing secessionist movements from splitting up the country. Ethnic minorities who hail from the northeast are a bit more concerned about the Act’s implications. They seem almost defensive about their nationality; they insist that they are Indian and that they have something to offer the country.

    I am absolutely not in a position to comment on whether this “occupation” is necessary, fair, legal, outrageous, or otherwise– this is the type of evaluation that can be made only after extensive study. But I can note that I am learning Hindi, which many in the northeast do not speak. I have seen bollywood films which come from Mumbai, not from the northeast. I have been adapting to the lifestyle of a vast Indian city, which is completely different from the tribal lifestyle of many in that region. If my experiences here are not like those in one region of the country, are they authentically Indian? Is there a mainland India as well as another part, the northeast, which is only kinda-sorta India? How necessary is shared language for shared understanding?

  2. (Originally posted July 21) Before I arrived,my main goal was to be able to get around confidently in a marketplace (bazar) or restaurant, and to be able to introduce myself and share some basic pleasantries with new people. Amazingly, after 1 week of intensive classes, I think I’m already there. Of course my speech is painfully slow, and if I try to read hindi script I have to check my notes for every third letter. But it’s such an amazing feeling to go from completely ignorant novice to (bumbling) hindi speaker in one week. Ji ha, mai hindi bolti hu!

    However, I also started my volunteer work this week, and that experience has helped to shift my goals. I’m spending 2 afternoons per week for 4 weeks, and then 2 full weeks at the end of my trip, with the Support Foundation. This tiny NGO provides education and fun activities for impoverished disabled children. (There is a taboo in India which prevents such children from attending regular public schools. I will write about this more later!) Once the children’s mothers started to see how much their kids were learning, they came to Ms. Shanu, its founder, to request education for themselves. Now the Support Foundation offers literacy classes to 5 ladies. I sat in on this class yesterday and tried some of my broken hindi: “ap kya karti hai?” They laughed at my accent and responded in rapid hindi with a lot of hand motions to illustrate their answers. What do they do? Washing, cooking, eating. Then they would ask me questions, so quickly that I couldn’t understand. I looked to the sole English speaker in the room for assistance. The ladies found it hilarious that the fancy graduate student from America couldn’t understand. But as the other English speaker and I laughed and talked in English, one of the ladies became fairly livid. “She is very frustrated that she can’t understand you!”, said Sandhya, my lone translator. Well, I feel her pain. And I certainly don’t want to contribute to the frustrations that already abound in these ladies’ lives. I’m glad that my very bad hindi can make them laugh, but their frustration is such good motivation for working even harder in my language classes. At the end of the day, with the help of Sandhya, we struck a deal: I teach them some English, they teach me hindi!

  3. Language acquisition kind of just creeps up on you when you’re immersed in it. This is truly the only way to learn a language. Forget flashcards– the best way to remember vocabulary words is to read them and hear them at every turn, or to get shortchanged for your thandi pani (cold water) if you don’t know that “bis” means 20 rupees.

    My favorite immersion experiences so far have been on trains. Train is the only quick and reliable way to get anywhere in India, and the Indian conception of the amount of personal space needed for a journey is quite different from the American conception. I’ve gotten to know my seat partners rather well! First I had a 4-hour conversation with a fellow who hadn’t spoken any English in 8 years. We worked with that and my 4 weeks of Hindi class with remarkably good results, and both of us had improved by the end of the trip! On another train, I was in a sleeper compartment with an entire family. I sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with the two small girls (I regret to report that I haven’t learned any hindi songs), and afterwards their parents looked over my shoulder as I was completing my hindi homework. All of the adults in the family were just beaming at me because mai hindi sikh rahi hu (I am learning hindi). Indians are always so surprised and excited that I’m bothering to learn (one of) their language(s)! There really is something deeply personal about connection in one’s native tongue.

  4. I’ve learned a couple of funny Hindi slang phrases during my last week in Delhi. But like everything else in India, slang varies by location! Every 100 kilometers or so, food, customs, and language change. Still, there are some slang words that are popular in Delhi, so I have focused on those.

    My favorite (and seemingly least offensive) phrase is “mera sir mat kao,” or literally, “don’t eat my head!” It means “stop bothering me!” Everyone with whom I spoke about this phrase was okay with it, and found it rather funny. But when I asked different groups of people about a couple of words that can be used in a derogatory manner to describe individuals, reactions varied widely. My Hindi teacher told me that a “dhakkan” is used for a foolish person, literally “the cap of a bottle.” According to my teacher, this is used widely in movies and isn’t terribly offensive. But when I asked a couple of younger girls about “dhakkan,” they drew their breath in sharply and said “Don’t say that! It’s very rude!” Similarly, men are okay with the term “chumcha,” used for a brown-noser or one who is trying to butter someone up. But my young female friends found it to be quite offensive and would never dream of using such language. I’m not sure whether this difference is rooted in gender or age. I would perhaps expect men to be more willing to use cruder language because it is more socially acceptable, but I would also expect younger people to be using slang that is popular in movies. I will continue to explore different reactions to slang terms.

  5. Just as Indian languages and practices change state by state, food changes too. North Indian food features a lot of lentils (daal) and tomatoes served over white rice. This is very similar to food found in neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh. South Indians often eat dosas, or large, flat crepes made from rice and lentils and wrapped around some sort of filling. Even though northern and southern cuisine is made from the same two major ingredients, within these two broad categories there is tremendous variety.

    Both the limitations and the variety of Indian cuisine tells foreigners a lot about Indian culture. Most dishes are vegetarian, and most are based on things that can be grown right there in India. A nation with economic development challenges doesn’t import a lot of foreign-grown food (although anything can be found at import stores in Delhi, if you’re willing to pay!). And although it is fairly easy to get chicken and pork, beef is very difficult to find out of respect for Hindu practices which view cows as sacred. Many Americans would find the minimal meat content in Indian meals to be disappointing, but as a vegetarian, I was in heaven: not only do Indians use eggplant, okra, capsicum, pumpkin, and other vegetables I had never even heard of on a regular basis; they use them in MULTIPLE different ways with different combinations of masala (spices) and at different levels of spiciness. Somehow, this reminds me of Indians themselves: many Indians do not have a great deal of expendable income, but somehow they create beautiful customs and build meaningful relationships that do not require material resources. Similarly, their food doesn’t need a lot of rich ingredients or calorie-heavy content; it is creative rather than expensive. I love it!