Monday, July 27, 2015

Mere 'achche din'

When I landed in Delhi, armed with some bookish knowledge of Hindi, I little realized that over the next few years my conversational lingo would be reduced to just one word. Well, actually, I was not really thinking in terms of conversations to start with. It was my first job and I was thinking more in terms of whether I could fool my employer into thinking that I was actually worth keeping.

From the moment I landed in Delhi, though, the language issue pushed everything else to the background. It was all that reading the sub-titles, when seeing Hindi movies, that had destroyed me. Considering that Hindi movies were my only chance of hearing Hindi in Tamil Nadu, I should have tried to understand by listening, I suppose. But, then, I had no clue then that my understanding of Hindi would be of any relevance in my future.

Initially, I had no clue how to deal with this. I mean, when someone spoke it was first a jumble of noise. I had to parse it first into words in Hindi; then check on my mental dictionary for the meanings; leave blanks for the words I had no entry for; then fill in those blanks based on context. Having finally got what the other person had said, I then had to frame my answer (in Tamil OR English, as it struck me at the moment) and then start translating it mentally into Hindi. By the time I got around to this level, the other person had made his choice between (a) This guy is an imbecile (the most popular choice, considering the vacant expression on my face, while I was doing all that processing) (b) This guy is deaf-and-dumb or (c) This guy is a manner-less brute.

So, by the time I got to the level of saying "Eureka" and started that long stagnant conversational ball rolling again, the other chap had taken action according to his choice. Thankfully, the last option was opted for by very few, and even those were more mild-mannered, or else I probably would not be alive to tell the tale today. So, mostly, I got those fingers twirling near the forehead act OR people making signs at me (AND, if I was worse at anything than Hindi, it was sign language).

I am normally not a quick learner but, in this case, I really outdid myself. Within days, I had realized to recognize the intonation at the end of what the other person was saying and only if it seemed like an interrogation would I set the creaking machinery in the brain working. (At what? You know noises to Hindi words; Hindi words to Tamil....and all that) If not, all I had to do was make indeterminate noises and the other chap would continue.

The acceptable indeterminate noise, I had learnt, was "Achcha". As an adjective, it normally meant 'good', but you used it when you just wanted to indicate that you were listening. In no time at all, I was scattering my "Achcha"s around with the best of them. The issue, though, was that it got to be so ingrained a habit that I found myself scattering my "Achcha"s, even when I was visited home and actually could understand and participate in the conversations, much to the amusement of my mother, relatives and friends.

This "Achcha" is really a most versatile word. If you just said "Achcha" in a neutral tone, it just meant "I am listening" - the equivalent of "Hmm", without a snore punctuating it. If you said "Achcha?" with that interrogative tone at the end, it would mean "Is that so?" and, depending on your tone of voice, it could be a surprised "Is that so?" or a derisory "Is that so?" If you sort of elongated the word, it could mean, "Ah! NOW I understand." Over time, I mastered all uses of the word and, needless to say, I needed it when I had reached the point where the translation app in my mind worked smoothly enough to convert Hindi to English in a jiffy, but stuttered and stammered when it came to doing the vice versa.

After a point, though, the machinery in my mind was greased so well that there was no perceptible interval between the end of the other guy's statement and my reply (It was NOT more an issue of the other guy trying to slip in a word edgewise, thank you). Slowly, the"Accha"s disappeared from my daily conversation.

So, that spelt the end of my 'achcha-wale din' or, in short, 'achche din'.

30 comments:

  1. You have mastered the nuances of this 'accha' word expertly.

    Now this word has become a ball in a game of throw ball.

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  2. You remind me of my ten year old nephew who came to India from Chicago. You ask him anything and his standard reply was " Theek hai". Aamir in PK explains the nuances of Achcha in a very funny way. Have you seen it?

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    1. Haven't seen PK - in fact, I am not much of a movie person. :) You should have seen me between 1988-92. Would have been great fun...for you :)

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  3. Achchha hai! In fact bahut achchha hai, as always:)

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  4. I was transported back in time to the days when I first landed in Pune and tried to grab bits and piceces of Marathi through conversations happening around me!

    Kafi 'achcha' post hai , loved reading it :)

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    1. Thanks Akanksha! Good to know you guys have problems too :P

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    2. Hahha!!! :) Now, that was a first. You're happy to know we have problems :P Lol

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  5. even i faced a bit of a language problem in delhi. but like all other bengalis, i was confident that i could speak hindi although often we don't realize that a sentence with 80% bengali words and 20% hindi cannot be called hindi.

    It was a fun read as always :)

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    1. Never mind :) Hindi-speakers seem to think Hindi spoken loudly is Tamil :) So, it all evens out :)

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    2. I can relate. 28 years in Calcutta, married to a Bengali and the nuances of the word "O" still escape me. Read about it here.

      https://sloword.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/the-big-o-and-i/

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    3. I have the nuances of Achcha pat :)

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    4. You're a better man than I, Gunga Din.

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    5. Maybe because I did not have to master the ways in which a wife would use it :)

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  6. Achhaji!
    There's a Bollywood song starring Madhubala that starts with this word :)
    True analysis of Achha, Sureshji :)

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    1. Achchaji main haari chalo, maan jaao na? :)

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  7. Ha ha ha...I was nodding all through the post. When we went to Kerala every year for summer vacations, everyone died laughing listening to our Hingliyalam (a mixture of Hindi, English and Malayalam). And my mother's uncle would use 'Achcha' in a similar tone to make us feel that he understood everything. Loved you achche din. :-D

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    1. Hahaha! I sort of like them too...in restrospect :)

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  8. That was a fabulous interpretation of "achcha." Such a versatile word. You brought back some childhood memories for me. Back in Lucknow in the 80s, we got our first Tamil Sir. Now, poor guy spoke really poor Hindi. Every day in class, he would tell us about the weird experiences he had with shopkeepers, helpers etc. due to his poor Hindi. That would leave us all in splits. Imagine him conversing in Hindi in Hindi heartland was a disaster.

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    1. Hahaha! I can imagine - well, not really, I only have to remember :)

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  9. Good one Suresh :) I am completely at sea while learning new languages and woefully the same case is with me for Kannada. So while I did energetically learn to read and write Kannada using my son's class 1 book, I just couldn't manage to understand what I was reading. Hopefully I will learn to understand soon and in the meantime, I am well versed in the sign language on the roads along with the 'AEEE' :)

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    1. Hahaha! I still cannot read or write Kannada though I speak decently in it

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  10. Very interesting. The opposite applies to me as I have so often felt utterly clueless when a person I need to interact with only knows Tamil. I have tried the same thing with Tamil expressions like "aiyye-yo" and "aapadiya" :) After all, how many times can one say- Tamil terimma ille?:)

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    1. Hahaha - true that the opposite does apply. And, thank god, you are not one of those who think that all of India ought to know Hindi :)

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