Granted, my Hindi -- particularly my speaking ability -- is quite bad. But I understand a great deal of what is being said, I can read Hindi script, and I can cobble together basic sentences.
The first time I was in India, I knew nothing; at school they counselled us not to take Hindi courses before starting our internships because they would be too technical, and besides, everyone who was anyone spoke English (which of course ensured that my reporting and interactions were restricted to that delightful slice of upwardly mobile India more interested in my mobile phone and five-year-old laptop than anything that came out of my mouth). Anyhow, rant aside, I did myself some schoolin' (I highly recommend Afroz Taj's "A Door Into Hindi," an interactive online course with tests, audio, video, and more) and have been casually eavesdropping on conversations for more than nine months now.
Now, the relief is that most people aren't talking about me. I used to be quite paranoid -- I'm so self centered that I was convinced every time I turned around I would become the topic of conversation. Not so! Whew. But occasionally, I do catch people sniggering at my general comportment. For example, the car service contracted by my company employs several drivers who are concerned about how much I sweat and how red I am all the time; I haven't figured out how to explain to them that after I finish my shift, I go running in the company gym. I've heard some people say I'm a little chubby, several comment that I am of an indeterminate age, and an innumerable pool discussing possible reasons a person from Amrika would flee to the dreaded third world.
In response, I could:
- Curse them and/or insult the chastity of their mothers
- Call them crazy
- Ask them their name and tell them mine
- Discuss food or the weather
Anything else I could say would be so badly accented as to be incomprehensible. So instead I smile, bury my nose in a book, and try not to laugh. But I'm not sure how much longer I'll get to be the silent observer -- after getting myself a cup of coffee the other day, one of the office boys asked "Aapka naam kya hai?" as I walked by him in the hall. Because it's one of my pet peeves that some of my colleagues treat these guys as non-persons, I replied, "Mera naam ... hai."
A new hire turned, eyes wide behind rather thick glasses. "You speak Hindi?" It's all downhill from here.