‘Mai aur samajhti hoon, uske baad bolti hoon.‘ I understand more than I speak. It’s a line I use when I’ve been present with Hindi speakers and listening to their conversation without adding to it, and always elicits great reactions.
I surprise many people in this way: anyone can learn a language, but I definitely don’t look as though I should be able to speak Hindi. Until I open my mouth, I look like every other tourist in India, except that I’m a little better at crossing the road.
I speak Hindi because I lived in Varanasi before coming to Mumbai. In Varanasi, almost every long-term foreigner speaks some Hindi, because it’s the spoken language there. I was working with people who never had chances to attend school, let alone learn English, so it was up to me to learn the local language.
For me, life in India is only as it is because I can speak Hindi. It definitely makes everything easier, but also allows for much deeper and more interesting relationships with people. It makes me a bit of a novelty amongst Indians: friends love to surprise their other acquaintances with me, first talking about me in Hindi and then cluing the others in to the fact that I’m listening. Rickshaw walas turn around in disbelief when I ask how much to pay, or if we could make a pit stop at the ATM. Most importantly, speaking Hindi allows me to have closer connections with the underprivileged kids and women I work with — that’s why I chose to learn it in the first place.
Bronwyn McBride is a student from Vancouver, BC, and now lives between India and Canada. After quitting her intensive study of circus arts and dance in Quebec, Bronwyn flew across the globe alone to see if she could live in a very different way. It wasn’t her first visit to India, and wouldn’t be her last!
Wherever she is, Bronwyn explores different ways to volunteer and get involved with local communities. She’s worked with severely disabled kids in a Mother Teresa orphanage in Kolkata, crossed the country with a social change performance tour, and has spent long months through the boiling summer in Varanasi, working in a school for girls. Next up: enjoying volunteerism and a foray into Bollywood in India’s cosmopolitan metropolis, Mumbai.
More of Bronwyn’s writing can be found at: www.bronwyngrace.wordpress.com
Photo by Yanna Martinek