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Expats fight their Hindicap

Working from India for the past one year, De Villiers has been taking private Hindi tuitions for the past four months. But he is learning the language more out of necessity than choice, writes Manoj Sharma.

delhi Updated: Jul 26, 2009 00:43 IST
Manoj Sharma

It’s a Gurgaon evening but a South African’s home.

We ring the doorbell of an apartment in DLF Golf Course, Gurgaon, expecting an African smile and an English greeting.

Reenen De Villiers opens the door, smiles. And says, “Kaise hain aap?”

Amused, we walk into his living room and realise the design engineer from Cape Town was busy learning Hindi from a private tutor.

On the dining table, we find papers that have been scribbled upon.

The menu is mixed. Sentences written in English and Hindi read: ‘Mein thhak gaya hoon’, ‘Kya chal raha hai’, ‘Iski keemat kya hai’.

The learn-Hindi handbook from the famous Teach Yourself series is also part of the scene. Neeraj M. Mehra, the Hindi teacher, says De Villiers was practising his spoken Hindi when he welcomed us with ‘Kaise hain aap?’.

No wonder.

Working from India for the past one year, De Villiers has been taking private Hindi tuitions for the past four months. But he is learning the language more out of necessity than choice.

“Life is pretty difficult in Delhi if you cannot speak Hindi; you get cheated all the time. I am learning Hindi to become street smart,” De Villiers says — in English this time.

So clearly, doing what Delhiites do doesn’t suffice in the Indian Capital. You are better off learning the local language as well.

And De Villiers is not the only one who is game for the challenge.

A large number of expats are now taking language lessons to negotiate life in the Capital.

While many have joined an institute, others are taking Hindi lessons at home that cost them anwhere between Rs 400 and 600 per hour.

Says Elizabath Churchill, 27, a teacher with a Gurgaon school who came to India from the UK in August last year: “I took a rickshaw from my apartment to DLF Galleria once and was charged Rs 150. The real fare was only Rs 20. That’s when I decided to learn the local language.”

Churchill’s Gurgaon home boasts of an assorted collection of books in Hindi: comics, fiction and one on grammar. She spends an hour everyday on her Hindi.

Like Churchill, Roxana Sarsopti, 39, from Argentina has been taking private lessons in Hindi for the past five months.

Ask her how Hindi has benefited her and she tells you, laughing aloud, “The cost of grocery, vegetables and travel in the city has come down by 40-50 per cent. Besides, it has also helped me socialize more with Indians,” she says.

Her Hindi teacher has also given her a crash course in Indian culture; how to greet and wish Indians during festivals and other occasions such as birthdays.

The trend of expats learning Hindi started about two years back. The Hindi teachers of these expats say their students have specific needs.

“Most expats learn Hindi to tackle vegetable vendors, maids, drivers, auto wallahs,” says Neeraj M. Mehra, the most popular teacher of expats in Gurgaon.

He has so far taught Hindi to 60 expats, including De Villiers and Roxana. Mehra says he has devised his own communicative methodology to teach.

“I provide situation-based lessons in Hindi. I teach them words that are short and convenient, depending on the nationalities of my students. I also teach them slangs.”

Some of his students, he says, are corporate honchos who want to learn the business lingo to impress their distributors and business partners in small towns.

Lola Mathai is another popular Hindi teacher.

She holds Hindi classes for expats at her home in Panchsheel Park

and also at the homes and offices of her students — many of them work in the European Commission and Unesco.

“There has been a tremendous rise in the interest in Hindi among expats. While most want to learn just functional Hindi, I also have students who want to learn Hindi to understand the country better,” says Mathai, who teaches 20 expats.

One of her students, William Power, 23, from UK , an intern with European Commission, has some more serious reasons for learning Hindi.

“I want to explore Delhi more deeply. I believe most expats who can speak Hindi are only skimming the surface of the Indian experience,” he says.

Unlike other expats, Power can read Hindi very well.

“London vapas jaakar apne Indian friends se Hindi mein baat karoonga,” he says, a proud smile gracing his face.