China’s President Hu Jintao, who visits New Delhi today, may not know it. It is the unspoken secret of the most widely spoken language of the world’s most populous nation.
Pockets of the adult Chinese community raised in India are for the first time learning how to speak their tongue — from Indian teachers. As Mandarin becomes the next big thing, a handful of Chinese students who happen to speak better English and Hindi have joined language courses in Mumbai. The city is home to about 3,000 Chinese families settled here since the 19th century.
“I am Chinese, so I have to study how to speak Chinese,’’ said Sean Ma, 19, who has never visited the nation his great-grandparents left for Mumbai.
The Mumbai-born second-year collegian is struggling to master the strokes to write the Chinese script encompassing thousands of characters. “I’ve got Indian culture,’’ he admitted. “I know nothing about China and I don’t really understand what the Chinese speak.” The cultural dilemma of the Mumbai-born Chinese community remained unresolved by the lack of Mandarin teachers until recently and a reticence to admit they don’t speak their own language.
“I studied in an English-medium school and learnt Hindi as a second language,’’ said Ma. “We speak English at home.’’
Since the last two years, Professor Satyendra Upadhyay has taught Mandarin to four college-going Chinese students and a parent. “Chinese parents in Mumbai want to motivate their children to learn Mandarin and go to China,’’ said Upadhyay, who teaches Mandarin at the centre for Buddhist studies on the K J Somaiya campus.
“Every time I announce a course, I get several enquiries from second and third-generation Chinese born and raised in Mumbai,’’ said Nazia Vasi, CEO of Inchin Closer, a Mumbai-based India-China consultancy. “They want to reconnect with their roots. The language is part of their identity.”
Upadhyay even got an inquiry for Mandarin training from a Chinese family — in Chhattisgarh. “I believe the demand is higher in the Chinese community in Kolkata,’’ he said.