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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

How you say 'hello'...

To how do you say 'thank you' in Hindi, are some of the queries Pulkit Datta encountered during his stay at Miami University.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2005 17:44 IST
Pulkit Datta
Pulkit Datta

Stepping into the American Midwest small college town atmosphere was going to be a quantum leap for me - albeit in the backward direction - I thought. Having grown up in cosmopolitan mega cities such as New Delhi and London, I almost dreaded starting my new life at college, in a place that was drastically different.

The town of Oxford, in the state of Ohio, is home to Miami University. It is a very small town that's surviving only because of the university, and has a total population of around 22,000. When I first moved there, I expected Indians to be an absolute minority, and I wasn't wrong. The predominantly white population wasn't all that overwhelming, but my fears of struggling with my Indian culture in this demographic, were. I had been warned, before I went there, of the lack of knowledge that the majority of the population would have with regards to many world cultures.

Meeting friendly people in Oxford wasn't difficult at all, from the beginning. What became the most interesting and engaging thing henceforth, was sharing my culture with these new friends. Carrying my Indian identity in London was a breeze, but I realized that I had to inexhaustibly promote it, perhaps as a sort of defence mechanism, in small-town America. Whoever warned me about the ignorance was correct, but what also struck me was the willingness of people to learn more, if they got the chance. I was approached with questions on Indian culture, religion, language, and even economic development.

"Why do Indian women have the dot on their forehead?" "Do people celebrate Thanksgiving in India?" "Can Indians really speak English?" "What kind of cars do people drive over there?"

Needless to say, I wasn't insulted, though perhaps slightly amused. I answered these questions, and more, to the best of my abilities, and began to really appreciate the interest people showed. As a way of providing a greater insight into India, or at least a large part of the Indian identity, I began showing Hindi films to anyone who was interested. The result was more questions, ranging from why there are songs-and-dances in the films, to various aspects of Indian culture shown in the films.

After initially admitting that in the American psyche, India was seen as a very ancient and poor nation, people I came into contact with also followed up their perception with, "Now, India is taking our jobs!"

So, while it is true that the Americans I came across in Oxford had very little prior knowledge about India, I can happily say that because of sharing my culture, the questions eventually transformed from, "How do you say 'hello' in Indian?", to "How do you say 'thank you' in Hindi?"