Tag Archives: life

Hum bolta ko bolta bolta hain…

The findings of the recently conducted survey of the languages of India under the aegis of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India have been the talking point since the past few days. The survey results are yet to be published in its entirety, but parts of it has been released through the mainstream media. The numbers about the scheduled and non-scheduled languages, scripts, speakers are fascinating.

Besides the statistics from the census, this independent survey has identified languages which are spoken in remote corners of the country and by as less as 4 people. From some of the reports[1][2] that have been published, what one can gather is that there are ~780 languages and ~66 scripts presently in use in India. Of which the North Eastern states of India have the largest per capita density of languages and contribute with more than 100 (closer to ~200 if one sums things up) of those. It has also been known that in the last 50 years, ~250 languages have been lost, which I am assuming means that no more speakers of these languages remain.

This and some other things have led onto a few conversations around the elements of language diversity that creep into the everyday Indian life. Things that we assume for normal, yet are so diametrically varied from monolingual cultures. To demonstrate, we picked names of acquaintances/friends/co-workers and put 2 or more of them together to find what was a common language for each group. In quite a few cases we had to settle that English was the only language a group of randomly picked people could converse in. Well if one has been born in (mostly) urban India anytime onwards from the 1970s (or maybe even earlier), this wouldn’t be much of a surprise. The bigger cities have various degrees of cosmopolitan pockets. From a young age people are dragged through these either as part of their own social circle (like school) or their parents’. Depending upon the location and social circumstances English is often the first choice.

When at age 10 I had to change schools for the very first time, I came home open-mouthed and narrated to my mother that in the new school the children speak to each other in Bengali! Until that time, Bengali was the exotic language that was only spoken at home and was heard very infrequently on the telly on sunday afternoons. The conservative convent school where I went was a melting pot of cultures with students from local North East Indian tribes, Nepalis (both from India and Nepal), Tibetans, Chinese, Bhutanese and Indians from all possible regions where Government and Armed Forces personnel are recruited from. Even the kid next door who went to the same school spoke in English with me at school and in Bengali at the playground in the evening.

The alternative would be the pidgin that people have to practice out of necessity. Like me and the vegetable vendor in the sunday market. I don’t know her language fluent enough to speak (especially due to the variation in dialect), she probably hasn’t even heard of mine, and we both speak laughable hindi. What we use is part Hindi and part Marathi and a lot of hand movements to transact business. I do not know what I would do if I was living further south were Hindi is spoken much less. But it would be fun to try out how that works.

An insanely popular comic strip has been running since the past year – Guddu ang Gang, by Garbage Bin Studios. The stories are a throwback to our growing up years from the late 80s and 90s and touched so many chords on a personal level. The conversations are in Hindi, but the script they use is English. Like so many other thousands of people I have been following it and even purchased the book that came out. But maybe it wouldn’t have been the same amount of fun if the script was in Devanagari. I don’t read it fast enough. And no, in this case translating the text won’t make any sense. There is Chacha Chaudhary for that. Or even Tintin comics. Thanks to Anandamela, most people my age have grown up reading Tintin and Aranyadeb (The Phantom) comics in Bengali. There also exist juicy versions of Captain Haddock’s abuses.

Last year I gave a talk at Akademy touching on some of these aspects of living in a multi-cultural environment. TL&DR version: the necessities that requires people to embrace so many languages – either for sheer existence or for the fringes, and how we can build optimized software and technical content. For me, its still an area of curiosity and learning. Especially the balance between practical needs and cultural preservation.

** Note about the title: bolta – Hindi:’saying’, Bengali:’wasp’. Go figure!

Learning something new

(This post is a day late and very long)

When I was 10 years old, my family moved from Shillong to Kolkata (then known as Calcutta). As is the norm, my parents went hunting for a suitable school for me and finally decided to put me in M.P.Birla Foundation HS School. Besides the usual criteria like – proximity to residence, good teaching staff, reputed management etc., the other factor that apparently favored in the decision making was that the school would be providing facilities to learn ‘swimming’ and ‘horse-riding’. Unfortunately, the same year was the first year of operation of the school and things took time to sort out. Eventually I passed out after 6 years and the two above mentioned coveted activities never happened. I haven’t visited my Alma mater in a long time and am not sure how things stand at present.

Getting me to learn swimming was high on my parents’ list, but given that there were no pools in a radius of 10 kilometers and our individual study/work schedules were grueling the idea was promptly dropped (or rather never brought up again). However, I had it in my balti-list and this year I decided to literally test the water and step in. And for that one needs a swimming dress. I chose a bad day/time to go hunting for one. It was a saturday afternoon and all the sports shops on M.G. Road were closed for siesta. Finally we (I+knowledgeable-crowd-about-swimming-dresses) located one shop that was open and I got myself a military green dress and a rang-birangi vibgyor cap. Next up was getting a membership, so off I was dragged to the gymkhana by pjp to get me enrolled for the swimming classes.

All administrative trivia done, next day I land up at the poolside for my big party. Since I am blind beyond 10 centimeters without my glasses, the locker room lady was kind enough to show me to the pool and introduced me to the coach. The first day the coach told me to dunk my head in the water and taught me how to breathe. Thats when I realised that the most common mistake people do while falling into water is that they open their mouth and try to breathe with their nose and as a result they gulp water in all possible wrong ways. I had done that a week back when I had jumped into water at a team outing. Initially I could not hold my breath for too long, but coach was relentless and he made me practise for one long hour. Since it was early-February and I was not used to spending so much time submerged in water, especially late in the evening, I started getting cold. Thankfully coach let me off for the day. Once out of the pool, I was faced with an even greater challenge – to find the way back to the locker room. After a couple of false starts, I managed to end up in the proper locker room. The breathing routine continued for another 2-3 days, by which time I also started to float a bit by hanging onto the railings for dear life.

Next up, was gliding. Here I have to mention that the pool is about 4’6” deep and considering my height its a pretty scary depth to be submerged in when one doesn’t know how to keep oneself afloat. Gliding was fun. I had to keep my arms straight, breathe and push myself off into the water to float until my breath gave up. The feeling of floating, was liberating. In whatever little way, I was finally in control of my body. However, I needed more practise and coach packed me off to the smaller pool to do it by myself. Another time another place, maybe I would have been embarrassed at this demotion, but in this case I was actually quite happy for two reasons – I won’t get scared because the depth was less and I could develop and practise a convenient personal spin off technique for a considerably longer period of time, without assistance. Coach kept popping on and off to give me tips about posture, breathing etc. And each day he would fish me out of the smaller pool and make me glide again in the bigger pool. One of the important things I learnt around this time was the technique to get into a standing position unassisted. This boosted my confidence as I now knew how to bring myself back into a safe position whenever I needed to.

So the day came when, I started working on a stroke. The breast stroke is the preferred one for beginners here and the first thing one is made to learn is how to move the legs. 1-2-3 the way a tadpole moves. For the next 5-6 days I was put on a glide+tadpole-legs routine. Again I was bundled off to the junior pool for practise practise and then practise some more. Seeing my predicament, one little kid (expert swimmer if I may add) came by and after a closer look at my faltering movement sagely said ‘Aunty, you are moving your back too much‘. In another couple of days, coach handed me a flotation device that would help me learn to lift myself out of the water, breathe and then continue moving forward while maintaining a steady tadpole movement. By this time, I bid goodbye to the junior pool.

I was pretty happy floating in and out with this flotation device, until one fine day coach swooshed past me and snatched it away from my hand. He showed me how to disperse water by using an outward movement of the arms and lift myself out of the water to breathe. For two days I struggled to do one complete stroke without faltering. I gulped water everytime I tried and could not keep myself afloat whenever I tried to lift my head out to breathe. I traversed the entire breadth of the pool.. half walking half gliding and struggling all the way. And then one day, I managed to stay afloat for two complete strokes. I was so surprised that I gulped down some more awful tasting water. Coach grinned back at me and I restarted practise. I started swimming the breadth of the pool (~25 mtrs) with a couple of breaks in between. And one day I simply kept going and reached the other end. I had started timing myself and eventually I cut it down by a minute to complete each lap in 2 minutes. Its probably pretty bad by normal standards.

Last week, coach graduated me to move onto the length of the pool. The first day was a little scary. Every time I lifted my head out of the water to breath, I saw the long expanse of the water ahead of me. I was trying to figure out how to hold onto my energy levels so that I don’t take too many breaks while completing a lap. Also I ran the added risk of getting cramped in the leg, a problem that had been bothering me a couple of weeks back. On the second day, with each lap the number of breaks came down, from around 4 to 1. Eventually, I completed a full 50 mtr lap! Twice over! The final triumph in that level. I felt like putting out a spot for a McDonald’s celebration ad campaign.

Everyday in the pool probably someone completes their own personal goal and no one ever notices in the crowd. Its a source of immense joy and cannot be contained within oneself. Grinning in my head I walked back to office and shared it outright with a couple of folks who I knew would add to the joy with their words of honest encouragement. I had promised myself a blog for the day I completed a pool length lap and this is just that, albeit a day late.

I went back to the pool today and ran a total of 10 laps, 5 of which were complete laps done in ~5 minutes each. Before I move onto the advanced coaching next week, I am trying to gain some speed on my current stroke to cut down on the time for each lap. Considering the fact that my mother and father were both pretty good swimmers, I am counting on my genes a bit to help me ahead with this.

By the ticks..

This weekend we had a localization camp where I was presenting about the oddities that we face while translating user interface messages. Before I proceed further, I’d like to clarify that this post is not about the camp (that would come sometime later). Rather this is about something that I mentioned during my presentation. About why we spent time, efforts, money twisting things to fit into a presentable shape. We do so because it affects our choices. The flexibility to choose the least inconvenient alternative.

Everyday we are faced with myriad choices which range from the seemingly trivial to universe shaking ones. Should I wear the blue or the black tee this morning? Do I run to the bus stop or walk a little fast? Is it ok to take a coffee break now or in another 5 minutes? What goes best with my lunch – tomatoes or fries? Should I put in my papers now or slog it out for another 25 days? You get the drift. And how does one go about making them? Speaking for myself, primarily I am a heart-governed person. I believe in spontaneous actions which are more natural and are not diluted by calculations. At an younger age, this was tipped more towards fallacy. Later, the urgency of actions is significantly controlled into a balance, by the worldly wisdom gathered over years. However, the after effects of these choices eventually still hit the heart. In all sorts of ways.

The natural choice while picking an alternative is to lean towards the one that would present the least amount of pain. Or perhaps spare oneself of a higher degree of inconvenience. pjp has a meticulous equation for this:

choice = incentive x convenience

Effectively, each alternative course of action throws up the potential outcomes and possibilities, mostly derived from past happenings. If eating fries for lunch gave me a burst of pimples on the left cheek – twice, I’d naturally be disinclined to make that choice. Nipping the possibility of exploring whether on the third attempt I would get the pimples of the right cheek or nothing at all.

Unfortunately, choices we make about people come with a significant amount of baggage. And most importantly they come with responses. Fries won’t come sobbing back to you if you remove them from your tray. People on the other hand may go through a turmoil of emotions, based upon the choice you make. You could make them feel important, happy, relieved, disturbed, discarded, or even traumatized at times. While making our choices I wonder if we weigh these potential responses or just go by what would make our own lives less worrisome. i.e. the less the worry, the more the incentive to choose that option.

At times these choices come back to haunt us. For their harshness. Guilt. Sometimes even for the detachment and defeat we concede. Especially when the only way out is to crawl into a shell (and in the process also say goodbye to civilities), disrupt our own lives with significant inconveniences, because the other alternatives are loaded with ammo to scathe us further. And I am scared of them. It beats me, about whats really the incentive when faced with a lose-lose situation. Its definitely not peace of mind, neither is it martyrdom.

Currently playing on a loop for me: O re bande from Lahore

Iss kadar tha bekhabar, ke khaam kha aazma liya
Sau duayein bech kar, maathe ka boja paa liya

Dance with all your heart

The other day while waiting to collect my order of idli-sambar at the neighbourhood food court, I noticed on the television above the counter the news of Sania Mirza calling off her engagement. Thankfully, the telly was on mute and except for the cheesy graphics I was spared the horror of the reporter’s agony and angst ridden repertoire. Later I came across the news again in the paper and liked what the lady had to say about the break up. Something to the tune of – “We were friends for years, but found ourselves incompatible as fiances”.

Every relationship has its own tale. Like the opening lines of Anna Karenina:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

It often takes a lifetime to realise that relationships do not always work out the way they were expected to. There are the ones which take off like firworks and then fizz out. Or the ones that start burning like a slow fire with wet wood and then glow bright, spreading a comfortable warmth. Often relationships come a full circle and don’t know where to go next. Especially when people have known each other for a considerably long time, that by the time they come together there is nothing new to discover about each other (#notmyquote). They become partnerships or just households. Secure and staid, but without any heartaching emotion. Often leading into territories where dilemmas, questions and justifications of faith raise their heads.

People come together with myriad yearnings – love, compassion, physical bonds, security, freedom, and sometimes even impassioned calculations. Some things work out, some others don’t. The ones that don’t, need attention. And without resolution they stay on, like the throbbing of an age old migraine. Painful, yet ignored by a practised habit. Most often than not (especially here in our country), people carry on with their long-dead relationships for the sake of societal norms, ranging from family pride to the stigma of being homewreckers or just as their own personal choice (a nice post related to this here).

I was drawn into a discussion the other day about two films – When Harry Met Sally and The Notebook. Both were extremely enjoyable, but I had my own reservations about them. The first assumes that men and women can never be friends and eventually ends with the protagonists getting together. While the latter has the female lead returning to her first love, leaving behind a fiance at the last minute. Both were ideal solutions to seemingly complicated situations, which would make most of the audience happy. While Harry & Sally effectively seal the ‘fact’ that other than lovers there is no possibility of men and women to have any kind of non-romantic-but-emotionally-caring-buddies relationship (*), ‘the notebook’ on the other hand dilutes the complications of the quagmire that the lady finds herself in. On one side is her memory of a whirlwind teen romance which was nipped without a closure, and on the other end was a mature romance between two people who have seen more of the world and had connected at a stage of their lives when moving towards a stable and mellow bond would come with the least of regrets. In anycase, the fall guy had hardly spent enough screen time for the audience to feel much sympathy for him and he made way for the first love. I would have liked to know how this couple overcome the awkwardness that generally creeps in due to the time spent apart, or how the lady gets over the guilt of cutting short her second relationship that must have been at an extremely intimate state (perhaps the book deals with it better). Or how Harry & Sally settled household matters and other mundane stuff. Well, these are perhaps the least of the worries that cinegoers would like to indulge in.

People shape their perpectives from what they see around them and then nurture them with their own experiences. Cinema is a primary source for a lot of young people to form their opinions of ideal relationships. And these mostly end up in monochrome. Binaries of extremes, that churn out moony eyed expectations. Imho, relationships have so many vivid and nested shades. Even when things seem to have come to a stop, there are the hidden undercurrents that makes it easier to share and care for each other. Some call it habit. Probably, it is also a mix of guilt-ridden sense of responsibilty that one is unlikely to desecrate. However, these shades are generally not visible, unless a person shares a relationship into a considerable depth. It is unfortunate that the monochrome visions often miss these lines in between and by the time they figure it out, the depth sucks them in. A possible solution here would perhaps include widening the horizons from personal experience, but then that brings with it, its own set of complications. And honestly, I don’t think our society is liberal enough (not just in patches, but entirely) yet to handle such lifestyle changes.

Moving on, these two lines from the song ‘Uff- yeh ada’ (Karthik Calling Karthik) have stuck into my head.

pyar agar hai mujhse pyar jataa ke naach
jaan-o-dil jo hai teri mujhpe luta ke naach

Roughly translated they read – if you have love for me in then show it while you dance, give all you have to it while you dance. I believe this is true for every kind of relationship – not just romantic ones. Whatever you feel in your heart for a person (friend, lover, sibling) don’t hold any of it back and give all it takes to make it honest and worthwhile.

* apparently if it hurts to share a friend then its definitely not friendship any more… #notmyquote, but that was a convincing argument during the discussion that can perhaps measure when people can no longer be ‘just friends’ and have moved onto the next stage.