Of lamps, lectures and languages


It’s been a long day. Two lectures followed by a field visit. Then, reaching home after a 40 minute bus ride, chopping vegetables, cooking something edible, consuming it and then doing the dishes. This is now an everyday routine. Grocery shopping is fun as every time an item is picked and put into the shopping basket, the otherwise dormant mathematical brain wakes up immediately to do some quick euro to rupee conversion. It’s amazing how fast it is in calculating just how much more expensive things are here when compared to the prices back home. It’s difficult to find words that describe the elation when you realize that onions here are priced at a lesser rate than in India (after calculation).  Shopping in the supermarket is no less than skillful decision-making and economic planning. Almost everything looks desirable. The trick lies in separating what you want from what you need. You might want to but that scented candle on Diwali eve. But it is milk that you need to keep the caffeine going in your system.

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Speaking of Diwali, Münster, or rather Germany, is a surprise package when it comes to celebration of Indian festivals. After having lived in Deutschland and heard Deutsch for over 20 days, when you are suddenly in a large hall of people speaking in several dialects of Hindi and Tamil, you don’t really know where you belong and suffer a momentary identity crisis unable to decide your leanings. But it’s a total high to be able to wear a sari in a land where it is considered as an exotic, oriental attire, walk on the windy streets of Münster in the evening, brave the cold that seeps into your petticoat no matter how many layers of thermals you wear inside and still feel comfortable and sexy at the same time.

Sari and salvar kameez: two traditional Indian attires

Sari and salvar kameez: two traditional Indian attires

It is amazing and perhaps even a little intimidating to realize how much the world already knows about India. The subject Urban Anthropology of South Asia deals with the study of culture, society and cities of the Indian subcontinent. It isn’t easy for a non-Indian to grasp the intricacy of caste system, a form of social stratification that has been a reality in India since time immemorial. It’s heartening to notice the effort that international students here put in to make sense of studying about one of the most complex and convoluted cities and civilizations in the world. It is an extremely learning experience to listen to a Spanish guy presenting a comparative study between a cultural hub like Benaras and an industrial town like Bhilai.

I make notes diligently only to notice that no one else is writing anything down. I drop my pen reluctantly and try to join the “masses”. I enjoy the discussions in class and understand that the line between rural and urban is blurry and that such definite and static categorization can be both a useful and a redundant exercise. There are a million questions in my head but I let them float and form better shapes. The class ends at 4 pm but it’s already dark and feels like 9. It’s been a while since I was sun-kissed and I have almost forgotten that feeling anyway. German class begins in a couple of minutes. So I browse through the alphabets one more time. I pay most attention in this class because I know what I get from the next two hours will most certainly be useful during my stay here. One of the first things I ask my teacher is how do I say “I don’t speak German” in German (Ich spreche kein Deutsch). This is because I need to constantly be saying this sentence until I have some command over this foreign language.

Strictly speaking, the German language is extremely logical. But, sadly, if you come from a background of fluent English, you have already been separated from it for a long time now. Then, suddenly when logic and syntax is thrown at your face, you run around and gasp for breath. Learning German is almost exactly like that. It begins with alphabets that look like a modified version of the English A-Z. Then come the numbers whose pronunciation is shorter than the word itself (75 is fünfundsiebzig). And then they tell you that everything has a gender. Yes, the Germans take gender very seriously. Every word you learn is decidedly masculine, feminine or neutral and this, in turn, decides every other word that goes before or after it. Thus, what begins as an extremely smooth ride on the highway turns into a bumpy nightmare on a rocky terrain. If you survive that, you can hopefully ace the language. Schade!

To be continued
Read Part 1 here

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4 thoughts on “Of lamps, lectures and languages

  1. its such a pleasure reading you. its all worth it. every experience every day every move that you make makes it worth its while. enjoy it while it lasts. funny I miss you. tc

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