May 30, 2020
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The Hindi Lesson

The Hindi Lesson
EVERY evening, at a little after 4 o'clock, a bundle of Government press releases is delivered to my office. It contains invitations to news conferences, photo opportunities, and postage stamp launches held earlier in the day. At least I get to know what I've missed. But I can forgive the Press Information Bureau (PIB) this much. The package is usually addressed to 'Mr Andrew', and the thought that somebody, somewhere in the Government bureaucracy is on first-name terms with me is deeply reassuring.

Just once in a while a real gem can be found among the PIB offerings. It's about as likely as finding a rare first edition at the rummage market at the back of Red Fort. But it does happen.

It was courtesy the PIB mailing that I found out about the Government's correspondence courses in Hindi. One of India's best kept secrets! The PIB seems determined to keep it that way. The press release revealed neither which institution was running the course, nor where to turn for more information. Several months—and a major detective exercise—later, I managed to enrol. For the princely sum of Rs 50, I've embarked on a 20-lesson course which, if I have the stamina and ability to complete it, should give me my first tangible, marketable qualification in 20 years. But alas, after just six lessons, the missives from my Hindi master have dried up. Desperate pleadings have failed to uncover what's gone wrong, or whether normal service will ever be resumed. So I have a stunted, half-formed grasp of India's principal language. I can manage the future tense, but not the past imperfect. I'm not too bad at pronouns, but almost entirely ignorant about adverbs. I know the Hindi for elephant but not for duck. It may well be ever thus.

I'm tempted to say it's all too typical of dealings with Government departments. After tracking down the right official, there's a warm greeting, bold promises, a heartening start. And then, everything comes to a complete, shuddering halt, and no amount of coaxing can get things back on course. But a much more terrible thought has come to haunt me. Could it be that my initial fumblings in Hindi have been so appalling, so utterly without redeeming merit, that I've been cut adrift? Declared ineducable. Consigned to lifelong linguistic celibacy. I do hope not.

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