Adventures in Hindi Part 4: In the end is the beginning, or, more observations, a summing up and a way forward.

The temptation to seek elusive patterns by examining random snippets is rather high, but I have this self-imposed criterion that I cannot “play around” under the garb of “investigation” for more than a week–I must do something tangible before I get the next “quota” to play. It may sometimes be a blog post, sometimes page on my website, or a video. For someone who has been working from home as one’s own boss (and office boy) for years, such a rule is necessary for sanity…

So, having made three meandering posts, I am determined today to wrap up my ideas and learning in this fourth and last post of the series.

(For those who don’t like the upside down reading that serial blogs entail, the earlier parts are as follows: Adventures in Hindi Part 1: A mother-tongue fading behind a veil, Adventures in Hindi Part 2: The failed experiment of Have-English-can-translate-to-Hindi, Adventures in Hindi Part 3: India Shining, Internet, and the entertainment override)

I embarked on this adventure prompted by the lack of Hindi material on dementia. It is now my impression that other than the most desperate, no one expects helpful material to be available online, and no one other than the desperate look for it. And even the desperate may not check on the Internet because they don’t know Hindi material can be found there, or are clueless about how to find it.

And this impression could really let me off the hook– no one is expecting it or looking for it, hey, there’s no problem! No demand, so no need to supply, that’s cool 🙂

But here is another way to think of it: If there were material in a format attractive to Hindi speakers/ readers, and if such material was visible to an audience grappling with problems related to dementia care in their family, such material would help. The audience I refer to is persons who speak Hindi and consider it a language they know and are comfortable with, and who are not as comfortable with English. Such an audience will also be unfamiliar with concepts discussed in English but not usually discussed in Hindi.

Which means, the wriggle-out space to avoid work on Hindi reduces.

(And as before, what I write of Hindi would probably apply to Kannada or Gujarati or Tamil or any other Indian language)

There is some Hindi material related to dementia already present on the web. Many are news articles thanks, in part, to Suresh Kalmadi, single-page news items or some comments/ blogs on them (sarcastic ones). The news items that I’ve chanced upon do not explain dementia (other than calling it a memory problem), nor do they explain the relationship between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some experts are quoted, often using out-of-context snippets and distorted statements. Dementia symptoms are not identified, and there’s contradictory stuff on whether dementia can be prevented or not, treated or not, cured or not.

Some existing articles make some astounding (and false) claims and connections. One claimed that dementia is caused by obesity, and the jail-food of the alleged sufferer should take care of the illness. Another listed numerous Bollywood movies on dementia under the heading, देखें बीमारी का बॉलीवुड कनेक्शन, except that most of the listed movies were about young heroes and heroines who had lost their memory because of an accident (miraculously retrieved by movie-end in some cases) or were pretending to suffer from memory loss for some reason. I know of only of the five Indian movies that actually touch on dementia, and of these, only Black was mentioned in this list. Sometimes I wonder whether we’d be better off without such news items… [Incidentally, the five movies on dementia that I am aware of are: – “Thanmathra”, “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara”, “Black”, “U, Me aur Hum”, and “Dhoosar” and someday I’ll add my comments on them as a blog entry]

The Internet also has some authoritative Hindi articles on dementia and care. These include a few translations of pamphlets (from Alzheimer’s Associations outside India) available online as PDF files. Also, AIIMS has a site on old age which has a Hindi version with a page on मनोभ्रंश (some people use this word for dementia, though the consensus seems to be veering around just saying “dementia” in Devnagari for dementia). This page (at the time of my writing this post) has phrases like मस्तिष्कीय अवसंरचना and मनोभ्रंश संज्ञानात्मक असमर्थता का गम्भीर तथा विकृतिविज्ञानात्मक स्वरुप होता है –all precise phrases, no doubt, but they did jolt me out of the “narrative”. All my exploratory curiosity notwithstanding, if I hadn’t been in a studious frame of mind, I’d have clicked out of the page. I’ve never needed this type of vocabulary for reading my Gulshan Nandas and Munshi Premchands and all the other reading I’ve done in Hindi…

I think precision is good. I really do. I also think it is necessary in authoritative documents. But it would be unfortunate if that is the only form in which correct information is available, because such text is not simple enough to be read by anyone other than the desperate, and the desperate may never reach it.

And even if the desperate seekers of knowledge do reach such authoritative sites, they would probably be persons really, really worried about their memory, or they would be caregivers at the end of the tether, and what they need is something they can understand easily, apply easily. The desperate seekers of help may not have enough concentration to grasp the “precise” text. Besides, not everyone has a Hindi dictionary at hand. And understanding a word like विकृतिविज्ञानात्मक requires breaking up the combined word into its components, knowing the meaning of each component, and understanding what the combination means. Seriously, this material intimidates…

On the plus side, apparently the Government is realizing that not all of us are Sanskrit scholars and accepting that it is okay to replace “misil” with “file”, pratyabhuti” with “guarantee”, “kunjipatal” with keyboard, and “sanganak” with computer. Some relief, that 🙂 (See news articles Prefer ‘hinglish’ words over pure Hindi translation and Hinglish is official (archived copy)).

So, Hinglish it is, even officially, and that’s the way to go. Funny, though, that we will need to know the degree of the reader’s English vocabulary to create material in Hindi…

Yet I think the problem is not that simply solved. We may all agree that it is acceptable to say doctor ( डॉक्टर) and not चिकित्सक but what about “diagnosis” ( निदान in Hindi)? I’m not sure how many people use निदान for diagnosis, so would one say:

डॉक्टर जांच के बाद ही डिमेंशिया का डॉयगनोसिस देंगे or

डॉक्टर जांच के बाद ही डिमेंशिया का निदान कर सकते हैं (I’m not even sure of the grammar here) or avoid the choice by saying something nice and simple, like:

डॉक्टर जांच के बाद ही कह सकते हैं कि अम्मा को डिमेंशिया है या नहीं

It is often difficult to sub-vocalize English words written in Devnagari. Understanding them when they are spoken is one thing; reading them is quite another. For example, take a word like document, a word often used in Hindi…try reading डॉक्यूमेन्ट –I’m not even sure I’ve spelt it correctly. Which reminds me, spelling is another problem. How does one spell accepted or borderline-accepted English words in Devnagari and not end up making the reader squint and groan? Also, what about the grammar when using English substitutes, remembering the conventions of treating them as male or female and their fitment into the sentence structure? Conventions have evolved, but where’s the authoritative reference?

Though I do remember one colleague waxing forth on the gender nuance by quoting a phrase, ट्रक गया, बस आयी, (truck gaya, bus aayee) as a phrase used to explain grammar to kids, without mentioning that both truck and bus were originally English words 🙂

There’s probably a business opportunity for those interesting in creating Hinglish dictionaries and Hinglish ready reckoners. (To entrepreneurs: hint, hint)

One more wrinkle: many Hindi speakers cannot read Hindi well, some cannot read it at all.

As this is a blog and not an academic article, I’ll take the liberty to digress with a personal episode.

My father was a pukka Delhiite. He lived the first three decades of his life in a joint family in a one-room flat in Krishna Gali, Katra Gokul Shah, Bazaar Sita Ram (other than the time he was goofing off swimming in the Yamuna, or studying late into the night under street lamps as his home had no electricity). For those who know Delhi, you’ll recognize the address as being “Delhi 6” (no, not the movie but the real thing). My parents spoke English and Hindi at home, and there was quite a bit of Hindi spoken. All our relatives spoke Hindi at home, Hindi that was unlaced with English.

Imagine my shock when I was 12 years old and realized that my father could not read nor write Hindi, not even enough to read a road sign.

Turned out, Urdu had been his medium of instruction all through, and that is what he had declared as his language for the purpose of his Govt service. I only found out when my father started preparing for some departmental Hindi exam (because of a Govt rule that people whose mother tongue was not Hindi must prove they could read Hindi). I had the amusing privilege of seeing my father struggle over the Devnagari script which seemed so simple to me by then.

And alongside, I discovered that all my uncles, whom I’d assumed to be Hindi speakers were actually Urdu speakers, though their wives were Hindi speakers…apparently Urdu was the language of education and trade back then. And over the year I noted how my mother stuck to a subset of her Hindi vocabulary when talking to my father, and how the very texture of my father’s Hindi changed when he talked to some friends of his–oh that richness of Urdu, the quoted ghazals, the Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taki Mir and Faiz…But his Hindi, in spite of all his forced, and then voluntary study, stayed at a much lower level. I’m sure विकृतिविज्ञानात्मक स्वरुप remained outside his scope, either as written or as spoken Hindi.

The shared Hindi at home was a simplified version. My mother did not talk to my father of Bachhan’s Madhushala or Agyeya’s Shekhar, ek jeevani, and my father did not launch off about his favorite lines from Iqbal or Faiz with her, but they often exchanged Kabir dohas, and chuckled together over poems I had to memorize for my school Hindi, like the fun poem आराम करो, आराम करो, a poem that “proved” how resting all day was the best way to live, and even claimed it had the support of religion. I can remember my father starting off with lines describing the expanding paunch of the “speaker” in एक मित्र मिले, बोले, लाला तुम किस चक्की का खाते हो, इस डेढ़ छंटाक के राशन में भी तोंद बढाए जाते हो, (this was in the days when food rations were operational) and then my father would get subsumed with laughter as his own paunch rippled in merriment over this gem by Gopal Prasad Vyas even before he reached his favourite lines: मेरी गीता में लिखा है – सच्चे योगी जो होते हैं, वे कम से कम बारह घंटे तो बेफिक्री से सोते हैं which claimed that sleeping 12 hours a day was the mark of a true yogi. My father loved sleeping, too, and used this as justification.

Not reading Hindi did not deter my father from enjoying such stuff and he managed to memorize the poem without ever having read it.

For those who know Hindi but cannot read Devnagari:

Ek mitr mile, bole laala tum kis chakki kaa khaate ho,
Is dedh chhantaak ke ration mein bhi tond badhaaye jaate ho….

Meri Geeta mein likha hai- sacche yogi jo hote hain
Ve kam se kam baarah ghante to befikree se sote hain…

One more stray thought before I start gathering it all up into a rough conclusion.

Though English has been our main language at home, sometimes my parents would find it easy to explain something using a Hindi word. One such word was सठियाना, which is a word rich with images for anyone fluent in Hindi. When an old person starts acting in an odd way, this term says it all; it tells us that this person has crossed the age of 60 and is exhibiting behavior that some people over 60 show, a sort of senility, some decrepit behavior. Other regions in India have their own words for similar senile behavior: सत्तर बहत्तर is another phrase, where the odd behavior is allegedly associated with reaching 70 – 72 years of age.

So though in India “dementia” has not been known as a medically caused problem, our languages do have words for the behavior characteristic of it. How could they not? The medical reasons may have been found out only recently, but some percentage of the population has always developed dementia with age.

I remember long back, when I was explaining my mother’s dementia behavior to a neighbor (this was before my mother was diagnosed), this neighbor made a face and told me:

Some people become like that when they grow old. Their character changes. That’s just the way it is. They become very angry and unreasonable and make all sorts of demands and get confused. The only thing you can do is agree to whatever they say and humor them. Otherwise you will be fighting all the time. There’s a lot of tension when this happens in a family.

If we could just amend this understanding to incorporate our recent medical knowledge that this “character change”, “unreasonable” and “demands” part is driven by physical changes in the brain, and is out of confusion and disorientation and frustration, then the caregiving will not carry the resentment or sense of defeat to it. Appropriate communication and other caregiving tools will fit into an already understood context.

Now to collate and conclude.

Let me get back to my concern on how to spread enough awareness of dementia as to be of practical help to people who are not comfortable enough or conversant enough with English to tap available English resources. Back to my concern about reaching out to families that want help, and are most comfortable if it is given using their language, their idiom, fitting into the context they are familiar with….Back to how to help people who may not even know how to look for it, or where to look for it…

Without further ado, here is what I think:

  • The language used to communicate must be simple. Hinglish, khichdi Hindi, Hindustani, whatever. I’d say Bollywood Hindi from popular masala movies (after cutting out the obscenities and slang) may be a good starting point. Those scriptwriters know how to retain their audience; it’s their job.We can save time by piggybacking on them. And purity is not relevant for spreading important information because our idea is not to preserve culture and heritage and be pure and correct and literary, but just to explain important things in ways people understand and remember.
  • The concepts must be explained using examples that make sense. Too much medical detail is likely to intimidate and confuse, so while authoritative text has its place, it cannot be the main or only way. Examples must match what people know and understand, and should form the base for explaining dementia and the caregiving tips. Examples should be such that people relate to them.
  • We cannot depend solely on people reading Hindi. We need enough material that is audio-visual, maybe videos, maybe voice interviews, maybe cartoons.
  • We need plenty of material published if we want to counter the misinformation already existing. Just one good document is not enough. One site is not enough. There need to be plenty of people speaking up, plenty of caregivers, plenty of experts. One site, one video does not give the viewers enough perspectives. It becomes a “minority” view and may even be missed out
  • We must create material that would retain the attention of people who may be helped by it.
  • And all this means, the stuff must be interesting 🙂 Interesting enough to be read/ seen/ heard fully, to be understood moderately even if seen/ heard only once, to be remembered by the viewer/ reader, to be passed on as a reference by that person to another, and to be mentioned on social media. This is creative design, not just mechanical translation.

I haven’t got any “conclusions” on how to make people reach online material prepared in Hindi, and that’s because I have no idea about this. Word of mouth, sure, but whose word and whose mouth? Searches, yup, but who is searching for what and how?

Currently, not many people use the Internet in Hindi and the patterns of use/ searching may change wildly as use increases. But the beauty of the Internet is that one can always edit. Create the material now. Then later, maybe some tuning will be needed to make it accessible through searches.

It is difficult for me to imagine right now what could be the best way to reach people, but if there is no material, there is nothing to reach out with…And if there is no material, why would anyone expect it to be there and search for it?

The circle has to be broken.

And of course, once there is material, there are other ways to disburse it. Non-Internet ways. Material can be printed and pamphlets can be distributed. CDs can be made with video clips and given away.

Unfortunately, I find a lot of people hesitate to create material for a multitude of reasons. We cannot write Hindi (okay, so talk). Our grammar is not good (neither is Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai grammar). We make spelling mistakes (So?) We are not experts (but you still can share something, right?)

See, does it really matter if someone writes बढ instead of बढ़ or is not sure whether to say मैं मेरे घर गयी or मैं अपने घर गयी? Sure, mistakes may rankle, but I just got an (English) email a few days back from someone holding a very senior position in a very prestigious organization and this person keeps writing “your” instead of “you’re”, and so, yeah, mistakes happen. I’m not saying they should happen, but can they be reason enough to not do anything? If we must, let us try to reduce the mistakes rather than shy away from work so that our mistakes are not noticed.

There are other reasons people hesitate, too. Like, they don’t want people to know. But these can be worked around by using anonymity. And if the available time is less, do one piece (one document, one small talk, one interview, one personal video on youtube) anyway. Do it if you feel it may help. One piece is better than no piece…

There are many persons who are conversant with some subjects (having had the benefit of ample material available in and conveyed/ taught through English) but they are not as concerned/ involved in transferring this knowledge to Indian languages (maybe I should say other Indian languages, because English is also an Indian language). These experts/ concerned volunteers do not think of acting as the bridge. They do not carry over to another language their ability to express their knowledge in fresh and simple and effective ways.

The spread of information in Hindi currently depends on translations, and as a commentator on an earlier blog entry in this series points out: But one must understand that TRANSLATION of an English text and ‘terms’ into Hindi or any other language is never likely to provide adequate, workable solutions.

We just have to break out of this bind and start to design material that makes sense in the language, and give this activity importance. We cannot pretend there is no problem, no need.

Through this 4-part blog entry, I’ve tried to share my thoughts, and now it is time to make commitments, and what I can unequivocally say is: I am not giving up. I will keep trying to find ways to reach out to fellow-Hindi speakers in small, simple ways. I did a youtube video in Hindi some days back, and a presentation, too (see the youtube channel at ), and I have more ideas, more plans. Progress is slow, but something is better than nothing.

Of course, my concern, my blog entries came out of my involvement in dementia care. These entries have focused mainly on making Hindi material accessible over the Internet, but I also have concerns and thoughts about other forms of accessibility (more on those perhaps later, in other blog entries)

You would be having your own passion.

Maybe you are deeply committed to waste management or want to talk about composting. Maybe you are helping cancer patients, or concerned about blood donation. Maybe you are concerned about ensuring that differently abled persons are not treated with condescension. Maybe you want to reduce the number of children who run away from home…

…And every cause needs awareness, involvement.

I’d love to know what you think about ways to reach out. What are the methods you are using to reach out to people who are more comfortable in other languages, who use the Internet over mobiles, or not at all, who may not have use of all the senses (maybe visually impaired, hearing impaired, and so on).

Over to you.

This is part 4 of a four-part post that shares observation on use of Hindi on the Internet and suggests ways to reach out to Hindi speakers over the web. The other parts are:

If you feel this “Adventures in Hindi” series of blog could be of interest to someone, please share the link.

Note added in Oct 2012:

Subsequent to this series of posts, I began work on a Hindi website for dementia care, and also created and uploaded more videos in Hindi. A brief update on the experience so far, along with links to the various uploaded material, is here: Creating online dementia care material in Hindi: my experience so far.

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India, and deeply concerned about dementia care in India. On this blog I share my own caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care in this set of pages:

5 Responses to Adventures in Hindi Part 4: In the end is the beginning, or, more observations, a summing up and a way forward.

  1. austere says:

    agar mein aap ki kisi bhi prakar ki sahayta kar sakoon, aap nischit batlaiyega. filhaal meri kshamta “khulley anuwaad” tak seemit hai, ye shayad aap ko pata hai, ya mehsoos kar rahein hain. magar mujh sey jo ho payega karney ko tayyar hoon.

    shayad kuch material tayyar honey par press ki sahayta lee ja sakti hai, ek navbharat times ya daink bhaskar ka lekh is bimari ki jankari badhaney mein aap ki sahayta kar sakta hai.

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Hindi Part 1: A mother-tongue fading behind a veil « Swapna writes…

  3. Pingback: Adventures in Hindi Part 2: The failed experiment of Have-English-can-translate-to-Hindi « Swapna writes…

  4. Pingback: Adventures in Hindi Part 3: India Shining, Internet, and the entertainment override « Swapna writes…

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