Hindi is one of the official languages of India and the most commonly used across the sub-continent. I moved to India in the year of 2010, from Sri Lanka. I already spoke Sinhalese, English, and I could understand Hindi but not able to structure proper sentences. As my forever passion is for travelling, I made sure that I went to all corners of India to know about the vibrant cultures, food habits, lifestyles of the various states of the country. India itself was a turning point in my life, and it has immensely changed my perception over various issues such as society, politics, war, thinking styles and education.
My first attempt towards Hindi was to get rid of the fear of making mistakes or sounding wrong. I went ahead and made all the mistakes I could until getting myself corrected from the Indians became a habit. It did not take me long until I developed fluency, and speed of speaking and ultimately becoming able to correct some Indians about incorrect Hindi at times! The journey of learning Hindi, which also comes in handy in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal was quite a ride. It had benefitted me especially as a foreigner trying to adjust to the lifestyle here and often being overcharged. My appearance was not so different from an average Indian so I was not quite counted as a foreigner. Soon enough, I started bargaining and getting my work done faster and easier than any other foreigner here.
Gradually, I developed the confidence that I am not going to be subjected to any hassle because I have the power of language.
As a travel writer, it is very important for me to understand how certain communities operate, how the people feel and their way of living life. My ability to speak in Hindi had raised many eyebrows and had got me genuine comments and feedback from people from various societies about their traditions and way of life. Since I spoke to them in their mother tongue, they did not hesitate or think twice to share their opinions with me. After all, to what extent would you speak wholeheartedly in a different language, right? I made friends and family wherever I went.
In fact, it was a bit of a celebration, being a Sri Lankan and speaking Hindi. Indians were very happy to see someone speaking their language, and always warn strangers of what they speak in front of me. Because some had no clue I could understand everything.
Hindi has many dialects depending on which state of India you are in. Once I grasped the speaking and fluency, I put my mind into speaking with Marathis, Kashmiris, Bengalis and so on in Hindi. I realized that certain words they use are different either in sound or pronunciation. In return, they say that I have a South Indian accent, and often take me for a Kerali. I believe that the coming years in Delhi would put me into a pure North Indian accent. The Hindi language has a mix of certain Urdu words in common conversation. This could be because of the inspiration that Bollywood industry and its music has brought in. Many regional languages of India such as Punjabi, Kashmiri, Garhwali sounded easy to understand for me as they had an almost similar vocabulary as Hindi. Presently I am in the process of learning Kashmiri, which I personally feel is much similar to Sinhala. That may sound like a surprise.
This country has become very homely to me, and I am very much sure that it is due to the language proficiency. I don’t feel like a stranger anymore, I am as much as comfortable as any other Indian when it comes to communication. Nothing stops me from wanting to achieve what any ordinary person would want to achieve. No barrier to communication stands between me and anyone.
Today, I can use the same pranks, idioms and jokes and can teach Sinhala and English in Hindi to anyone. Language proficiency is certainly a blessing more than just a qualification.