Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conversational Confusion

This week has been a tragic one in India. I don't feel like I can ignore the situation without being disrespectful, however I also don't think I can do justice to the subject. Instead I will provide a link for those of you who may be interested in reading about it, but as for my small corner of the Internet, I will try to provide a little distracting comfort with the silly and the trivial.

In the past couple of weeks we have had several repairmen in our house. I am sure you have noticed that this is a recurring theme. Things here look real nice, but require a lot of upkeep. I am not sure why. In the past two weeks the following things have required repair or replacement:

Kitchen hot water heater
Upstairs hot water heater
Upstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Downstairs bathroom ceiling fan
Washing machine
Dryer door
Electric tea kettle
One wall outlet
Generator automatic on/off thingy-ma-jigger (sorry for the technical terms)
Oven door
Stove controls
The still ongoing stone replacement on the outside of the house

One of the things that always presents a problem when I am trying to facilitate the repair of anything is communication. I speak Englindi and they speak Hinglish. Each of us speaking just enough of the other's language to cause problems and confuse the situation even more. For instance, if I ask when they will return to complete the repair they always, always, always answer "kul." Now, "kul" translates as "tomorrow". It can also be translated as yesterday, but since I don't think they plan on using a time machine to repair my washing machine yesterday (which would be very convenient), I assume they mean tomorrow. Unfortunately, in reality it seems to mean, "Sometime in the near or distant future, or perhaps when you have called us several times but absolutely under no circumstances will I be back tomorrow." You can see why this would be confusing.

Next on the list of confusing customs is the question sentence. The question sentence is a sentence that disguises itself as a question. Imagine that you are in the 2nd grade and your teacher says, "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the...?" Her voice goes up on the word "the" just as 25 children's hands shoot into the air. The lucky chosen child answers, "plain!" However, in the question sentence the repairman might say, "The lock on your dryer needs to be...?" At this point he pauses just long enough to have my inner 2nd grader bouncing in her seat yelling out, "Repaired! Retooled! Reworked!...Re-purposed!" But before I can even draw a breath he says, "replaced." The other day I was listening to a lovely woman who was speaking completely in question sentences. It sounded something like this, "I was going to the? Market. I needed to buy? Bread. I couldn't walk to the market because because my knee was? Paining. The traffic was so bad, that I couldn't even get a? Rickshaw." It was exhausting. No matter how many times I told myself that she was not asking me to guess the last word of her sentences, my brain just kept trying.

The final and most famous Indian conversational wonder is the head bobble. Come on. You know the one. If you haven't seen it first hand, then you have seen it imitated. You've even tried it yourself. No? Not even in the bathroom mirror? Liar. In a typical conversation this can mean yes, no, maybe, of course, I'm listening, I have no idea and finally, what are you talking about you crazy American. The trick is figuring out which head bobble you are looking at. I have heard countless theories and systems that other Americans living in Delhi have come up with to differentiate between the many varieties, but eventually they all fail. You can spot the new arrivals to India because they actually try to get a translation. Mr. Smith spent his first three months in the office doing something like this:

  • Mr. Smith - This job is for a very important customer, it must be on time. Will it be finished on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Is that a yes or a no?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - Wait, does that mean it will be on time?
  • Office worker - *head bobble*
  • Mr. Smith - (Eye begins to twitch.)

See? Confusing, right? After a while you do begin to get the hang of it. Some foreigners have even incorporated the head bobble into their body language vocabulary. Not me though. I know when I'm in too deep.

At this point I should probably apologise for my spotty posting. Mr. Smith has been really nagging me about it lately. So, right know, in front of witnesses, I promise that I will post again...kul.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Big political news from the US!

This morning, like every other morning, Mr. Smith pulled apart the newspaper and sat down to enjoy his breakfast. I had a couple of minutes, so I sat next to him and started reading along with him. I wasn't committing to anything, just sort of scanning the back of the pages he was reading. Reading the paper here is always interesting. Sometimes it is the "English as a second language" grammar that catches my eye. Other days it is the world view that is so different from the one I get at home.

Today it was a reminder that the majority of the people here have a vastly different belief system than I do and therefor consider different things to be newsworthy. In the world news section of the Times of India today there was an article answering the pressing question "Who was Barack Obama in his past life?" For those inquiring minds out there that want to know, "...Barack Obama is the reincarnation of Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Democratic senator and the principal author of the Thirteenth Amendment, which put an end to slavery in the US." If only this article had been published two years ago. Think of the time that would have been saved if the "He's not experienced enough" argument had been eliminated. He was an aide to President Lincoln for crying out loud! Can't get much more experience than that.

The man who made this announcement goes on to say "If we accept the case of Trumbull having reincarnated as Obama, it also sends out an important message that individuals can change race from one incarnation to another," Really? That's the important message? Since Hindu's believe you can change species from one incarnation to another, I don't see race as being such a big barrier.

The newspaper isn't the only time the local belief system trips me up. For example, math and science is a big deal in educational circles here. Medicine and computers are the fields that most people seem to "encourage" their children to consider. This might lead one to believe that science and logic are highly valued. One might then expect to see evidence of that in other areas of life. One would, as usual, be wrong. One is always wrong, isn't she? Because although math and science and medicine and computers are important, so are star charts. Especially when a marriage is being arranged. Star charts that aren't compatible (or whatever it is they are checking for) can be a deal breaker. The stars can also have an impact on what day the wedding is held. Some days are more auspicious than others, astrologically speaking. (Things being auspicious is very important.)

As usual though, while I confidently sit in judgement of the people and things around me, some part of my brain scans my own life for similar contradictions. Dang it! There they are. To me, my faith and religious beliefs are in complete harmony with science, maybe not every scientific theory, but science as a whole. I am sure, however, that there are those who would consider my beliefs to be outlandish, fanciful and down right baffling.

Knowing all this, why was I surprised that that Barack Obama's past lives were deemed newsworthy? I don't know, but I was. One of these days I will get everything figured out. When I do, I'll let you know.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Belcome to Bollywood

Remember when mrs smith used to write blog posts? Man, those were good times... Until she chooses to grace us with her presence further, I thought we could entertain ourselves with a little discussion about Bollywood and Bollywood music.

Movies and music are cultural necessities these days, or so it seems. But the cultural lines are blurred here in India (ok, probably everywhere, but we notice them here more easily because we are immersed in it). At first it seemed that everything was so different and separate from our American culture. Then we saw the influence of the west in clothing, business practices, restaurants (one can't cross the street without tripping over a McDonald's) and many other areas. One of those areas is the entertainment industry.

The largest movie industry in the world is based in Mumbai, India. Worldwide it is referred to as Bollywood, and Bollywood is larger than life. Here, the musical is alive and well. The romantic comedy is big as is the action film. The tragic love story is wildly popular as people live out their fantasies vicariously through their favorite film star. It is actually quite juxtaposed with cultural norms and realities. In Mumbai, the seat of Bollywood, last year a school banned any physical displays between boys and girls. In other words, no hugs or hand holding or anything else, for that matter. But on the silver screen anything can happen, and people attend movies here - rich and poor alike - to escape into that fantasy world.

One of the unique characteristics of Bollywood films and music is that the stars crossover all the time. In fact, in a music video from a film song you will not see the singer of the song, but the Bollywood actor from the film lip syncing and dancing to it. Sometimes the videos come straight from the films themselves. That happens at home too, but the previous way doesn't. I always feel bad for the singers who get heard but not seen, while the actors get seen and seen and seen... In any event, these things have enriched our lives here immeasurably.

Below is a collection of Bollywood music videos from various films. We have come to love the music, its passion and depth, and the fun nature of the sights and sounds, so I thought it would be fun to share some of it with you. Number One Son is quite an afficionado now, so he might be able to tell you more if you want to know. And try to ignore the contrast between the booty shaking, the outfits, and the lawsuit filed by some local people when Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty on stage last year. Some things I just don't get... ENJOY!

First, a music video starring my favorite Bollywood actor - Akshay Kumar:

This next video snippet is from Singh is Kinng (yep - double "n") - a movie also starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif (they are an oft-paired bollywood duo). It is almost enough to get me to tie on a turban. :o)

This next song I actually sang at a company event. It was a lot of fun, and I sang it for the employees who attended, as well as some of my visiting company representatives. And yes, I sang it in Hindi. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it has pigeonholed me a bit as I am now asked to sing it everytime the company in India gathers for any reason. So I am learning another song...:

The next video is from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, a popular movie that is filled with fun music, This song is currently very popular and may be my next hindi music performance:

This video is just fun to watch in any language. It has Akshay again, Ritesh Deshmukh (at least, I think that is who it is) and the guy that makes the grand entrance in the end is the current king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan:

This last one is just fun, and because mrs smith looks cute doing the little hands together head bobble Kareena Kapoor does in the song:

mr smith