City · language · poetry

Meeting an Old Friend

Of losing a language to metropolitantra and it’s strange re-entry.

By – Shriti K Tyagi

I open windows. One after another. Panama papers.Citizens.Rape. Sedition. Reasonable Restrictions. DeshBhakt. Presstitues. Sickulars. Modi. Surgical Strikes. Trump. Syria. And somehow I land up reading two essays on language. They must have left an impact because I wake up at an unearthly hour. Uncomfortable. I wonder what time it is but I instinctively know, it is that hour of silence that deafens, enlightens or shuts you up only because you are afraid that if you talk, you will never be heard again. I struggle with the noise in my head. I toss. I turn. But it doesn’t go. I give up. I sit up with linguistic hubris by my side. It doesn’t help; it’s a sign of weakness…foolishness even.

The reason why I am up is I can’t, for the life of me, remember Hindi alphabets. I know it is called varnmala. That much I am sure of. I know the first string and then the whole order is one big jumble. It is like chewing gum in the hair so I grope for my phone in the dark. I switch it on and type ‘Hindi Alphabets’ in English, of course and a chart opens up. I go over it. Once. Twice. Thrice. I shut the screen and repeat softly. Once. Twice. Thrice. And once I get it, I am satisfied. I can sleep again. But No. Now, there is a gentle, familiar knocking. I open. And there it is. An uncared, underprovisioned language.

If there be a reawakening – this must be it. As a translator, I negotiated with the language, I read books, made copious notes, heard stories, and even dared to write because I wanted to perfect the craft but I moved on. Uh-huh, It’s not like I don’t meet Hindi anymore. I meet it everyday. We greet each other but I no longer stop to ask ‘How are you?’ for I am way too busy spinning webs in another language. A language that unshackles me, or did, for now I find new chains surrounding me. I try to articulate in Hindi and nothing comes out. It is almost as I have kept myself in exile for way too long. I am constantly searching for words. that only betray me and expose my struggle.

They say ‘ Most people can learn a language better by talking to other people’. No one around me is talking in Hindi –its mostly instructional or functional. Of course, there are words strewn in conversations but that is all. I try to join them all together but I have more to say. I think I would fare better if I throw up a challenge. So, pat it comes – How do you say ‘sinking low to bizarre heights’ in Hindi? My mind draws blanks.

Now, we are sitting across each other. Like old friends meeting after a long time. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. Once the niceties are over, we don’t know where to start or what to say. We smile, look away, and wait…

I am happy we have met again.



About the writer:

Shriti K Tyagi started as a theatre aficionado, and founded a theatre group called The Manna Makers, went on to write theatre reviews and translating stories, winning the Katha Translator of the Year Award in 2006. She, then, worked with The Gender & Space Project and Micro-Cultures of Mumbai, films and documentaries and went on to join the editing team of ART INDIA Magazine.

Her journey culminated into Beyond Bombay & Beyond Delhi – niche travel collectives that run concept-based walks, engaging people with the past& present of the cities they call home. Her most recent walk, designed to trace the Outbreak of Plague in Bombay in 1896, was part of the Tabiyat :Medicine & healing exhibition by Wellcome Trust, London showcased at Chhatrapti Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghrahalaya, Mumbai

When she is not negotiating with the histories & stories of cities, she writes and daydreams. 

She is currently working with ‘Space’ poems on Mumbai to create a walk where you will meet,Poetry on street.


One thought on “Meeting an Old Friend

  1. The language that you learnt in your Grandmother’s lap is finally coming to the fore !!! Hindi hain hum watan hai..hindustan hamara !!
    I hope someday you can write in easy layman’s hindi which everyone can understand and not the tough Hindi that sahityas and kavis write in…which bewilders the best of us !!


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