Learning Kannada in 60 days

Most tourists traveling in Bangalore usually travel with a group or a local escort and they can manage with Hindi or English in most touristy places. Kannada is needed only if they were to venture alone to places where the bangaloreans usually shop – like the local market or grocery shop. It is more useful for someone from another part of the country who is employed here when they have to deal on a day to day basis with the domestic help, dhobi, bus conductors, auto rickshaw drivers etc. It is also nice to be able to exchange a few pleasantries with ones neighbors or to seek help in case of real emergencies.

The need for learning the language and the urgency of the issue hit me on the face just a couple of days after we landed in Bangalore in 1980. We had found a house in Hanumantha nagar, a nice middle class locality, located at literally a stone’s throw from the famous Bull temple. Gandhi Bazaar, which I still consider the best market in Bangalore, was walking distance and it was safe and everyone was nice. The only hitch for a new comer: most people one interacted with did not speak English or Tamil. Hindi may have passed but I was handicapped there.

The nice landlady welcomed me with a warm smile and said a lot of nice things of which I understood nothing.But with uncanny feminine intuition we had established a rapport and managed to convey the message that we liked each other. Her husband translated bits of it and told me that I was to treat her like my mother and not hesitate to come to her for anything. What a wonderful way to start one’s stay in a new city!

It was arranged that the lady who worked for her would finish her work there and then come and do my dishes and clean the house. Things worked fine for the first few days until one day I looked for a small vessel in which I kept oil for the lamp in the pooja. I knew I had left it to be washed but could not find it. So I called Suvarna, the maid and asked her in Tamil to look for the small cup. The girl looked very worried and gave me a very long sentence full of protestations, invoking the names of gods as witness and how shewas not a thief. I tried calming her and telling her that I was not accusing her and it was no big deal even if it was lost.
The next day she did not turn up. I had seen her come and work in the landlady’s house and was surprised. So the next day I went up to their house to check what the matter was and that is when I realized that there had been a major problem in communication -. Suvarna told the landlady that I had accused her of taking a gold vessel which she had never seen! I was confused – what gold vessel? I said all I had asked was for her to look for a tiny vessel – a chinna patram and where did gold come in ? And that is when I learnt that “chinna” is gold in Kannada. (Chinna patram in Tamil is a small vessel!)

Since I planned to spend the rest of my life in this city and wanted a harmonious relationship with the working class, I decided to acquire a working knowledge of the language forthwith. It was a matter of survival. But my only problem with the books that promise to teach you the language in 30 days etc is that they are too text bookish and not very practical. For instance the guy who delivered the grocery from the shop to my door step would not have understood my appreciation if I had used “thumba dhanyavaadagalu”> he might suspect I was treasing him. I think I could say it in a more natural way with a “thumba thanks ree.” If you want to congratulate someone you do not say “HRUDHAYAPURVAKA SHUBHASHAYAGALU” unless you are on regional television. “Cograts guru/kano” is more like it!
Try asking someone ‘DURAVANI KARE YELLI MADA BAHDHU?” and tell me how many understood you.
I think we could probably work on some conversational Kannada useful in day to day interactions – any suggestions? The idea is not to dilute the language but to learn it the way real people in real life use it today.

And to conclude my story, yes, I did learn Kannada within 2 months but from a totally unexpected teacher – a 4 year old child of my neighbor who loved to chat and to eat chocolates. So he would come every afternoon and chat non stop with me – he got his chocolates and I got my basic vocabulary and basic 20 sentences. From there it has all been a breeze!

And yes, that “duravani kare elli mada bahudu?” is almost the same as “phone elli mada bahudu?”- almost the same because in the second case you may actually be understood!

3 Comments so far

  1. Thejesh GN (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

    Interesting read.

  2. Ravi (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

    HAHAHA. Too good ree, this writeup!

  3. bastet (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

    A really nice post!
    I also made a children-as-teachers-experience, when I was 15 and visited my relatives in the U.S.
    I used to play with two little girls (7 and 5) and looked after them. Although my english at that time was quite bad, they didn’t have no objection to talk to me. They told me about their uncle, who likes to go hunting. I asked them “What kind of animals, does he hunt?” And they answered “Oh, mostly deers!”. I didn’t knew this animal and so they discribed it to me. At first they explained it has got 4 legs, then they put their hands on their foreheads, stretched some fingers in the air and I got it. They looked so cute! Because of these two girls I added many household-, babystuff- and fairytale-words to my vocabulary. These English-lessons have been my best and funniest ever.

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