Why learn Hindi? Why indeed.
Indian culture gnaws at me now the way Mexican culture has gnawed at me most of my life.
When I was a young child, I was sure I would grow up to become the Queen of Mexico (What? It could happen). We lived close to Mexico then and often crossed the border to buy certain goods — sometimes cheap prescription drugs, but mostly food. Plus, our babysitter was a wonderful Mexican woman who made glorious batches of homemade tortillas for the eight of us. Of course, I was young and could be confusing her with the neighbor who regularly brought us glorious batches of homemade lumpia…
Sorry. Back to parachutes.*
This (possibly) irrational belief that I would become the Queen of Mexico propelled me into a lifetime of loving all things Mexican and of learning Spanish. Because of it, I spent many college weekends and parts of summers volunteering at a medical clinic in Mexico. I made a few bucks translating here and there. I kept some friends out of a Mexican jail by negotiating with police officers in Tijuana when we were a bit publicly tipsy (See how I slipped that one in there with all the other virtuous ones?). I did my seminary internship in Chile. I have made many wonderful Spanish-speaking friends, enjoyed incredible music, literature, art, food and culture. The Spanish I learned as a result of the way this somewhat odd idea of becoming the Queen of Mexico gnawed at me has enriched my life in innumerable ways (despite never wearing a crown made out of anything other than tissue paper or cardboard).
Over the past decade, India has gnawed at me in the same way. Perhaps it is my affinity for Gandhi (the good one) that entices me. Oh, let’s be real — it’s totally the dancing and the sparkly clothing and the awesome music and the food — oh the food. I’d seriously choose Palak Paneer over chocolate if given the choice. And that stuff is spinach. SPINACH!
The Universe must really want me to learn more about Indian culture if I’d choose spinach over chocolate.
(This makes it sound like I am the ugly American only paying attention to these surface components of Indian culture. In some ways, I am. In other ways, I am not. But I also don’t have the knowledge and experience it would take to explain anything further.)
I have no known plans to travel to India. I have no plans to find a job that requires me to learn Hindi. Still, I cannot ignore the gnawing.
Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving? Without knowing why, the main character, Owen, spends his whole life gnawed by the deep need to learn a particular basketball maneuver. Owen believes with all his heart that God has a reason for him to learn that move. Eventually, he has a dream where he learns when and how he will die. In the end (SPOILER ALERT), it is THAT basketball move that allows him to save a room full of Vietnamese children in the war just before, as predicted in his dream, he himself dies.
Learning Spanish in order to become the Queen of Mexico was my basketball maneuver, minus the edge of seat drama and the incredible heroics. It paid off. Spanish enriched my life beyond measure and afforded me some opportunities to serve humanity as well. Now I must learn Hindi. I may never use it outside of ordering Palak Paneer at an Indian restaurant but I am going to try it anyway.
It gnaws at me. When something gnaws at you, it’s probably a good indication that it should go on your bucket list.
*This post rather pretentiously assumes that the reader is familiar with the book What Color is Your Parachute about finding your passion? Other than that assumption and the catchy post title, I never mention the proverbial parachute. In fact, I scarcely allude to it. So don’t freak out if you missed the part where I elaborated on the titular phrase. And isn’t “titular” the best word ever?
*Update 3/2/15: Alas, I have not learned Hindi. I tried. I really did. Mad props to anyone who can speak Hindi. What I did instead was take about a year to learn to cook really good Indian food, read excellent Indian authors, and delve some into Indian history. It’s not the same, I know. It might even be insulting. But it’s what I had.