“Fifty minutes” in Hindi is pronounced “Pachas Minet,” and looks like this: पचास मिनट. Fifty minutes is how long my Hindi class is. Hindi is taking some getting used to. In concept, it should be simple: once you memorize the consonants and vowels and compound letters and other exceptions, what you say is exactly what you write, and what you write is exactly what you say. It’s very phonetic, which is perfect for someone who still struggles to pronounce words like “proceeds” correctly.
Hindi, however, is a lot more difficult in reality. We have Hindi class four times a week, Monday through Thursday. I leave each class feeling like I’ve just run a marathon: physically, mentally, emotionally drained. You may laugh, but it is exhausting.
Class begins each day with the teacher calling on us randomly and asking for some words, or a few sentences. As much as I try to prepare, as soon as she says my name, every single Hindi word I know completely slips my mind, and I’m left scrambling through my notes. A typical class:
Teacher: “Anna, can you tell me five nouns?”
“Megan, can you tell me five nouns?”
I search through my notes frantically to recall five nouns
“Kelly, can you tell me five nouns?”
At this point, I’m confident on maybe three nouns
“Bethany, can you tell me five nouns?”
Closing my notebook, I’m satisfied I know five, for the next few seconds at least
“Maggie, can you tell me five adjectives?”
Precisely my luck. Racking my brain, I hesitantly say “Bīmāra?” My teacher closes her eyes for a beat, then looks back at me. She knows I used this word yesterday. The disappointment is evident. Nothing escapes her. I duck my head, acknowledging my error, and quietly murmur four other adjectives.
Questioning complete, we next move to learning new words. This is intense too: she will write a word on the board, then call on one of us to pronounce it, before having the whole class repeat in unison. It is tedious, it is anxiety-inducing, but it is effective. We finish our new words with ten minutes to spare, and my classmates and I eagerly exchange looks. Maybe she’ll end early and we can make tea time!
“Let’s do some rapid fire sentences!” says my teacher with glee. My heartbeat immediately races, my palms grow sweaty, my breathing quickens. She gives us about 30 seconds to string together some kind of sentence before calling on us, one after another, to speak. There are no pauses allowed in between, as soon as I say my first sentence I immediately skim through my notes to come up with something else to share. This continues for eight excruciating and exhilarating minutes, before she sends us home with instructions to use all the new vocabulary we’ve learned in more sentences for tomorrow.
We plod back to Tagore, climb the stairs in silence. I check my pulse: still elevated. My roommate and I decide a nap is necessary before starting homework, this was the most exhausting hour of our day. No criticism towards our teacher, however; as intense as this class is, it is effective. She is a very good teacher, and I think we’ll realize this at the end of the semester when we can speak at least a bit of Hindi with ease.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep napping after class.