Hindustani Language - The Key to Immersion in Indian Culture

Posted by Peter Braun • Sunday, April 4. 2010 • Category: Crossing Cultures
Since 2002 Shammi Kapoor (age 33) is working as a Hindustani language teacher in New Delhi. Besides being a brilliant trainer, he is a fantastic communicator, who loves sharing his cultural knowledge with his students and wants to get them in touch with the local people. He talked to us about his passion to teach, the importance to study the local language and his experiences working with language students from all over the world. If you ever thought about learning Hindustani / Hindi / Urdu, Shammis point of view will surely be an interesting read for you.

© Knowledge Must 2010

KM: Before we will start to ask you about your profession and experiences can you give us a brief idea of Hindustani and what language it actually is. Some of our readers might be more familiar with the terms Hindi or Urdu.

Shammi Ji: Hindustani is usually understood as "Hindi-Urdu" and instead of the small differences between the two it highlights the similarities. It is agreed that Hindustani covers many closely related dialects in Pakistan and India, especially the vernacular form of the two national languages, Hindi and Urdu. Both the languages can be seen as a single linguistic entity. The big difference is that Urdu is using more words from Perso-Arabic sources and Hindi a lot of expressions from Sanskrit. This is especially true for literature, philosophy, and religious practice. It’s very funny because when people speak Hindustani, Muslims will usually say that they are speaking Urdu and Hindus will typically refer to themselves speaking Hindi but at the end they are speaking the same language. There is a lot of politics involved and other forces that want to divide the communities between which we find so much unity. I love teaching Hindustani because if there is a language in India that unites us, it is Hindustani. English unites the elites but Hindustani unites the people.

KM: Thank you for the short introduction Shammi Ji, please now tell us how you became a Hindustani teacher?

Shammi Ji: In 2002 a very close family friend called me up asking me for help to teach an American in Hindustani. I just graduated from Jamia Millia University with an M.A. in Hindi and soon after added a degree in Linguistics and Translation from the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan (The Central Institute of Hindi) to my professional profile. When my friend approached me for support I first thought that it will be a great opportunity for me to teach my native language to a foreigner and that I will have the chance to learn a lot from him, too. What started as a private favour turned out to be my destiny and after 6 months of classes my new American friend established a language institute in Delhi. I worked there for more than 6 years but in 2008 decided that it would be time for a change. We all want to grow and we all look out for new challenges so I began working on an independent basis. Throughout those years I always aimed to become better in what I do and as your own boss you have more freedom to try out different methods, techniques or psychological incentives.

© Knowledge Must 2010
KM: You are a Hindustani teacher since 8 years now. What are the experiences you would like to share with us?

Shammi Ji: Before I taught my first student I had many prejudices towards certain aspects of foreign cultures and videshis (foreigners) in general. Most of the generalisations about outsiders come from Bollywood cinema, the media or the society as a whole. From the first day, I started to work with people who left their own country I realised that all these stereotypes are mostly wrong and until today I think that learning from each other is probably the most enriching aspect of my profession. We might have different cultural heritages and habits but there is so much more that we share. We have the same problems and often are united in our emotions. A lot of my students arrive in India all alone. Everybody needs a friend or a person you can trust when you are far away from the people close to you. My job goes far beyond my teaching assignment. My Hindi classes involve a lot of cultural input as my students often share the curiosities they come across in their daily lives, talk about the typical culture shock in India, and other difficulties they face. As Indians we should not expect that cultural fluency comes to foreigners within their first day in India. As a host to people coming to live in our country it also takes our assistance and guidance to overcome the manifold obstacles. Over the years I learned that these different situations my students often have to struggle with make it very important to be more than a teacher to them. With the time you develop friendships to many of the people you get to know and despite difficulties in every individual’s life the beautiful experiences with one another result in memories that none of us forgets.

KM: It seems that you very much appreciate to get in touch with multiple cultures, enjoy to impart knowledge to your students and to be with them even outside the classroom. What makes it so interesting to you to pass on the key to cultural immersion in the form of language training?

Shammi Ji: In my classes I come across the great human diversity our planet harbours. Usually there are students from different regions in the world and even India who attend the classes at Language Must. It happens that I have American, Asian, European and Indian students in one and the same group. It’s very important to develop sensitivity towards the diverse religious denominations, social habits and world views. Each group of students has its own dynamic; some students are shy while others tend to overpower their classmates. A teacher should be aware of those behavioural patterns to find the balance between different characteristics and cultures. Japanese people for example often are very cautious and calm. It’s not in their culture to act very dominant towards strangers, I feel. European or American students ask a lot of question, have a very critical mind and are used to very different teaching methods. In their educational systems they are encouraged to be inquisitive. I always aim to find a balance, and respect and control these kinds of dynamics. As a teacher you should adjust to your students and always be flexible in terms of teaching techniques and methodologies. A Korean student I taught never really learned the English grammar and his knowledge of the language was also not very profound. I simply couldn’t teach him the perfective tenses or passive constructions the way I was used to because he never heard about them before. I then included images, simple short films, music and some of his hobbies, into my teaching. After three months he spoke far better Hindustani than many others before him and had an unforgettable time in India. When he left it was very emotional to say goodbye to each other. He felt very helpless after his arrival but within three months he managed to develop great confidence, feel very secure and solve the daily problems all by himself. He developed an own network that he maintains until today. He still writes me letters in Hindi.

© Knowledge Must 2010
KM: You were born in Delhi and spent your life in this fantastic city. What are your observations regarding the number of people who are interested to study Hindustani language? Are the students today different compared to the ones you met when you started your job or has the motivation to study Hindustani somehow changed?

Shammi Ji: Oh yes, pakka (for sure)! Back in the days most of my students were social workers, missionaries, volunteers or sometimes employed with a foreign institution. Today students come from all sorts of professional backgrounds, work as interns, do a study abroad programme or are send on a job assignment in India. It’s a whole fleet of Hindustani students which clearly is a reflection of these exciting changes happening in our country now. Work experience in India will add up to your professional career. I had many students who were offered new jobs while working in India because they spoke very fluent Hindustani after they studied it for a longer period. Language and cultural fluency definitely is a decisive asset in your CV and gives you the ability to be the interface between your own and the Indian culture. For everybody who wants to reach out to the masses that do not speak English, an entrepreneur who wants to run a successful business or a researcher going to the field, Hindustani is a must! As an employer who runs an organisation or business in India, knowledge of the popular culture, people’s faith and traditional values will lead to a better understanding with your Indian workers and contributes to the growth of any organisation. Hindustani is a beautiful language and it’s not a punishment to study it. I always tell my students that it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to study foreign languages and a real joy once you are able to put your message across and communicate with your hosts. In a place like Bangalore where people come from all over the country to work, the lingua franca is Hindustani even if the local language is Kannada. The same is true for many other cities outside of the Hindustani-speaking regions, such as Hyderabad and Mumbai. What often unites the communities with each other is spoken Hindustani. India’s biggest companies also advertise their products with Hindustani slogans because they are understood by the common man.

KM: What other benefits about learning Hindustani should be highlighted?

Shammi Ji: The benefit goes far beyond getting cheaper prices or reaching professional success. Just a small knowledge of Hindustani will enable you to build up relationships with people of any economic or social background. If you approach people in India in their own language they will be much honoured as they feel that you have interest in their culture and country. I once had a student from the UK who contested for local elections in an area with a large percentage of people with Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. He specially came to India as he wanted to show his support for their concerns and give them a more influential voice in his constituency. He called on the night of the elections and told me that he had won them. Speaking in Hindustani he said Shammi Ji ‘Hum log jit gaye, kaam abhi shuru ho jaega’ which means ‘We won the elections, now the work will start’. I think he managed better than his competitors to reach out to the people, understand their feelings and become closer to them. One of the most powerful people in our country Sonia Gandhi also only earned the respect of the people after she learned Hindustani. Sadly it wasn’t me who taught her but we Indians know that Congress would not have won the last two elections without that commitment she made. It doesn’t mean that Sonia will be re-elected anyway if she not proofs our trust (laughs). I can also put it very simple: with Hindustani most of the doors that often seem to be closed to outsiders will open up in front of you. With the right rishta (contacts) and Hindustani you can even become a political leader which would not be my first advice, really (smiles). Yesterday another student told me that he spent a whole day at the Sufi shrine in Nizamuddin, meeting the Khadims, babas and worshippers around the shrine. In a single day he tasted some of the finest Indian sweets, most delicious kebabs, met the religious community, learned the insights of mystical Islam and made friends with children, parents and community leaders.

KM: It sounds very fascinating what you have experienced while meeting people from all over the world. How can people get in touch with if they are interested to study Hindustani with you?

Shammi Ji: Just write an email to courses@language-must.com. Classes can be arranged according to each individual’s or organisation’s convenience. I do classes at our institute, in a beautiful park, at people’s private residence or at their working place. Hindustani is my passion and I hope it will become the one of others, too.

KM: You have delighted us with your comments and answers. Thank you for sharing your emotions and experiences with us. We hope you will teach many more students in the future and will talk to us soon again.

Interested in learning Hindi during your stay in New Delhi? Call Language Must now: +91-(0) 11 2649 1817 or visit our website.

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