A S̶o̶u̶t̶h̶ Indian in a college in S̶o̶u̶t̶h̶ India….
This piece has been written by Chetan R (Batch of 2024). The cover image has been created by Akshit Singla (Batch of 2024). This article is a part of our ‘Language Week’ series. You can read the other piece in the ‘Language Week’ series here.
There’s often been a feeling amongst native North Indians that they wouldn’t be able to live in South India, and I guess the same holds true for natives from the South about living in North India as well. While the reasons for this may vary from person to person, language is definitely one of the most prominent reasons for the same. I’m sure everyone who’s not from Bangalore must have experienced some amount of difficulty while settling down in NLS, where the language and culture is completely different from those in their home states. You might have had thoughts like, “How will I be able to stay here?”, “Will not knowing Kannada end up being a huge problem for me?”. However, that is not what this piece is about. On the contrary, it’s about a Bangalorean (specifically, a Kannadiga) who comes to a college in Bangalore and unexpectedly ends up experiencing all the above emotions, doubt, and much more!
I hope you all haven’t forgotten the joy and elation you felt when you saw your name in the provisional allotment list in June; and when you came to campus for the first time, saw the different buildings and realised that you’ve finally come to your dream college! The joy you felt when you climbed the podium in the Exam Hall to introduce yourself, before our highly regarded, most honourable former Vice-Chancellor Shri Shri Shri Venkata Rao.  This was exactly how I felt when my parents dropped me off here, and drove back to my home which is about 2 hours away. Although I was slightly scared and awkward, the excitement of meeting new people, and living in a hostel with them – without my parents around – far outweighed the fear.
Most of my batchmates had already settled down in their rooms, so while I was setting up my room, they had already begun socialising with each other. When I finished setting up and decided to meet the rest of my Himalaya batchmates, I found that they were all hoarded up in the Himalaya TV Room watching the cricket world cup (the good old days when more than 4 people used to gather in the TV room!). I didn’t quite pay attention to what everyone was talking about – I was more worried about not creating a first impression of a guy who tripped over his own feet and fell down in front of everyone. Eventually, I found a space in a corner and awkwardly sat down. It was only then that I actually began to process what everyone was saying, what they were talking about, in what language they were actually speaking.
You know that one moment in your life, where the only thing on your mind is, “Oh, shit, shit SHIT!” and absolutely nothing else? This was my exact reaction at that time, because in ten minutes in that room, a lot of things were happening. The cricket match was going on and there were a few fours and sixes being hit by the batsmen, a few players got out, and new ones took their place. This was nothing new – it was cricket after all. What was more jarring was the reaction of my fellow batchmates to this match – people were shouting, “abe, volume zyada kar”, “kya six mara hai!”, “yaar, yeh yorker kyun nhi daal rha hai”, “arey, ********, out hogya!”.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t know Hindi at all. But the fact was that the only languages I had ever conversed in, up until that point, were English and Kannada. I had learnt Hindi in school, but only as my third language until 5th grade. So my Hindi was pretty bad. Also, since I hadn’t travelled anywhere in India north of Karnataka, I had never seen so many people speak in Hindi at the same time. All in all, this was pretty shocking to me.
It was at this precise moment that I started questioning my choice to stay on campus. While I initially thought that staying on campus might be easy because I was a Bangalorean, it was appearing to be a much more challenging experience. I began seriously doubting whether I would be able to mingle with the others from my batch, as everyone around me was conversing only in fluent Hindi. On one hand, I was able to understand the things people were saying, and some people even talked to me in English to make me feel comfortable. However, it was still awkward. I felt quite intimidated and insecure about my inability to speak fluent Hindi. Every conversation I was a part of, I sort of felt left out, like an outsider. Sometimes in a conversation where someone would talk to me in extremely fast Hindi and where after catching the gist of it I replied in English, there was always this lingering awkwardness. Once this happened a few times, some people stopped talking directly to me. This feeling that I didn’t know Hindi as well as others made me feel like I didn’t belong here. Despite being in a college in Bangalore – my own city – I felt like I had landed in some place in North India.
I guess this shock stemmed more from the fact that I had not anticipated this sort of environment at NLS. I wasn’t aware that every year, it was a majority of Hindi-speaking students who got into NLS. Being cocooned in one city, I failed to realise that there was much more to India than just Bangalore and that NLS being a national university, would obviously get more Hindi-speaking students. I had this notion that my college life would be the same as my school life, and I wasn’t prepared for this deluge of Hindi.
But thankfully, this shock didn’t last long. The absolutely incredible and interesting ‘Personal Interaction’ with our seniors, and the extremely engaging and inspirational questions they asked us eventually got me over this shock. These interactions were so good that they actually got me to start talking to others, so that we could discuss the immense amount of wisdom and wit our seniors possessed. This was sort of the ice breaker that I had needed. After some time, my friends stopped making the effort to change to English while talking to me, and I started replying in a weird combination of Hindi and English as well. I don’t know whether they deliberately did this, or whether they were just too lazy to change their language mid-conversation, but whatever it was, it helped me greatly overcome my fear of not speaking fluent Hindi. Sure, there was the occasional confusion in assigning the correct gender to certain objects, and a slight accent which made people cringe or laugh, but I didn’t care anymore. Some still continued to talk to me in English but I always made an effort to speak in Hindi no matter how awkward my word selection and sentence formation was (looking back now, even I cringe at how bad my word selection was!).
Slowly but surely, the initial intimidation and awkwardness faded away and I became one amongst our batch. And I was not the only one. A number of people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds slowly merged into one unified batch. These differences didn’t stop us from gathering in the field, jamming in the Air Book Café, or going to the Himalaya terrace to burn some greens and drink some juice (if you know what I mean ;).
Surprisingly, Hindi managed to grow on me! From the basic phrases to a number of different gaalis, my knowledge of Hindi only became better with time. I even got hooked onto shayaris (have a long way to go here, but I’m still learning!). Before I knew it, my Hindi had improved so much that some even doubted that I was not a North Indian! Heck, some have even told me that I sometimes sound like a Delhi guy when I swear (I think they meant it as an insult or a sarcastic comment, but to me, frankly, it was a compliment!). In return, I have taught some of these guys a few words and phrases in Kannada (no, not just the phrase “Kannada gothilla”). While I cannot say that we both improved at the same pace, there has been progress, and I’m hopeful that by the end of 5 years, I will be able to teach at least one person some decent Kannada if they want to settle down in Bangalore!
 [Kids, this is exactly how you should refer to this God of a man. Also, reflecting on this time now, it really seemed like we were getting our mugshots taken, before an imprisonment!]