Hindi on the Hudson


Sometimes my son asks in English: “Baba, what does duniya mean?” It means the world, beta, the world that I have lost. The world of Hindi: Amitava Kumar remembers his lost world of Hindi

Amitava_KumarMy son, who was born here in New York four years ago, doesn’t speak Hindi—but I have taught him the first few lines of the Kishore Kumar song Hum to Mohabbat Karega, Duniya Se Nahin Darega.

I have often explained to him the meaning of the words, but sometimes he asks in English: “Baba, what does duniya mean?”

It means the world, beta, the world that I have lost. The world of Hindi.

I have recorded my son singing the song and played it on WhatsApp for my sisters who haven’t seen him for a very long time. I think they would be amused if they also heard him say, when I’m putting him to sleep, “Chuppchaap so jaao.”

I have been living in the US now for most of my adult life. I kept count as the years that I had been away from India began to pass. But after fourteen years, I stopped counting. Exile had now turned to something more permanent.

The loss of my mother tongue is one of the consequences of this loss of home.

My Hindi is now like an old Ambassador car. It can still cover distances, but the speed isn’t there. This old car of mine, even when it is working, makes a lot of unnecessary noise.

And the smoke!

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