Getting Lost in Translation

There is nothing like the anticipation that builds up in the pre monsoon season in India.

The arrival or failure of the monsoon can mean the difference between life and death, whether real or imagined.


I have lost count of the number of seasons I have lingered in Rajasthan, waiting for rain until the desire for it fills your every waking minute. The mewls of the peacocks will either signal the approach of rain or their desire for it. The heat of the day will indicate that rain is imminent, but everything is relative in such calculations, if today is hotter than yesterday then sure it will rain today unless of course it doesn’t which means tomorrow will be even hotter and then possibly for sure rain will come.

There is nothing scientific about these calculations, if it doesn’t rain its going to get hotter and then eventually one day somehow it will rain and then we will be cool for the time that it takes for some errant cloud to drop its load and then it will get even hotter and more humid.


In fact over the last ten years the rains have increasingly failed here in Pushkar. Reasons such as deforestation, illegal mining and global warming all contribute to the pain of a rain that has failed, but the average Rajasthani doesn’t appear too concerned about the reasoning, they just want it to rain and soon!

So do I but in the meantime I have been sitting in a lot of Time Pass positions all over town in states of semi collapse listening to a lot of the kind of conversations that occur during these sessions.

I keep planning to improve my Hindi so that I actually speak it one day in a real conversation. What I have is enough to communicate whilst shopping or moving around, the basic simple and answer questions that occur in India (Where from, where is your husband, how old are you, what is your religion and or profession and how much money do you have in the bank?) But it’s not enough to be able to fully express myself in which leads to frustration at times.


My Hindi has been picked up along the way, mostly during my time living with the holy men of India. Sadhus come from all over India, from all kinds of homes and educations (or lack of) with differing dialects to which they added a sprinkling of Sanskrit and a lot of swearwords. So my swearing is beyond par, my Sanskrit surprising and my Hindi as rough as a barrel full of rocks.

My more educated Indian friends plead with me to speak “English for Gods sakes yaar, not this Baba Bolo!” so I use my Hindi mostly in terribly subversive ways.

I pull it out to impress rickshaw wallahs into giving me a fair price, to plead with Babas for a blessing, or to defend my self.

It’s more of a surprise attack than an integral use of the language. I save it up and spit it out at moments when I think it will assist me or save me time or make me friends, mutter place names in the back of a cab so my pronunciation is at least understandable if not correct, try not to feel put out when I speak in Hindi and people still think I am speaking in English and indulge in insane conversations with people just for the hell of it.


A toothless old woman one day asked me a series of question I was able to answer until we came to the inevitable hurdle of a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary.


SHE: Namaste (Hello)

ME: Namaste Mata Ram (Hello Mother of God)

SHE: Where from?
ME: From New Zealand

SHE: Ah! Switzerland from?

ME: Nod and agree.

SHE: What is your good name?

ME: My name is Diana (I compromised with my name years ago when people refused to use it as the word sounds very close to a local word for witch)

SHE: China?

ME: Diana.

SHE: Ah China.

ME: Yes China from Switzerland.

SHE: Where is your husband?

ME: He is dead

SHE: What religion are you?

ME: Maori

SHE: (To her grandchild sitting nearby and acting as translator and chaperone and to the rest of the family gathering around) A China from Switzerland practising Maori religion.

ME: Nod and agree again. Yep, not too many of us Chinese living in Switzerland with a religion called Maori.

SHE: How many children you?
ME: Two and four grandchildren

SHE: Two sons? Very good.

A stream of a local dialect follows and I assume she is telling me about her family, ending by asking me a question I don’t understand.

ME: I don’t understand.

She says the question again, this time louder. Her grandchild repeats it at ninety-five decibels. Others around take up the question shouting it until my eardrums reverberate. But it’s no use, shouting a word I don’t understand is hardly illuminating.

Giving up I shake my head until my ears pop. I wonder if my hearing will recover.

ME: Nay samaste Mata Ram (which is a mangled way of saying I don’t understand) Samaste also rhymes with Namaste. She naturally picks up on this thin thread of our international dialogue, and knits the dropped stitches back into a conversation.


Namaste! She says.

Like a goldfish that has gone one time around the bowl and forgotten everything she begins our conversation again.


Where from?

My name is China from Switzerland, Mata Ram.




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