Bengali

Back in Delhi

See Previous Date: 2nd January, 2006 Place: Kolkata

Happy New YearThe 1st was a day for travel. We had breakfast and checked out, then took the taxi to kasba (the guy tried it on by overcharging, but was refreshingly upfront about it saying "I'm requesting a little more..." - he had been very helpful, and he hadn't tried to rip us off so he got the extra).

Me, Monica's Mum, Barnali, Kalpona, Anupam ShejomashiMonica and her MumWe ate lunch at the flat, and lots of photos were taken.

The farewell was quite tearful, and as we left I said 'abar daka hobay', meaning 'we'll meet again'. This caused everyone to smile and cheer, mostly at my Bengali!

Anupam came to the station with us, seeing us safely onto the Rajdhani express. Again, we travelled first class here (and it's well worth it on such a long journey).

The journey was overnight, and they looked after us on the train, with linen, meals and so forth.

We stayed at the same hotel in Delhi as before, the Hotel Ajanta, and knew exactly where we were headed, so on arrival we walked purposely, ignoring the calls of 'Auto, sir?' and 'Taxi, sir?'

We arrived in short order, it's very close to the station - that was one of the reasons we chose it!

At the hotel, we hired a car for the day to take us around Delhi. As we were going around New Delhi too, it cost a little more - the sum of 600Rs, about 7 quid. Bargain.

The Red Fort in DelhiThe Jain Temple at the end of Chadni Chowk, opposite the Red FortWe started by going to the Red Fort. We weren't able to go in previously as it was late, this time it was Monday, it's closed on Monday. Still, we wanted a daylight visit. A good vantage point is at the end of Chadni Chowk and there is an interesting looking Jain Temple there too.

From there we went to Raj Ghat.

The site of Mahatma Ghandi's CremationThis was the place where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated. There are quotations all around the place in various languages, There are Ghandi quotes in Hindi, Urdu, Gujurati, Spanish, English, Zuli, Telugu and others, but no Bengali (that we could see). There were some works going on, so maybe the Bengali has yet to appear.

Humayun's TombInside Humayun's TombMonica on the wall surrounding Isa Khan's TombWe then went to Humayan's tomb, probably one of Delhi's best kept secrets. This is a huge complex, and it had very few visitors on the day we went. The tomb pre-dates the Taj Mahal, and one can see the architectural connection. It's essentially a sandstone Taj. The place isn't just the main tomb, there are outbuildings, each one is a fine piece of architecture in it's own right.

Isa Khan's TombIn some places, the walls can be explored, though this is a little hairy.

It's a great place to visit, though at one point tour guides did try to thrust themselves upon us, which I didn't appreciate - though Monica did listen to what one bloke had to say.

Humayun's tomb is much more peaceful than the Taj due to there being fewer people, although it doesn't quite have the same magic the Taj has, probably due to the marble the Taj Mahal is made from.

India GateShri Lakshmi Narayan Temple in DelhiFrom here, we went to India Gate, it may look just like the Arc de Triomphe or Marble Arch, but the thing is huge. As it's at the end of the Raj path, it needs to be big to be clearly visible from the President's estate and government buildings!

New Delhi (as opposed to Old Delhi) is a planned city, built symmetrically about the Raj Path.

At the suggestion of our driver, we went to the Shri Lakshna Narayan Temple, this was very beautiful, with Swastikas everywhere (the Swastika was appropriated by the Nazis, but is actually a much older symbol ). It's not possible to take photos inside the temple without causing offence and being ejected, so all I have to show you, dear reader, is a shot taken from the road outside.

The place is phenomenal, shrines to various Hindu Deities, enscriptions on the walls, and so forth.

As we left, a rather persistant chap tried to sell us all kinds of stuff. He simply wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, following us down the street and through the underpass (the car was waiting on the far side). He was really very annoying, and started to make me quite angry. His prices dropped phenomenally, he was soon asking for a third of his original price, effectively saying 'I just tried to rip you off massively'. I don't like that - if he had asked for the real price in the first place, he may have got a sale, but harrassing us like that made me want to hit him!

In the temple itself we bought a couple of items, I got a pencil tidy for my desk at work, and Monica got some earrings.

We finished the day by visiting the Cottage Industries Emporium. This was the usual sort of affair, textiles, jewellery and so forth.

I got a light scarf which should be good for the winter (50% silk, 50% pashmina) - though it was hard to find one that wasn't too over the top for my male European tastes. The colour isn't ideal, but it's not bad at all - it cost only 350Rs (about 4 quid). We looked at a few other bits and pieces, Monica spent some time looking at some handpainted pictures, but didn't buy any.

We went back to the hotel, eating at the Hotel Ajanta. To start, we each had Masala Papad (popadoms topped with spicy vegetables). Monica had a spicy soup and chow mein, I had seekh kebab with paneer parantha. We had a desert too. The whole lot, including a tip for the waiter and three bottles of water was 350Rs!

A note about water in India, be sure to check the seals of bottles when you buy - and don't buy bottles that look a bit battered. Also, when you're finished, crush the bottle. There is a mini-industry of people who collect old waterbottles and fill them from a tap of dubious quality.

Traffic in DelhiThe next day we would take a car to the airport and fly back to the UK. I took my chadoor on the flight, as it packed quite small, suitable for hand luggage, and would both be a nice blanket if I wanted to sleep, as well as being warm when I got off the plane in January in the UK.

Common Languages

I've just found a list at this site which lists the most common languages in the world by native speaker. The top 10 are:

rank native speakers code name country of origin continent
1 885000000 CHN CHINESE, MANDARIN China Asia
2 450000000 ENG ENGLISH United Kingdom Europe
3 266000000 SPN SPANISH Spain Europe
4 182000000 HND HINDI India Asia
5 175000000 POR PORTUGUESE Portugal Europe
6 168000000 BNG BENGALI Bangladesh (and West Bengal, India) Asia
7 160000000 RUS RUSSIAN Russia Europe/Asia
8 126000000 JPN JAPANESE Japan Asia
9 122000000 FRN FRENCH France Eur
10 118000000 GER GERMAN, STANDARD Germany Eur

It is quite surprising to me that Dutch fairs as badly as it does (45th on this list), given Dutch maritime history and the trade routes they established. I know Dutch isn't a big international language today, so it's not surprising that it fairs so badly - what's surprising is that Dutch hasn't had more of an impact than it did.

Back to the point, if there is indeed a point. When I see data such as this, it makes me marvel that the most common language taught in UK schools is French, with German and Spanish coming up the rear. Granted, there are good historical reasons for this, and these countries are our nearest big neighbours - but for a child living in, say, Manchester, is much more likely to hear Hindi than French.

If a European language is desired, then why not Portuguese, German, Spanish or Italian? When in Edinburgh the difference between France and Italy is negligable in terms of distance! I've seen Spanish and German taught in schools, not Italian though - or Portuguese!

What about the non European languages? I know from experience that it is quite hard to find someone who can teach বাংলা (Bangla/Bengali) where I live, and it is the sixth most common language in the world! More than this, it's the language from the Calcutta region, where the East India company was based - and hence we have a fairly large number of Bangla speakers in the UK. It's rare to see Japanese being taught, or Russian.

Looking more broadly, surely with China becoming more important on the world stage, the UK could probably benefit from having Mandarin speakers. We could also use speakers of Hindi (though for historical reasons, English is a de facto language in India). Of course, we do already have Hindi speakers, Gujurati speakers and so forth, but we should not rely long term upon 'home learning'. I have little doubt that we could also use Arabic speakers in the current political climate.

Fundamentally, native English speakers are quite lazy linguistically due to the predominance of English - arising from an Imperial past. Couple this with the fact that in the UK as we are an island, and so we don't have the easy movement of peoples across borders as happens in places like Belgium - one simply isn't exposed to languages.

There are similar issues elsewhere. In the US the country is large and quite insular (there are lots of places to see at home, why go abroad?). With the exception of Spanish (and also French in Canada) one must leave the continent to get a reasonable mix of languages (with the exception of certain areas within some big cities). Australia is in a similar position.

Given that we share a long border; I'd like to see Welsh or Gaelic being offered in England, especially along the border. I won't hold my breath for this happening in any sizable way, though - the main reason being a lack of teachers, and a lack of demand! Many people simply don't get the urge to learn a language until later in life.

Combine all these factors lack of exposure with the late start people get in foreign languages in the UK (usually aged 11) and we end up with a nation of essentially monolingual people.

A crying shame - it would be wonderful to be fluent in another tongue, and the best way to fluency is an early exposure.

I'm sick of being functionally monolingual. This is why I'm taking steps to do something about it. I'd like to learn বাংলা (Bangla/Bengali), but for now am learning French (boringly). Given what I've said above, why French? Essentially for me it is easier. I live in easy reach of the ferry and like to pop over for day trips. I do have a smattering of schoolboy French, and hopefully this will give me a head start.

The course starts in earnest within about a week. I hope I can maintain my focus and get myself to a reasonable level. Wish me luck - and don't be surprised if I try the occasional post in French at some point.