It’s not unusual for someone, upon meeting Varun, to say they know how to say something in Hindi. After a “Namaste” or “Shokria”, the conversation quickly switches to English. Varun is a good sport about it, laughing, encouraging practice and always eager to ask where people have been in India.
This weekend, we were at a Christian Missions conference. As we were chatting with a friend, a short, elderly gentleman approached us. We were introduced and told, “Stephen speaks Hindi”. Varun and I smiled at each other. The man before us looked scholarly, he held scrolls and books and wore spectacles. He wore a star of David pin and had a Hebrew pin on his blazer. I think we both doubted he would speak much Hindi.
And then he began speaking.
Our eyes bugged out of our heads as this kindly gentleman began speaking quickly in Hindi. Here’s what I heard*.
Stephen: Hello brother, how are you?
Varun: Good. How are you?
Stephen: Good. (something….) India….wife….years….
Varun: (smiles. Nods. looks mildly astonished)
Stephen: Where are you from in India?
Varun: New Delhi
Stephen: How long have you lived in Canada?
Stephen: 8 years.
KG: It is too cold here! Right? (Turns to me) Do you speak Hindi?
Me: A little.
Someone approached Stephen to whisk him away as he was, unbeknownst to us, the plenary speaker for the evening. As he was leaving, he gave us the nicest smile and promised to return. Our friend explained that the Stephen was a scholar and knew 12 languages. TWELVE languages!
Varun and I spent a good part of the car ride home giggling about how shocked we were when Stephen began to speak Hindi. We also noted how quick we are to make guesses and judgments about people. It turns out his wife was raised in India by missionary parents and they had lived their together for a few years. His Hindi was fantastic. And inspiring.
I have been trying to learn Hindi. We’ve tried speaking it at home. I’ve taken lessons. And it’s all been good, really good. I know way more than I did even two years ago. But it’s fallen seriously by the wayside. Meeting this gentleman this weekend rekindled in me a desire to forge ahead in Hindi. After we move and the dust settles, I’m going to need to get serious about this. Who knows, maybe one of our new neighbors can teach me Hindi!
* (Let’s be honest, between the language confusion and it being 3 days ago, this conversation is something like what I heard)