Hindi Language Blog

Learning Hindi through a Dangerously Addictive Show Posted by on Sep 12, 2016 in Hindi Language

नमस्ते सब लोग (Greetings, everyone)! मेरा नाम रेचल है (My name is Rachael). आजकल (these days), I’m a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and I study modern Hindi-Urdu and Bengali literature. I became enamored with Hindi and Indian culture when I was 13 through watching Hindi films. Of course, I watched plenty of Bollywood, but I also found Hindi (and Indian in general) art cinema to be incredibly compelling. I hope to discuss this wonderful world of Hindi film more with you all in the coming weeks!

Lagaan (लगान) was the first Hindi film that made an indelible impression on me. This film takes place during the British colonial rule of India under Queen Victoria (a.k.a. the British Raj). “Lagaan” refers to the tax or rent on land, usually paid through farmers’ surplus crops, that was due to the colonial rulers at regular intervals.

Indian Summers is a great Raj-era show that is now returning for its second season on Masterpiece Theatre. This show is sure to slake the thirst of any Indophile (lover of all things Indian) or Downton Abbey fan who is in desperate need of some lush period drama. And, if you’re new to the Hindi scene, Indian Summers is an excellent way to dip your feet in. You can watch this show on your local PBS channel or online. Let’s look at some interesting Hindi words and phrases featured in this show’s first season:

चमचा, A yes-man/woman, flatterer

One of the main characters, Aafrin, and his sister are arguing about his promotion within the Indian civil service (that is, working directly under the British rulers) during an intense bickering match between siblings that most of us know so well. His sister, Sooni, who believes that India should be free of the British yoke, calls him a “चमचा.” This word literally means a “large spoon or ladle” but also has the negative connotation of a flatterer. In addition, this slang word is also related to the more standard word for a(n) (ordinary-sized) spoon: चम्मच. Here it is in a sentence:

सूनी अपने भाई को “चमचा” कहती है क्योंकि वह नाराज़ है कि उसका भाई अँग्रेज़ों के सामने चापलूसी (flattery) करता है ।

(Sooni calls her brother a “chamcha” because she is angry that her brother flatters the English/behaves in a flattering way before the English).

इंक़िलाब ज़िन्दाबाद, Long Live the Revolution!  

The show starts off very dramatically as Sooni is almost caught painting this slogan on a portrait of Queen Victoria that is hanging in a high-level British official’s luxurious bungalow. इंक़िलाब (or इनक़लाब) comes from Arabic and can mean a “transformation or revolution.” Another word for “revolution” in Hindi is क्रांति, which comes from Sanskrit. Lastly, ज़िन्दाबाद is a very useful word as it can be used in virtually any slogan you would wish to chant! See how these words can be used in a sentence:

एक दिन सूनी ने Queen Victoria के चित्र पर लाल पेंट से “इंक़िलाब ज़िन्दाबाद” रंग लगाया (paint); लेकिन, जब कुछ लोगों ने यह नारा (slogan) देखा, उन्हें वह अजीब लगा क्योंकि उनके ख़्याल से (in their opinion) “क्रांति” ज़्यादा आम शब्द है ।

(One day, Sooni painted “Inkilab Zindabad” on a picture of Queen Victoria with red paint; but, when some people saw this slogan, they found it odd because, in their opinion, “kranti” was a more common word).

राक्षस vs. शैतान, demon, devil

Another dramatic moment in the show occurs when the private secretary to the Viceroy (the head honcho’s right hand man) is almost shot by a man who seems to be involved in the Independence Movement. The shooter calls the private secretary “राक्षस” or demon, which is a term used often in the renowned Hindu epic, the Ramayana (रामायण), to refer to the main villain (who is a king) and his subjects. Another, more common, word for a demonic or devilish person is शैतान. See how these words can be used in a sentence:

आदमी जो अँग्रेज़ को गोली मार दी (shoot), वह उससे पहले उसको “राक्षस” चिल्ला दिया था (to shout/scream) अँग्रेज़ को लगा कि वास्तव में (in fact) उसी आदमी के सिर पर शैतान चढ़ गया (for the devil to get into one’s head, to be possessed)!

The man who shot the Englishman had, before this, shouted “rakhsas” at him. To the Englishman it seemed that, in fact, the devil had possessed that man alone (the shooter)!

I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog! I can’t wait to discuss a new topic with you next week 🙂

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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


  1. Shawn Dreelin:

    I too have been learning Hindi before this show came on and found it great that I could translate the parts that are spoken in Hindi. Especially since they don’t put up subtitles! The show really is addictive and I can’t wait for season 2 to start.

    • Rachael:

      @Shawn Dreelin Hi Shawn! Thank you for your comment. It’s great that you are able to appreciate an added layer of the show because of your knowledge of Hindi; and the issue of subtitles is, as you mentioned, a bit of a head-scratcher. They actually aired the first episode last night (Sunday), so you can watch it online today! Let me know if there are any other topics you would like to read about on this blog in future 🙂

  2. frédéric:

    I’m also addict in hindustani language ( following Lala Lajpatrai expression) and appreciate a lot your HL Blog I’m just discovering. Your actual show introduces us not only in understanding the language but also the culture. Concerning the bindings between urdu and hindi I would like to quote, from LALA LAJPATRAI’s book “YOGIRAJ SRIKRISHNA” written in 1900, the following sentence.: उर्दु में से फारसी व अरबी के शब्द निकल दिये जाएं तो शुद्ध हिन्दी रह जाती है. (प्रस्तावना 32). “Lagan” is very instructive on the struggle for freedom, there is also “A train to Pakistan” that describes the painful implications of the Radcliff line. Hello and many thanks.

    • Rachael:

      @frédéric Hi Frédéric! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your sentiment regarding “Hindustani”; in relation to the Indian Independence Movement, Gandhi as well as the famous Hindi-Urdu author Premchand (to name just a few) supported “Hindustani” as the national language of independent India. Although this was not to be, we can still contemplate these two men’s admirable desire to unite people rather than divide them (although, unfortunately, this still excludes South Indian languages). Lastly, in my opinion, one of Hindi’s (or Hindustani’s) greatest strengths lies in its “खिचड़ी/मिली हुई/मिश्रित” nature; it is adaptable, it is accommodating and it is cosmopolitan in its borrowing of words and phrases from other languages 🙂

  3. D Sridharan:

    wonderful i am south indian @ the age of 66 want to learn Hinidi, I am now in the process, I find this very useful. I forget not the author who is from a differnt hemisphere keen in mastering our native language
    good job Rachael

    • Rachael:

      @D Sridharan Hello! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog so far, and it’s great that you’ve decided to learn Hindi! I hope you continue to find the blog useful as you’re in the processing of discovering this language 🙂