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This week, let’s return to where we left off last time with Mahadevi Varma’s (महादेवी वर्मा) short story “भाभी/Bhaabi” (“Sister-in-Law”), from her collection of memoirs entitled अतीत के चलचित्र/Ateet ke Chalchitra (Glimpses of the Past). If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you can do so here. Even if your priorities in learning Hindi do not include mastering reading and writing, it is still important to have at least a basic level of reading comprehension (as well as writing ability) and a general knowledge of Hindi literature. Firstly, learning these concepts can be fun and interesting. Secondly, in order to learn a language, even at a beginner or intermediate level, one must learn a little bit about that language’s culture, which includes literature, and thereby develop respect and appreciation for this language’s ways of conveying information, which are often vastly different from those of your native language.
In terms of reading comprehension, when you are beginning to read in Hindi, it is often helpful to consult children’s books and other basic texts (such as those found in Hindi grammar books or autodidactic guides). When you are reading a passage, try to make sense of it on your own, without looking up words in a dictionary or remaining stuck for too long on a particular word or phrase that you do not understand. Once you’ve completed a paragraph, let’s say, you can then try to summarize mentally what you’ve just read and make sense of it, even without knowing what certain words and phrases mean. Then, you can look up the words you didn’t know in a dictionary. You’ll find that, despite not knowing what certain words and phrases mean, you can make sense of a passage to a great extent based mostly or solely on context. This attitude and method will encourage you to keep reading rather than constantly slowing yourself down with a dictionary and thus becoming easily discouraged. After you read a particular passage and look up words you didn’t know, you can make flashcards for the words that you think will be most useful to you using a Flashcard app on your phone and/or computer software. Gradually, you’ll be able to tackle more difficult reading material, including short stories, novels and poetry that may not be in the modern or standard vernacular but will be much more rewarding to read.
Now, try to read only the Hindi portions of the following passage, paying attention to the words I’ve provided in parentheses (I’ve made this one easy for you) and making sense of each paragraph. Then, answer the reading comprehension questions at the bottom (again, without looking at the English translation). After answering the comprehension questions, you can read the English sections to see if you were correct in your assumptions.
बचपन का वह मिशन स्कूल मुझे अब तक स्मरण है, जहाँ प्रार्थना और पाठ्यक्रम (syllabus) की एकरसता (monotonousness) से मैं इतनी रुआँसी (tearful) हो जाती थी कि प्रतिदिन घर लौटकर नींद से बेसुध (unconscious) होने तक सबेरे स्कूल न जाने का बहाना सोचने से ही अवकाश न मिलता था ।
उन दिनों मेरी ईर्ष्या का मुख्य विषय नौकरानी की लड़की थी, जिसे चौका-बर्तन (dishes) करके घर में रहने को तो मिल जाता था । जिस कठोर ईश्वर ने मेरे भाग्य में नित्य स्कूल जाना लिख दिया था, वह माँ के ठाकुर जी (deity) में से कोई है या मिशन की सिस्टर का ईसू, यह निश्चय (ascertain, decide) न कर सकने के कारण मेरा मन विचित्र (peculiar) दुविधा (dilemma) में पड़ा रहता था । यदि वह माँ के ठाकुरजी में से है, तो आरती पूजा से जी चुराते (steal one’s heart) ही क्रुद्ध (angry, fierce) होकर मेरे घर रहने का समय और कम कर देगा और यदि स्कूल में है, तो बहाना बनाकर न जाने से पढ़ाई के घंटे और बढ़ा देगा, इसी उधेड़-बुन (perplexity, unpicking and reweaving) में मेरा मन पूजा, आरती, प्रार्थना सब में भटकता (wander) ही रहता था ।
इस अन्धकार में प्रकाश की एक रेखा भी थी । स्कूल निकट होने के कारण बूढ़ी कल्लू की माँ मुझे किताबों के साथ वहाँ पहुँचा भी आती थी और ले भी आती थी और इस आवागमन (coming and going) के बीच में, कभी सड़क पर लड़ते हुए कुत्ते, कभी उनके भटकते हुए पिल्ले, कभी किसी कोने में बैठकर पंजों से मुँह धोती हुई बिल्ली, कभी किसी घर के बरामदे में लटकते हुए पिंजड़े में मनुष्य की स्वर-साधना (vocal practice) करता हुआ गंगाराम, कभी बत्तख (duck) और तीतरों (partridge, guinea fowl) के झुण्ड, कभी तमाशा दिखलानेवाले के टोपी लगाए हुए बंदर, ओढ़नी (woman’s shawl) ओढ़े (cover, wrap) हुए बँदरिया (female monkey), नाचनेवाला रीछ (bear) आदि स्कूल की एकरसता दूर करते ही रहते थे ।
हमारे ऊँचे घर से कुछ ही हटकर, एक ओर रंगीन, सफ़ेद, रेशमी और सूती कपड़ों से और दूसरी ओर चमचमाते हुए पीतल के बर्तनों से सजी हुई एक नीची-सी दुकान में जो वृद्ध सेठजी बैठे रहते थे, उन्हें तो मैंने कभी ठीक से देखा ही नहीं; परन्तु उस घर के पीछे वाले द्वार पर पड़े हुए पुराने टाट के परदे के छेद से जो आँखें प्राय: आते-जाते देखती रहती थीं, उनके प्रति मेरा मन एक कुतूहल (curiosity, eager interest) से भरने लगा ।
कभी कभी मन में आता था कि परदे के भीतर झाँक कर देखूँ; पर कल्लू की माँ मेरे लिये उस जंतु (creature) विशेष से कम नहीं थी, जिसकी बात कह-कह कर बच्चों को डराया जाता है । उसका कहना न मानने से वह नहलाते समय मेरे हाल ही में छिदे (pierced) कान की लौ (tongue of flame) दुखा सकती थी, चोटी बाँधते समय बालों को खूब खींच सकती थी, कपड़े पहनाते समय तंग गले वाले फ्राक को आँखों पर अटका (stick, catch) सकती थी, घर में और स्कूल में मेरी बहुत-सी झूठी-सच्ची शिकायत कर सकती थी––सारांश (gist) यह कि उसके पास प्रतिशोध (retaliation, revenge) लेने के बहुत-से साधन थे ।
I still remember that (Christian) Mission School of my childhood, where the bland routine of prayer and study made me so weepy that every day, from the time I returned home until I fell into a deep sleep, I did not get an opportunity to think of anything but excuses not to go to school in the morning.
In those days, the main object of my envy was the maidservant’s daughter who, unlike me, got to stay home washing the dishes. Perhaps that unfeeling God who had written in my fate that I must go to school forever was one of my mother’s deities, or maybe it was the Mission Sisters’ Jesus. My inability to ascertain who it might be caused my mind to remain mired in a peculiar confusion. If he was one of my mother’s deities, even after I charmed him with worship, he would become enraged and shorten my time spent at home even more. And, if I was at school, he could invent an excuse and then there was no telling how he could extend my hours of studies even further. In the raveling and unraveling of this muddle, my mind wandered incessantly between (Hindu) worship and (Christian) prayer.
But, even amidst this darkness, there was also a ray of light. Because my school was close by, old Kallu’s mother would accompany me there with my books and would take me home as well. In the midst of this coming and going, sometimes dogs sparring on the street, sometimes their meandering puppies, sometimes a cat sitting in a corner licking its paws, sometimes, in a cage hanging on someone’s veranda, sounding like a person, Gangaram (the bird) practicing his musical scales, sometimes flocks of ducks and partridges, sometimes street performers’ monkeys wearing little hats with a female monkey wrapped in a woman’s shawl and a dancing bear, etc.––all of these things kept the monotonousness of school at bay.
Stepping back a bit from our tall house, there was a diminutive shop decorated on one side with colorful, white, silk and cotton clothing and, on the other side, with shining brass utensils. I had never gotten a good look at the elderly Seth ji (respectful title of a merchant) who sat there day after day. But, at the back door to his house, I would often see eyes peering out from a hole in the old sackcloth curtains as I came and went; a keen curiosity began to fill my mind as to the owner of those eyes.
Sometimes it occurred to me to take a peek behind the curtain; but, as far as I was concerned, Kallu’s mother was no less than a mythological creature of whom one speaks to scare children. If I didn’t do as she said, she could send a pain like a lick of flame through my newly-pierced ears in the bath, she could yank my hair with all her strength while tying my braid, she could leave me with a tight-necked frock (dress) hanging around my eyes, she could invent all sorts of false complaints about me at home and at school––the long and short of it was that she had many means in her possession for retaliating against me.
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