India Insight Out

By Susan Hague


One of the things I did in my free time in Goa was watch Indian TV. It’s ironic that shows I did not watch in the USA, I ended up watching as reruns with my friends, and got hooked on “Gray’s Anatomy.” I also saw shows I had never heard of from the USA and Australia – “One Tree Hill” and “Packed to the Rafters,” where I picked up some Australian slang (good on you).

And then there were the Bollywood movies, with their obligatory sing, dance and chase scenes. The guys all sing and dance as they chase their love interests across a wooded field. The women, wearing full saris, also dance and sing as they hide behind the trees from the guys in pursuit. Most of the really old movies were black and white, and none were subtitled.

I had heard that you could learn the language of a place by watching its TV shows, so I watched and listened. It didn’t help my Hindi at all. I did catch a few things about the culture, though, especially the commercials that had no dialogue to be translated and dubbed for the many different languages and dialects of India.

One car commercial in particular horrified me with its message and subtext, and I am not easily shocked or offended. The guy’s car runs out of gas, and he gets a ride in a shiny new car to the nearest gas station. He falls in love with the pretty new car, and there is an American rock ‘n’ roll song about ditching your old girlfriend playing in the background. After he gets his gas can filled and returns to his car, instead of putting gas in the tank and driving off, he pours the gas on the car, flicks a match to it, and walks away as it catches fire and explodes.

The commercial references the practice in India and other places of setting fire to your wife you no longer want to be married to. In olden times, when the maharajah died, his wives were expected to throw themselves onto his funeral pyre and die with him. The modern version just makes it a pre-emptive strike.

I figured out how to order a movie on demand, no small feat, and watched “English, Vinglish,” only to find out it was in Hindi with no subtitles. Fortunately, most of the meaning in our messages comes from the nonverbal sources, so I could get the emotional gist of what was going on in the movie. Any nuances of language were lost in the lack of translation, though.

With Mini’s help, I did learn how to sing the Nescafe jingle (Nescafe is instant coffee, the powdered stuff that you had to add hot water to make. If you wanted a good cup of coffee, you had to make your own, which was why I brought my Bellman stovetop espresso maker). I also learned how to say “thank you” and a few other useful phrases in Hindi and Konkani, the main languages spoken in Goa other than English. At least I tried, something the people there recognized and appreciated, and there’s something to be said for that.

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