There is something fascinating about the sounds of foreign words. Not only in the sounds themselves, but in the effort of trying to pronounce them and have them roll uneasily off the tongue. It is also more than learning a new language – when foreign words are used in our own language it infuses it with strangeness, and the awkwardness of the unknown contributes to the fascination.
During a phase marked by a preference for Indian literature (in English, by the likes of Salman Rushdie, Arundathi Roy, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth, Vikas Swarup, etc.), words such as “sarangi”, “munshi”, “naan”, “tonga-wallah”, “thandai”, “kurta-pyjama” and “thali” transported me to the other side of the world, into strange countries and cultures and customs. I travelled with the characters and experienced festivals of colour and light. I wondered what it would be like to wear a “sari”, eat “naan”, read “ghazals” and hear someone play a “tanpura”.
With the accessibility of the internet, I could quickly form ideas about what these foreign words refer to, but it is their sounds, and the strange way they do not quite roll off the tongue that still intrigues me, and sometimes makes me want to say “Namaste” in greeting.
Ingredients in preparation for the colourful festival of Holi. Photo: http://www.indovacations.net/english/Golden-triangle-with-holi-fastival.htm