As an American traveler in India, learning the Hindi alphabet is a navigational advantage. Even with a sparse vocabulary it is possible to read many street signs, storefronts and posters that are simply English words written in Hindi script. Like a babbling toddler, I try to pronounce the sounds I see until they resemble a cohesive statement. Repeating this process in the car, the ashram and the village, it’s like stumbling into a parallel written world. I now can understand the hidden secrets of Hindi advertisements, like “magic erasers” and “24 hour central bank.”
Spoken dialogue is similarly layered with language. People garnish their words with the occasional English phrase, and I fool myself into believing that I can follow their conversations. Sometimes it is possible to sketch a loose meaning from gesture, facial expression and familiar words. This fragmented understanding leaves me eager to learn more Hindi in order to draw a more detailed portrait of the places and people that I encounter.