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Photo by Caleb Brooks

Jugar Hindi

After a month in India, my Hindi skills don’t reach much farther than asking someone how they are, telling someone I’m doing fine, or complimenting the food. So going into a homestay where my host mother spoke no English was a bit intimidating to say the least.

During our first meal with Kaki-Ji (our host mother), Pia and I expended what little Hindi we knew within about thirty seconds. Kaki-Ji broke the relative silence by speaking rapid fire Hindi, gesturing between us, and tilting her head questioningly to the side. Pia and I stared at her, unsure of what she was asking. But then I heard a word I recognized, or thought I recognized: bhai (brother). I repeated the word back to her tentatively, with a heavy American accent, making it sound like a new word all together. She nodded, gesturing between the two of us.

I gestured to my self and said “mera ek bhai.” Translation: “my one brother.” I didn’t know how to say “I have” so “my” seemed the closest logical substitution in my arsenal. Kaki-Ji nodded approvingly, showing that she understood.  She then made a series of gestures with more unintelligible Hindi indicating something big and something small. I assumed she was asking if my one brother was older or younger. I held my hand low to the ground to indicate the young age of my little brother (who is now probably taller than six feet by now), and I repeated “mera ek bhai.” Kaki-Ji nodded again.

Then she gestured to Pia, who shot me a quick look of panic. Pia has two older sisters, but neither of us knew the word for sister. So again, we began to improvise.

The number was simple: “doh” (two). We repeated the word talking over each other and holding up two fingers. To communicate female gender we repeated “larki” (the word for young girl), then the reliable “bhai” to show Kaki-Ji that we were responding to her question. She stared at us confusedly as we repeated “doh larki bhai” (two girl brothers), until a look of understanding crossed her face. She nodded and repeated “doh larki bhai” and laughed.

She then proceeded to properly tease us for our language stumbles, chanting “doh larki bhai” while rolling chapati, eliciting a relived laugh from me and Pia.

Laughing over our awkward communication became a regular practice over the next several days in homestay. I quickly had to move beyond my desire to be “right” and speak “correctly” as I began to grasp for whatever would work.

I coined this new language adjacent communication “jugar Hindi.” Jugar is a Hindi word that essentially means “making it work”— something you can see all around India from scrap patch jobs on clothes to duct taped tuktuk mirrors.

Taking myself and my abilities a little less seriously while in Majkali allowed me to laugh more, both at myself and in general, which—in my opinion—bahut achaa he.