An Indian’s introduction to Holland

Talking double Dutch? Beginning to…

The Dutch speak not with tongues, but with throats propelled by an energy drawn deep from the pits of their stomachs. I have spent two months of my life on this land, yet can only hear winds and gurgling streams from the mouths of those who speak the tongue. Be it a question, a statement or just an exclamation someone expresses to me, the only reply I can give is, “can you speak English?” or play dumb charades. Whilst, some are nice enough to repeat in English, I have come across a few who exasperatedly shake their heads or worse, move their wrists in front of my face ( like swatting a fly) and say ‘never mind’ in the most superior tone one can muster. While this did irk me, I brushed it off (using a few well-chosen names for them in my mother tongue, in the process.)

Back in India, it is difficult to shut me up. I would talk to anyone I come across and when there is no one, I would talk even to the omnipresent crows that feast on the most disgusting things possible, without judging them. Here, irrespective of where I go, I am the sole human being who is oblivious to all that is being said and can’t act until someone stabs me or I see a truck right in front of my face that might run me down in seconds. It starts to seem like people are either studiously ignoring me (which they are) or when they are not, jeering at me in a language I don’t know. In fact, at home, the crack of eggshells, the sizzling oil, the bubbling broth and even the whooshing of hot steam from the shower sound like Dutch to me.

Unable to put up with it anymore, I march to the public library with the wind whispering into my monkey capped ears (in Dutch of course!) in search of any book that would help me regain the use of my vocal chords in public. After about an hour of finding only a Dutch to Dutch beginners book, I approach the authorities for help. While I request the librarian to assist me in my cause, my mind draws up its own imagination of me huffing, gargling and puffing away in Dutch as my husband watches me with a gob smacked expression. “I am afrrrrraid fee do not haf fought you fant,” the librarian peers at me through her thick glasses with absolutely no sign of repentance. ” We only had Dutch to Dutch book,” she says, waving the book in air.

I walk back in the cold, cursing my school for having taught me a fourth and even a fifth language, but no Dutch. On recounting my experience, my cool husband whips up his phone to download Duolingo, an app that teaches Dutch. Duo, the owl its mascot is now my teacher. And I should say, it has started changing my life. I have begun to take baby steps in Dutch and wish my mom a goede morgen (good morning) every day. I learnt the names of vegetables, fruits and animals in Dutch and have now proceeded to learn simple sentences too. My sole competitor is none other than the husband who, I should admit despite having only limited time to learn, comes alarmingly close to my skill level. That’s when I push myself to stay at least a level ahead and show off to my only audience – my mom.

It sure isn’t easy to construct grammatically right sentences with words that use the sounds of every other alphabet but their own (for example, vegetables are groente, pronounced hoonthe), but I think I am getting there. At least I hope I am.

Meanwhile, I have also started to practice pranayama and stomach- muscle strengthening exercises that would help me speak Dutch from my navel.


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