Photo: Jeremy Vandel
SO, YOU ARE FINALLY in India. And things are not going very well. You’ve somehow managed to land yourself in a soup. You’ve either lost your way, your wallet or your luggage. You are possibly on the verge of losing your mind too.
In other words, you need help.
Chances are, with over a 100 million native English speakers, the person standing next to you will be able to help you easily enough. But if for some reason that doesn’t happen, you can try one of these below to bail yourself out.
Just remember, India has over 22 official languages and this is not taking into account the numerous dialects spoken within states. Essentially there’s no one-way of doing this, even in the same state. Also, lots of people are multilingual and these languages are not restricted to being spoken in just the states that they come from.
You could find a Gujarati speaker in Delhi, a Punjabi speaker in Maharashtra or visa versa. Lesson to learn: keep trying.
Meri maddad keejiye (Please help me)- After English, Hindi is your best bet, especially in North India. The keyword here is ‘maddad’ which means help. Some states where Hindi is the pre-dominant language are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, the capital city of Delhi, and surrounding NCR (National Capital Region). Hindi really is spoken all over India and it’s extremely hard to categorize or assign it to a couple of states or cities. That said, you are more likely to find help with it in the top to mid-half of the country (known as the Hindi-speaking belt) as opposed to the south.
Mainu maddad chaidi ae (I need help)-Punjabi is the native language for Punjab in North India. This should be your choice if you find yourself in the cities of Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, or any other area in Punjab. Delhi too has a strong Punjabi influence and after English or Hindi, it’s likely to get you the best response here. In the lower regions of Himachal Pradesh, especially in areas around the state border (which it shares with Punjab), Punjabi along with Pahari and other dialects is spoken by a reasonable number of people. So if out there, give it a shot if you have to.
Mane tamari madad joyie che (I need your help)- Again, ‘madad’ is the all-important word since it means help. Similar sounding words are common in states close to each other. Gujarat lies in India’s west, bordered by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan has a strong Hindi influence even though Rajasthani is the official language and the people in Madhya Pradesh are native Hindi speakers. This has led to some words slipping through into Gujarat. Possible locations for use: Ahmedabad- the largest city, Gandhinagar- the capital, or anywhere else in the state. There is a huge Gujarati population in Mumbai too and it can be handy out there. Mumbai however is extremely multilingual and cosmopolitan. You’ll have a lot more options before you have to resort to Gujarati.
Mala madat pahije (I need help): Marathi from Maharashtra goes a long way in Mumbai, the state capital. Mumbai is home to people from all over the country and possibly every Indian language is spoken here but the use of Marathi in everyday life is pretty conspicuous. When in Mumbai, the order you’d want to pick after English is Marathi, Hindi, and, if that doesn’t work (which is highly unlikely), then resort to Gujarati. When traveling within the state, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few common Marathi phrases just to make life a little bit easier, since it’s the standard language, once one is out of Mumbai.
Aami ke baachao (Please help me)- Use this when in Kolkata or any other part of West Bengal. ‘Aami’ in Bengali means ‘me’ but the critical word here is ‘baachao’ which stands for help. ‘Baachao’ in Hindi (spelt ‘bachao’) actually means ‘save’. That’s probably one amongst the very few common sounding words between the two languages. Unlike other states you are better off using Bengali in West Bengal as your first option (as opposed to English) as it is the more widely spoken language in all quarters. It’s going to get you a better response and quicker help for sure.
Enakku udhavi seivienkala (Can you help me?)- Tamil comes from Tamil Nadu in the south. That’s also where the highest concentration of speakers is. Here, the word ‘udhavi’ means help. As a rule of thumb, when in South India, you have a much greater chance of success at communication if you use the native language of the state (i.e.,Tamil in Tamil Nadu) other than English. Chances of finding Hindi or any other north Indian language speakers are comparatively slim as the ratio is very low. If in Chennai, which is the largest city and the capital, you might have better luck with other languages but other than that, Tamil is the way to go.
Naaku sahayam kavali (I need help)- Like Tamil, Telugu is spoken mostly in South India and is native to Andhra Pradesh. There’s nothing to say that you wouldn’t find a Telugu speaker in North India, but there wouldn’t be as many, just like you wouldn’t find that many northerners in south. Possible location for use: Hyderabad and all around Andhra. Hyderabad also has a strong Urdu influence. In fact, apart from Telugu, it’s actually Urdu that is the most widely spoken language. In Telugu ‘sahayam’ stands for help and that’s what you should aim at remembering, if at all.
Nimm’ HELP bEkAgide (I need your help)- this one is self-explanatory. Kannad or Kannada is the official language of Karnataka, again in South India. The first word ‘Nimm’ is spoken with more emphasis towards the end. Bangalore (now called Bengaluru), the state capital, is multicultural and multilingual, on the lines of all other metro cities in India. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding help in English but if you don’t, Kannad, Tamil, or Telugu are your best options.
Enikku ningalude sahaayam venum (I need your help)- Essentially, you’d be using this in Kerala. Like all other southern states, two languages dominate Kerala, the native Malayalam and English. Other than that you’d find the other three, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannad in parts. It’s extremely unlikely that there’d be anyone speaking Hindi or any other language, really. Like Telugu, ‘sahaayam’ stands for help. If you have trouble getting the whole phrase right (pronunciation can be an issue), just stick to that.
Mai kar madath (Please help me)- Kashmiri comes from Kashmir at the north tip of India. The only time you’d really use this is of you are in the state itself. The chances of finding a Kashmiri speaker anywhere else (at least in the first instance) are not very high. For that, you have nine other options to choose from. But if you do find one, it might be fun just to talk to them in their own language. The smile you get in return will be worth the effort.