Best Book For Learning Kannada (so far…)

When Satya and I were in India we went to the “Russian Book Exhibition” which is where Satya remembers selecting his books as a child.  He remembers getting beautifully illustrated Russian books that had been translated into English.  Times have changed, however, and this time we didn’t see any Russian illustrated books (lush colors, very detailed, with folklore themes).   There were many books in English and many in Kannada.  I selected a book of rangoli patterns because I think rangoli is so beautiful (and tricky!).

On the last table were dictionaries and language learning books.  Then, I saw the prize….”Conversational Kannada: A Micro-Wave Approach”.  It even comes with a CD!  The book is written by N.D. Krishnamurthy and Dr. U.P. Upadhyaya. The authors wrote the book after years of helping U.S. Peace Corps volunteers learn Kannada.   The lessons cover typical beginning conversations and include notes on the culture and on grammar.  One thing to note is that the conversations are written out using the English alphabet, not the Kannada alphabet.  This could be a plus because it enables the learner to get right to the words.  Or it could be a minus because I remember reading about one blogger’s experience with Hindi-those who never mastered the Hindi letters and relied on transcribing them to English letters never learned the finer points of Hindi sounds. In the rear of the book the conversations of each lesson are written out in Kannada script so it is up to the learner how much they want to interact with the Kannada script.

The ISBN for the book is 978-81-7286-580-1 and it is published by Prism Books.

Now I just have to use the book!



Things are changing once again…..this time we may finally move!  Yipee!  Well, we will move it is just a matter of when and where.

At the moment it could be to the West Coast!!  I’m hoping it will be more relaxed.  We may be moving to a place that has one temple and just one small Indian grocery store.  Satya visited there and noticed lots of mixed couples (in his words), but I wonder how it will be.  Will I have to worry about people yelling at my in laws when they visit?  (In fairness to people in small places, this happened to them in NJ where there are lots of Indians).  Lots of little anxieties-what if we don’t like the one little temple that is there??

I’m hoping we will feel at home and will be able to settle in and maybe buy a house.  I’m hoping we will not feel stuck. Overall though I think I’m ready and willing to trade East Coast aggressiveness, lack of space, and good food for West Coast relaxation, friendliness, and bad restaurant food (we’ll just cook more at home).  Yes, I know that the West Coast has lots of great restaurants-this place though will have few.  Maybe our focus will change-less on art museum stuff and more towards outdoorsy things like hiking, biking, and running.

Anyone else in a mixed relationship living in a small city with one temple and one grocery store?

If this all goes through, it means we’ll be in India in April.  Bright sides-we will be there for the Kannada New Year, Ugadi, and will be there for the house blessing of the home of Satya’s cousin.  Bad news-hot, hot, hot.  I will have to stock up on cotton salwars then.  How do you cope with India’s warm temperatures?  Dress in light, loose clothes and drink lots of water and stay out of the sun?

In terms of reading, I’m reading now Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins.  It is a teen novel.  The protagonist, Jazz (short for Jasmine) is in Pune with her family for the summer.  She hates having to leave her business and her best friend Steve in California while having to accompany her family to India while her mom works at an orphanage.  In India she feels out of place because she is pale like her white father and huge (she was a shot putter at her California high school).  It is ok, but sometimes I want to shake the main character and tell her to be brave (send those letters to Steve!) and to quit whining about her appearance (but then, who hasn’t been there when they were a teen?).  I thought it was weird how caste comes into the book.  Jazz or her brother asked, How do you know someone is of a low caste?  The answer was because of darker skin tone, smaller, lighter build, and flat nose.  Really?  That was disturbing a bit.  Some of those characteristics are just those of Southern India-not of caste necessarily.  But, as my husband reminds me and as I see everyday working in an inner city library, the U.S. is not colorblind nor class-blind either and has its own struggles-1 in 4 children in the U.S. at risk of hunger and in the city we live in a high school graduation rate of 50%.  Anyway, will have to find out if Jazz’s mother ever does find her mother and whether she did come from a lower caste.  If so, how will Perkins handle that?

Also, at my library I found the book Does Anyone Else Look Like Me? A Parent’s Guide to Raising Multiracial Children by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.  Has anyone read it?  Do you think it is useful?  Am just trying to look ahead for when Satya and I have children of our own.

Preparing to Travel to India, Part Two

In personal news, Satya successfully defended his PhD thesis last week!  We are so happy. Now that is done, our attention has turned to India.  There are seven more weeks to go until our trip to India. It will be my first trip to India and Satya’s first since he left in 2000.  Most or all of the trip will be in Karnataka. 

So far, here is what we’ve done to prepare:

Bought some travel guides.  We bought Lonely Planet South India and Rough Guide South India.  Our favorite is Rough Guide South India because of all the great background information it has, like reviewers on Amazon have also noted.  We have a huge list of places to see, but I don’t know how we’ll divide our time between staying with his parents and visiting and going off for little sight seeing trips.  Some of our must sees are Hampi, Gokarna, Pattadakal, Badami, and Jog Falls.  Everyone also keeps recommending Mysore to us.  We got a good laugh at how his cousin’s village was referred to as “deep, rural Karnataka”.  Soon I’ll find out what exactly that means.

Restarting my Kannada lessons.  I’m following a course provided through Mysore University’s Central Institute of Indian Languages.  So far, I’ve been impressed with the exercises that follow each lesson.  Some exercises are relatively easy, like find this letter in this word which is a matter of simply matching letters.  Others are more difficult, for example, make 10 words out of these letters.  It also shows how each letter is supposed to be drawn.  I expect I’ll be able to read some simple words, know the alphabet, and say some simple sentences IF I continue studying. 

Researched health hazards and consulted with family.  Satya’s sister was trained as a doctor and his uncle still practices medicine as a village doctor.  The strong recommendation is to get a typhoid vaccine.  We haven’t done this yet, but time is getting short.  Satya has decided we will only eat what his mom prepares for us, but I don’t think that will work in reality.

Clothes.  This is a sticking point a bit with us.  Satya thinks I should just wear my regular clothes, but my belief is more one of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”  I think I’ve channeled some of my trip anxiety into “What do I wear?” I’ve also ordered a cotton handloom saree from  They have a great website about traditional sarees and the saree arrived very quickly after I ordered it.  I went online to and purchased two sarees and two salwar kameez outfits.  I wanted to have a saree to practice with before I go so I can drape it competently and know how to move in one.  The salwar kameezs are for sightseeing.  Temperatures are going to be around 80 so I thought they would be easier to move around in than jeans.  Unfortunately, ordering online is a bit tricky when one does not have a good idea of clothes and measurements.  They are too small. I also bought two salwar kameez suits yesterday at an Indian clothing shop nearby, but I have a strong suspicion they are too big.   Still have yet to get bindis, bangles, and mangalsutra.

Bathroom changes.  I’ve used some Indian products before like Sandalwood soap at my sister in laws or most recently Shikakai for hair.  Those things are all good and I love how clean Shikakai feels and how easily it rinses out.  I’ve researched bathroom procedures in the book “Going Abroad:  The Bathroom Survival Guide”, but I have not practiced.  Satya’s parents have a squat toilet and use water instead of toilet paper.  Getting used to that will be one of the biggest challenges, I think.  Satya said that when he got to the US, toilet paper struck him as disgusting as was how the shower/tub is usually in the same room as the toilet.  Now it will be my turn to adapt and logically he is right that the Indian way is probably cleaner and is better for the environment. 

Gifts.  We don’t know what to do about this.  I want to get some simple gifts for close relatives because that is what my mom has always told me is correct guest behavior-always get something for the people who are letting you stay with them.  I also really want to get gifts for his cousin’s kids, mostly because I like buying toys.  Satya is not keen on this though.  He says he does not want the kids or any other family members to associate us with gifts.  Also, his sister and her husband, who married into a more status oriented family, must always go to India carrying suitcases filled with gifts according to a list dictated by her mother in law. 

Cultural differences.  Here are some from my sister in law and from Satya: lots of noise, lots of wildlife (his parents have a group of monkeys living in their yard and lizards are common in the house), lots of people visiting and dropping in and out, people being much more open about their opinions and with advice. 

I don’t know why I’m freaked out so much.  Satya keeps telling me that I just have to be myself and relax.  I think part of it is that we’ll be seeing his extended family and lots of his old friends.  We’ll also be probably meeting a cousin Satya might have married if he had stayed in India and wanted an arranged marriage.  So the stakes are higher than if we were just going as tourists.  I want to make a good impression and not look like or be “the ugly American”.


My Favorite Kannada Film Yet “Aptha Mithra”

I had nearly lost faith in Kannada movies, but luckily we saw “Aptha Mithra” this past weekend and faith was restored.  “Aptha Mithra” was very entertaining and we both enjoyed the movie very much.  Also, Kannada movies are starting to make some sense-words are more familiar, as are some of the actors and actresses. 


Plot: I’d call “Aptha Mithra” a suspense film.  It isn’t gory and there is not any blood or guts.  The film does have a ghost, though.  In a city in Southern Karnataka there is a large, beautiful bungalow that had been abandoned for years.  A young couple comes to rent it out, even though others try to dissuade them.  One day the curious young wife goes up to the haunted room and opens the door.  The ghost is released.  The ghost is the mistress of a king.  She was a dancing girl.  Her lover lived in a small house on the property and when the king found out she had a lover, he killed her by lighting her on fire.  Her angry ghost was locked into a room of the bungalow.  How will the ghost leave? 


One of the interesting subplots in the movie was how the ancient and modern work together.  For example, the character of the holy man seems to me to represent the ancient.  Vijay’s character seems to represent modernity.  Only by working together can they force the ghost leave. 


Another unique fact is that the story first appeared in a Malayam movie (the main language spoken in Kerala in South India), and afterwards was made into a Tamil movie (main language of the state of Tamil Nadu also in South India) and even in 2007 was made into a Hindi (Bollywood) movie, Bhool Bhulaiyaa.  I’d like to see the other versions some day to see what remained the same and what got changed to fit the different cultures. 


The film seemed to be like a “who’s who” of the Kannada film industry starring popular actors like Dwarakish, Ramesh, Soundarya, and Prema, .  My favorite character in the film was Vijay, the psychiatrist played by Vishnuvardhan.  I thought his cool guy, always in control character was a little funny.  This actor reminds me of Chuck Norris of Walker Texas Ranger fame.  I guess it is that they are both so over the top?  Both have reddish hair?  Both look to be the same age and both have over the top fight scenes?  His character was definitely larger than life… many psychiatrists can you think of that could fight 5 or more guys at the same time and win? 


This film was a huge hit when it came out in 2004.  It ran in movie theaters for over a year and broke all sorts of records.  The movie also won lots of awards- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Music Director.

I will be watching more Kannada movies after this.  Unfortunately, we are nearing the end of Netflix’s Kannada selections.  Soon we will have to find another way to get our Kannada movies.

Kannada Movie-Joke Falls

This weekend Satya and I watched another Kannada movie-“Joke Falls”.  This movie was very, very popular in Karnataka about four years ago.  It is a comedy.  I am beginning to lose heart with Kannada movies.  I think I assumed that since I like Bollywood movies that I’d like Kannada movies.  Of course this is not a fair to anyone.  This movie just didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t think it was very funny-well, except for the 3 wannabe gangsters.  Their ridiculous appearances made me smile.


Plot:  The movie opens with an ode to Karnataka and to Kannada.  The scenery is extremely beautiful, particularly of Jog Falls.  Jog Falls is the highest “plunge” waterfall in the world, according to Wikipedia. 


A goodhearted (he lets the caretaker of the botany center visit his family by taking over his duties) botany professor marries a botany student.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so enamored by him…it seemed she made her mind up to marry him just because he wrote a well-known biology text.  The wife goes on and on about how marvelous her brother-in-law is.  The wife considers the brother-in-law to be next to God.  The brother-in-law is getting ready to be a judge so is being extra careful about his connections to make sure he is not connected to any scandal that could jeopardize his chances at a judgeship.  The brother-in-law disapproves of the botany professor.  I forget the exact reason why.  Salary not high enough maybe?


The botany professor decides to play a trick on the pompous brother-in-law.  He decides to become the brother-in-law’s chauffeur.  Part of the reason I think I didn’t find it funny was because a lot of the movie relies on language jokes and puns that don’t translate well or go right over my head.  For example, the botany professor’s alias as the brother-in-law’s driver is Priyatama.  Priyatama translates into “lover”, according to Satya.  The brother-in-law got very uncomfortable when his wife calling the botany professor/driver “Priyatama”.  Also, the brother-in-law also liked hearing pure Kannada uncontaminated by English so “Priyatama” would point out the idiosyncrasies of English.  “Priyatama” gets in a love triangle when a servant girl develops a crush on him.  “Priyatama”/botany professor get caught “doing yoga” with wife in the forest by a girl who then reports back to the brother-in-law.  Brother-in-law questions why his chauffeur would do yoga with his sister-in-law.  The movie was filled with mix-ups like that.


I couldn’t really figure out how making the brother-in-law look stupid would make the brother-in-law accept the botany professor.  Somehow it all worked out and there was a happy ending.


Good parts: I liked the songs.  As I mentioned before, Kannada songs are very different-sounding from Bollywood songs.  Part of this is because Southern Indian classical music, Carnatic, has very different influences from Northern Indian, Hindustani classical music. 


I thought the 3 gangsters were funny, although I thought the middle gangster with the two earrings, big necklace, and skirt-like attire was a cross-dresser at first.  Satya informed me that that is the typical look of a Tamil gangster.  Oops!  I have a lot to learn….


It was nice to pick up more Kannada.  Occasionally, I can match up words with their subtitles so that is a good feeling.


Finally, saw some more attractive men in the movies.  They were in the background, but still nice to see.


Scenery was nice.  Satya likes seeing the interiors of the homes and the scenery.  Jog Falls is awe-inspiring even on tv.  Maybe someday I’ll see it in person.


My conclusion:  Learning to appreciate Kannada movies is going to take longer than I thought.  I am not giving up though.  At least watching the movies gives me the opportunity to hear Kannada and to see how people act, dress, decorate homes, etc. 


To all those Kannadigas out there, what are some of your favorite movies?  I’m open to all suggestions!

Nammura Mandara Hoove; My Second Kannada Movie

We finished another Kannada movie this past weekend, “Nammura Mandara Hoove”.  Satya says the title roughly translates to “Flower in my Native Place”.  He picked out the movie because he wanted me to see what North Karnataka looks like.  Apparently, it was filmed within 20 miles of his mother’s village. 

What is it about:

A young man (Shivaraj Kumar) from the movie/music business travels to North Karnataka to visit a friend and to find local talent.  While there, he falls in love with the same young woman (Prema) his friend (Ramesh) has loved silently for years.  The young woman falls in love with the first young man.  Who has a happy ending?  Who ends up alone?


I thought the songs were very beautiful.  In some ways, the songs sound almost Chinese to me.  The songs and dances are very different from those in Bollywood movies-more subdued and with fewer instruments. 


I thought the story was fairly realistic in some ways like how the love triangle was resolved.  In other ways, I thought that some things were overwrought-why would the tribal girl agree to pretend to have an affair with the movie/music producer?  I would think that in real life if word leaked out that she was having a relationship out of marriage her life would be extremely difficult and her chances of marriage would be ruined. 


Again, I am wondering why the physical standards for male Kannada actors are so low.  For Shivaraj I guess it makes sense as his father is the legendary Dr. Raj Kumar.  Ramesh seems to be a fairly successful actor in his own right too.  Ramesh and Shivaraj Kumar definitely are not “hot”, “cute”, or even attractive.  They were both overweight and Shivaraj needed a haircut.  Am I the only one thinking this? 


Another thing I’ve noticed with both Bollywood and Kannada films is how “touchy” they are.  Do people in India just touch more in general than Americans?  I don’t mean sexual touching, but friendly, affectionate touching and playful slapping/hitting.  From the movies, this appears to be true.


I thought it was interesting how the movie showed a variety of different people.  There was the local North Karnataka man wearing an earring in each ear, part of a gourd on his head for a hat, shirt, and longi.  The young tribal woman wore a dress more like a Polynesian dress: above the ankles, over one shoulder, belt at waist.  She had tattoos on her forehead and chin.  Her hair was bunched in a ponytail on one side of her head.  Unfortunately, the local was in the movie mostly for comedic relief and the tribal girl nearly got used by Shivaraj’s character.


I’d recommend the movie for its scenery and music. I liked how Prema got to yell at them at the end and how she got them to behave like adults finally.  On the other hand, I thought that the movie was slow and the guys immature.  The captions were also a bit off in some places.  5/10

Learning the Kannada Alphabet, Part 3

Yesterday I made good on my promise to renew my efforts to learn Kannada.  I went through the alphabet and now have all my flashcards made for the alphabet.  I think the count is 16 vowels and 34 consonants.  My heart fell when I discovered that all does not end there….there are more combinations that must be memorized-all the combinations of consonants and vowels.  Those are called “kaagunitha”.  I’m trying to look at the bright side though…maybe written Kannada matches up better to spoken Kannada than written and spoken English?


Besides memorizing a new alphabet, detecting and reproducing the sounds is tricky too.  For example, there are two “l” sounds that sound very much the same to me.  The example words for those letters are “lathe” and “kalavu”.  For “lathe” the tongue is straight and goes right up to the front of the mouth.  For “kalavu” the “l” is made by curling the tongue at the top of the middle of the mouth.  I am still working on making that “l” sound.


I’m a little optimistic because that things are starting to make sense.  For example, many syllables have hard and soft versions ( “soft dha” and “hard Dha”).  They are the same character except for a dot at the bottom of the character.  Some words are very telling of the culture too.  The word for “cow” and “wealth” are the same except one is hard and one is soft.  I guess it points again to how beloved and sacred cows are to Kannadigas.  (There is also a compliment for a person that says, “tame as a cow”)


I think I will skip ahead to the lessons on phrases though.  I think it helps to see how the letters fit together.  Satya will become important for this part though because some of the phrases are laughable to him and his family because they are overly formal.  Already, with the alphabet lesson there are some words that are completely unfamilar to him and some words that are pronounced much differently.  My plan again is to rely on flash cards.  I’ll have the phrase written on one side in Kannada and then on the back will have it transcribed to English with the translation. 


Besides flashcards, listening to Kannada songs, and watching Kannada movies what other language learning techniques are there?  I suppose after I master some phrases Satya and I can do practice conversations.


My main motivation now is learning as much as possible before we get to India.  I do not want to just smile dumbly at his elderly aunts.  Another question…what kinds of phrases will be most useful in talking to elderly aunts from Karnataka or is it universal (“how are you?” “isn’t the weather nice?” “you have a beautiful house”?)?

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