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It's All Gurmukhi To Me

It's All Gurmukhi To Me

August 22, 2010

Learning to sing in Punjabi isn't as easy as it looks on YouTube

Loving to sing along with bhangra as I do, I prefer to know the real words instead of the ones my novice ear is hearing. I’ve been working on learning Gabru Jawan for a couple of months now, line by painful line. Memorizing songs in English is almost automatic for me — one of the reasons I’m so bored of Western music — but memorizing songs in a foreign language I’m finding to be extremely difficult. Especially a language like Punjabi, that has its own non-Roman alphabet and at least three dialects that I know of. There are very few comprehensible online dictionaries and Google Transliterate.

isn’t working out as well as the sometimes hilarious Hindi translations I get out of Google Translate. My ear is getting better, I will admit. I’m starting to hear the differences between words that a year ago all sounded alike to me. I now can hear the difference between chak de and chhanke, only having the vaguest idea what the former means and not a clue as to the meaning of the latter. Recently I found out there’s chanakde. I mean, come on! How am I supposed to learn these lyrics with all this going on?

Without understanding what a word means, it’s basically just nonsense syllables that have to be memorized by frequent repetition and painstaking attention to a printed copy of the song. My daughter is getting utterly sick of Harbhajan Mann and has started rolling her eyes and saying, “Not this again!” when it loops back around on my CD of current favorite bhangra tracks. I tell her I’m only 70% through memorizing the song, so she’d better just listen to her own tunes on the MP3 player her grandparents gave her.

I really shouldn’t complain; I do this to myself after all. It’s how I keep my brain busy in good times. You have to exercise brains regularly you know; otherwise they tend to rot and fall prey to memes such as the more interesting “religions” and belief in civilizations on the moon. As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used to say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And in the disapproving atmosphere of the green movement, waste is a cardinal sin.

I’ve looked for over a year, but was unable to find some of Sukshinder Shinda’s lyrics online, at least in transliterated form. When you can’t find what “lyrics” is in Punjabi, you just can’t get anywhere.

I spent some time over a year ago memorizing devanagari and learning to read Hindi then promptly forgot it. Life as a single mother with two young children tends to get in the way of higher learning sometimes. I’ve found myself too exhausted to start the cycle again with Gurmukhi. Rather than hearing the letter sounds in my head I tend to mentally name them according to their shape; being an artist with good pattern recognition skills, it is a mental habit of mine to do this as a way to memorize things. A word such as ????? is translated by my brain as “backwards b with bowler hat, golf club, peg leg, vampire cloud, icicle.” Not conducive to searching the web for anything relevant or sensible.

On making another feeble Google search for the lyrics the other day, I stumbled upon Punjabi Janta Forums. I’ve found other bhangra-related forums before, but they’ve been very inactive. PJF is well-organized and has a sub-forum for people to request things they are looking for. I posted, asked for the lyrics to the two songs that have been confounding me for so long, and within hours two of the moderators had replied, posting the lyrics to both.

Now that’s service! I’m very happy, and grateful to the PJF staff for helping me out this way. I have some bad habits to unlearn in words that I was hearing differently than they actually were. On the other hand, I did hear a lot of it more correctly than I thought I was capable of. I suppose that over two years of listening to it was bound to rub off a little bit. At least I hear the individual words now and have a good idea about where one word ends and another begins, even if I don’t process the transliteration correctly.

Sadly for me most of the forum is in either Gurmukhi or transliterated Punjabi. No doubt the forum members wouldn’t know what to make of me anyway. Even on English language forums I tend to just post non-sequiturs and off-topic hilarious nonsense along the lines of the stream of consciousness. I don’t think I could pull that off confidently in any language other than my native one.

I find myself envious of people who were raised either in other countries, or in multi-lingual families here in the US, who learned to speak in other ways when they were small and it was as easy for them as a duck swimming in water. Our own public schools do not encourage the learning of other languages until an obligatory one year of either Spanish, French or German in high school in order to meet college enrollment requirements. By then the brain does not find new languages as easy as it did in early childhood. Imagine then what a Herculean task it is trying to learn a new language on my own, one that has its own alphabet to boot.

Has no one created a working version of Star Trek’s universal translator yet? I’d even settle for a Douglas Adams babel fish at this point. The world gets smaller every day and I wish I could understand more from every point of view, not just the English speaking American one.

1 Comment

    17.10.11 11:59 PM
    I solute you gorigirl for trying . I can't say this for most people in our own desi comunity born abroad don't know those diffrences. WELL DONE .

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