‘Khush Raho’: The WU Hindi department fosters a family of learning
As you start to plan your courses for next semester, consider a Hindi class.
Many of the students who have taken Hindi or Urdu classes have found meaningful experiences with the language and a sense of community with their classmates and professors.
Under the umbrella of the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies, the Hindi-Urdu department offers beginning and intermediate levels of Hindi and Urdu in the fall and a new course titled Sacred Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent.
The course, taught by Professor Meera Jain, will “explore the architecture of sacred places in India, including the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist Temples…”
The beginning Hindi and Urdu classes at the University are open and welcoming to anyone of any skill level or background.
“I’ve felt like I’ve learned a lot because I was someone that came in… [and] knew nothing about the language. I’d only heard it in movies and stuff like that; I couldn’t understand it or anything like that,” junior Neil Vuppala said. “So going from someone who couldn’t do any of that to someone who can speak it, not fluently but conversationally, and being able to understand it conversationally has been really great.”
According to Vuppala and sophomore Richa Sinkre, their professors were great at teaching students of all skill levels in their classes.
“The professors are really kind and you can tell they really want to see everyone develop and they’ll provide everything to make sure you succeed,” Vuppala said. “I’d say for everyone, there are different topics in a language that make it difficult and they’re really good at seeing that and being able to provide support for all the students.”
“While many students entered Hindi 1 with a wide variety of skill levels – some well versed in the language while others were barely familiar – my professor, Madhavi Verma, always made me feel at ease about my skill level and taught me according to my individual learning curve,” Sinkre wrote in a statement to Student Life.
Junior Harsh Moolani wrote in a statement to Student Life that the Hindi classes at the University gave him confidence in speaking the language.
“Learning Hindi has always been on [my] bucket list, since I have grown up around it. The issue with not having it as your mother tongue is that it is nearly impossible to gather the confidence to venture out and speak it without being ridiculed,” Moolani wrote. “One of the biggest things that changed my experience in the Hindi Dept. was the comfort in the community. The fear of making mistakes, mispronouncing words or reading slowly had finally been eradicated.”
The Hindi Department also offers Hindi for Heritage Speakers, a course designed specifically for students who already speak Hindi.
Beyond simply learning a new language, the Hindi and Urdu classes allow many students to make meaningful connections with the language and their family members who speak it.
“In Indian tradition you respect [elders] a lot so the thing you go and say to your elder every single time is ‘pranam’ and they say back ‘khush raho’ and at first when I was a kid I didn’t really know what that meant,” sophomore Nupur Singh said. “I thought that was just, ‘Oh it’s the word they say back.’ But because of Hindi, I learned that it’s two words: khush raho. Khush means happy and raho means be, so they’re telling you, ‘I hope you’re happy for your life.’”
When asked what word she’d use to describe her experience with the Hindi department, Singh said that she’d use ‘khush raho.’
“I think khush raho is a good way of exemplifying it in the sense that [the professors] want you to be happy, but learning makes you happy in the same way non-academic things make you happy,” Singh said.
Professor Meera Jain said that it’s been rewarding seeing how excited her students become about learning the language and being able to connect with their grandparents through it.
“I had one student who actually FaceTimed his grandfather, who was back in India, when he was doing a presentation. Because he just felt that his grandfather would be just thrilled that he was learning a language, the second generation, or the first generation born here, was actually learning his heritage language,” Jain said. “So there’s a lot of fulfillment that comes when I see how satisfied the students are.”
The Hindi Department extends beyond the classroom to engage its students and form a community. According to Jain and Professor Madhavi Verma, the department tries to put on around four events a semester.
Events include department-wide dinners, movie nights, a monthly Hindu-Urdu table and field trips to the St. Louis Hindu Temple and Islamic Center.
“At least once every semester we also do a movie night. … There’s such a nice community that forms over watching a movie together, which is of course in Hind,” Jain said. “We also have a Hindi-Urdu table that meets once a month, and that has been actually a wonderful way again for the students to just relax and talk. … That too, we have seen, has really helped [to create] a lot of bonds between the different levels and it’s really helped create a strong community amongst the students.”
For both the students and the professors, the Hindu department feels more like a community or a family.
“I teach a class called Hindi for Heritage Speakers and I also taught Urdu, so I came into contact with a lot of heritage students…and they just love the community feeling or meeting students who are in a similar situation which otherwise they probably wouldn’t have met,” Verma said. “So it has been wonderful, we have our own little family in the class.”
“At the end of the semester, our small class had grown into somewhat of a family, sharing stories in class and occasionally going out for lunch,” Sinkre wrote.
Junior Rishi Patel wrote in a statement to Student Life that Hindi has become “an integral part” of his experience at Washington University in part due to the caring professors.
“My experience with Wash. U.’s Hindi department has been absolutely incredible. I came into freshman year wanting to learn Hindi, but didn’t start until my sophomore year,” Patel wrote. “I wish I hadn’t waited so long because professors like Jainji make learning the language so enjoyable. She, and others, truly care about their students and provide ample amounts of individual attention.”
Verda said they also wanted the Hindi department to be an accessible community for anybody.
“We just wanted to reach out to new students… today we attended a panel discussion on isolation in the academic community… and that was an eye opening thing because sometimes there are students who feel sometimes lonely,” Verda said. “So we just want to reach out to any student, or anyone is welcome to our events, our events are really open to everyone who’s [interested in] Hindi regardless of taking or not taking Hindi.”
So for anyone considering taking a class in the department or learning Hindi or Urdu, go for it.
“I would definitely recommend people take it on a whim like I did and it will definitely surprise you in a great way,” Singh said. “I definitely just recommend the process and any way you can get involved in the Hindu department is a good way.”