No Pain, No Roti by Ellie Bernstein

                           Are sansaar sansaar                                                                                                                                                                          Jasaa tavaa chulyava                                                                                                                                                                            adui natala chatake                                                                                                                                                                              tevha milte bhakara                                                                                                                                                      Our life is like a pan on a stove. First we’ll get burns and then the roti.”

My host sister recited this poem to me one afternoon during the first week of my stay in India. I didn’t quite know what to make of it so I told my host sister it was a nice and we moved on to a new topic. For some reason, though, I remembered it the next day and began to think about it more. A few days later I asked my host sister to repeat it for me so I could write it down. She thought this was funny and asked me why I wanted it on paper. I didn’t have an answer for her so I asked myself the same question. Why did I want it so much? I think it’s because I appreciated the “no pain, no gain” theme and I especially liked this new and creative way to deliver the message. As I thought about it more, I realized that it also represented my experience in India, both literally and figuratively. My host mother taught me how to make roti one night and I definitely burned myself in the process. I learned that you have to put the roti in the hot pan, turn it, flip it and turn it some more – all with your bare hands. There’s really no way for an amateur to accomplish this without getting burned but in the end the roti tasted great, and all that much better because I had put the work into it. The poem, I found, also applied, more figuratively, to many other aspects of my experience abroad: the food, my home-stay and the Hindi learning.

Before I left the States, I thought the food in India would be one of my favorite parts of the trip. I loved going out for Indian food at home. The problem I found with the food once I arrived wasn’t that authentic Indian food is different from American Indian food as many people warned me. The problem was actually that it was exactly like the Indian food I’d had in America: heavy and in huge portions. While this is nice for an occasional dinner out, it was a little much for me all day, every day. This was the “burn.”  It took me some time to get used to not having the same variety of food I have at home and it was a little uncomfortable learning how to tell my family I didn’t like certain things or that I only wanted a certain amount. Once I pushed through this discomfort, I realized that I actually did like the food. I came to appreciate the variety within Indian food, the diversity which I had not recognized right away. In the end I came full circle and the food has now become one of my favorite aspects of the trip.

The same theme applied to adjusting in my home-stay and host family. I knew that it would be a little awkward at first, but it is one thing to imagine and another to fully experience. I’m shy by nature, so suddenly living with and being part of a family I’d never met before definitely “burned” a bit. I didn’t know what to talk about and when I asked questions, trying to stimulate conversation, I was always worried they would think I was odd or my questions were silly. I also didn’t quite know how to act at home. Everyone had told me that I was now a part of my host family so I should act like a regular family member, but this was hard for me. I was still technically a guest in their home, wasn’t I? Slowly, though, I began to embrace my host family. I didn’t stay up all night chatting with my sister, or rant to my mom about insignificant issues I would soon forget about, like I might with my own family. However, I found myself sitting on my host sister’s bed, drinking tea and doing homework together or going on walks and chatting with my host mom. As I pushed through the awkwardness I got to “taste the roti” and really enjoy myself. Also I began to connect to the people and place I was in. In the end, I was able to act on the advice I had been given and view myself as just another family member.

My experience with Hindi learning was again another story of “pain and gain” or “burns and roti,” specifically in relation to the immersion style of teaching. Halfway through the first week, the teachers announced that they would no longer be speaking to us in English. We were all a little shocked. We had just started learning Hindi two days ago! We didn’t know vocabulary, how to conjugate verbs or even how to ask questions in Hindi. Those first days of immersive learning were the biggest “burns” I experienced on the trip. I felt lost, like I had no idea what was going on. They wanted us to understand the lesson, but I didn’t even understand the words they were using to describe it. It was intensely frustrating. Was it going to be like this for six whole weeks? The answer, of course, was no. The directors and teachers of the program knew exactly what they were doing and they knew this method would be nothing but beneficial in the end. After another week I began to feel more confident. I certainly did not understand every word of the teacher’s explanations but I could understand the message they were trying to get across. As the weeks went on I began to really enjoy my Hindi learning. It was like piecing together a puzzle; when I finally saw the whole picture it felt like I had discovered some secret hidden treasure and I had done it using my own determination and intellect….well, that and my teacher’s never-ending patience. I began to come home from school excited and energized instead of exhausted and stressed. As my “one minute talks,” our daily speaking exercise, became more fluent and complex I couldn’t help but feel that the original discomfort and stress I had felt had been so very worth it. Just as with eating the roti I had made, the progress I made learning Hindi – and adjusting to other aspects of life in a new culture – were all that much more satisfying because of the hard work that came before.


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