In 1971 or thereabouts, with what now seems to have been considerable prescience, I purchased a copy of the modestly priced “Telugu without a Tutor” by H. R. Rao (Sahitya Siromani, Etc.) from Higginbotham’s bookstore in Madras. My aim at that time, if I recall correctly, was to learn enough Telugu to appreciate some of the more common carnatic music compositions. That never came to pass, and for 40 years the book languished, unread.
I brought it with me to Hyderabad when I came here two years ago, but it still is something that I only dip into, since the book was written in another age when there were rupees and annas, and when the pace of life was very different. There is a charm to it, of course, and I can now easily find my way around the Aden dockyard, should I be surrounded by Telugu speaking lascars… It does not have the infamous నా postillion పిడుగుపాటుకు చెయ్యబడింది phrase, but there are similar gems on many pages.
In recent weeks I have taken to learning some conversational Telugu, and my progress is hastened by having a tutor, a conscientious one at that. Each day I struggle with adi and idi, the specious similarity with Tamil and my decaying language module that confuses nenu baagunnaanu with genki desu. Hopefully in some time I will be able to understand, and to an extent, be understood, but I think that with passing years, learning languages gets more and more difficult.
And then there is the seductiveness of technology. Searching for some phrases the other day, I came across the Omniglot site which lists the very useful translation of “My hovercraft is full of eels”: నా హోవర్ఁక్రాఫ్ఠ్ అంతా ఈలు చేపలతో నిండిపోయింది (naa hoavarkraapht aṅthaa eelu chaepalathoa niṅdipoayiṅdhi). Ah! to live in a Monty Python universe where this was a common enough occurrence….