A New Perspective Towards Language and Culture: Dr. Rekha Sethi Visits HINDI 203 at Duke

Dr. Rekha Sethi in Hindi Class
Dr. Rekha Sethi in Hindi Class

When Dr. Kusum Knapcyzk told us we would be hosting a guest lecturer for one week from New Delhi, I did not know what to expect regarding content and structure. I was blown away by the exposure to culture and knowledge of Dr. Rekha Sethi. Sethi is a post-independence Hindi poetry and fiction professor at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She is also a well-respected author with experience in the advertising industry, allowing her to develop a deep understanding of modern Indian culture.

HINDI 203 is the third course in the traditional Hindi pipeline at Duke. It builds on the concepts of HINDI 101 and HINDI 102, focusing on advanced Hindi grammar and improving the ability to read, write, and speak the language. Like many other students in my class, I started with HINDI 101 to fulfill the Trinity College language requirement, which requires three semesters of a foreign language. A significant difference between HINDI 203 and the beginner classes is the emphasis on Hindi culture through film, newspapers, songs, and more. As a student of Indian descent, one surprising advantage of taking Hindi was the ability for me to connect further with my heritage and gain a better understanding of the culture my parents grew up in and how it has evolved into the 21st century.

Rekha Ji visited Duke for one week, and during that week, we focused on two main aspects of Indian culture - poetry and advertisements. The first one was obvious; like in American culture, Indian poetry has a rich history of intricate stories and profound, thoughtful lessons. Some of India’s most famous literature - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana - are poems. During our poetry lesson, every 203 student wrote a poem in Hindi about an aspect of our modern world that they felt should be improved. Rehka Ji emphasized our poems’ deeper meanings and wanted us to find ways to paint a picture through similes, metaphors, and personifications. Although we had experience using these figures of speech in English, using them in Hindi allowed us to truly apply our knowledge of the language. My poem focused on humanity’s destruction of the environment through pollution, deforestation, and poaching and how we must revert to our ways of respecting our environment while pushing technological advancements forward.

The second topic we focused on was advertising, a quintessential component of modern culture. As the largest population in the world, Indian advertisers need to be able to create advertisements that pique the interest of the masses, resulting in funnier, catchier, and simpler advertisements than American ones. Rekha Ji first started by showing us examples of Indian ads, focusing on the slogans as a way of bringing people in. Recently, we have been learning about common Hindi idioms, a unique combination of Hindi language and culture. Idioms are one of the topics I learned in English that I completely forgot might even have parallels in other languages, and one of the great things in 203, especially, is the exposure to the minute things in a foreign language that we take for granted in English. For my slogan, I centered it around a common Hindi idiom similar to the silver spoon idiom in English but centered around ghee or clarified butter.

Rekha Ji’s visit to Duke gave the HINDI 203 class a new perspective and understanding of Hindi culture. Kusum Ji does a fantastic job of connecting the course back to Indian culture through various media, including making a podcast in Hindi, and her collaboration with Rekha Ji added to the depth and quality of the teaching of the content. The experiences during that week were very riveting, and I appreciate Kusum Ji for inviting Rekha Ji to join in.

Link to view students' poems:



This workshop was supported and funded by Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke India Initiative and Duke Service Learning.