Just hearing him speak in Kannada, you wouldn’t think he is a foreigner. For he just doesn’t say, ‘swalpa swalpa gottu’, but surprises you by speaking Kannada like a native...complicated words roll off his tongue easily. Hendrik Hardeman (52), citizen of Denmark (born in Belgium), who has been residing in Mysuru for the past five years, has learnt Kannada to read and write thoroughly. His command over Kannada will give you some serious language goals.
Hendrik who first visited Bengaluru as a tourist in 1996, was so impressed by the city that he kept visiting India often. He founded India’s first dedicated puzzle company in 2001, which operated till 2008. In these seven years , he had developed a special love for Kannada language, and started learning the language.
He did not attend those classes where the spoken word is taught. His best teachers were dictionaries. He would constantly pore over them to understand the language. And he found that the best way to learn a language is to speak it.
He says, “In the initial days it was challenging for me to identify the Kananda language, as people in Bengaluru were speaking several other south Indian languages in addition to Kannada, such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. It took me some time to identify the Kannada alphabet. After some months, I bought a dictionary and started learning Kannada words. In the beginning, I found it very difficult to understand basic grammar like singular and plural words. By constantly referring to the dictionaries, I learnt the meaning of Kannada words and started using the words while communicating with people. And in a few months I learnt the nuances.”
Hendrik says as Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city with people speaking many languages, he couldn’t pick up the nuances of Kannada language. He was determined to master the language, so he shifted base to Mysuru in 2012. He says, “There are several instances when people looked at me in surprise when I spoke to them in Kannada. While some were confused when I spoke in Kannada, some have even apologised for speaking to me in English saying, ‘sorry we thought you were a foreigner’, he says smilingly.
People would be more surprised to know that he has written a short story in Kannada.
To enrich himself, he has read the books of writers like Poet Kuvempu, Poornachandra Tejaswi, Jayanth Kaykini, P Lankesh, among others. His favourite short stories are Krishnagowdana Anne and Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu. . He earns his livelihood by translating books.
Concerned that Kannada is no longer the priority for many, he says, ““Some people think speaking in Kannada is less dignified and hesitate to speak in this beautiful language. I have seen parents insisting that their children learn English. According to me, first, one must learn one’s mother tongue and then one can learn any language.”
During the 12th World Sudoku Championship and 26th World Puzzle Championship held in Bengaluru between October 15 and 21, Hendrik distributed a book to the foreigners who attended the event. The book gives a brief introduction to the Kannada alphabet, and the commonly used words in daily life, etc. He has transliterated the Kannada words in English.
Hendrik who has visited several European countries, can speak many languages like Dutch, German, French and Swedish. Coming to South Indian languages, he is fluent in Kannada while he can understand Tamil and Telugu.
But his passion remains Kannada, he says: “Kannada thumba chanda bhashe, maathadakke matthe kelakke ( Kannada is a beautiful language—to speak and sounds nice).”
In order to promote Kannada among children, he pans to write a series of adventure books for children. He is translating short stories of writer Jayanth Kaikini into Dutch as a personal project. Hendrik loves eating ragi ball (mudde), idli, vada with coconut chutney. He says, " I am interested in learning all languages, and all languages are interesting to me."
"It’s a great pride for Kannadigas,to see a foreigner staying in Karnataka, and taking interest to learn our mother tongue and teaching it to others. His project of translating the works of Kannada writers is even more laudable,"
Pa Mallesh, Kannada activist.