Empty Nest Magazine
Teaching Copyediting? In Delhi? In English?
by Carol Field
An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
In recent years, more and more of Aptara’s customers have begun to request off-shore (and thus lower-priced) copy editing, but they were rightly concerned that copy editors who are non-native English speakers might not be prepared to deal with the nuances of American English. I was asked to work and live in India for almost a year. My assignment? To figure out what the Delhi copyediting team needed to know and to determine the best way to teach it to them. Because my nest was empty, and my husband recently retired, how could I pass up this opportunity?
George and I arrived in Delhi on November 29, 2008. My first impression was that the city was dry, dusty, and very chaotic! Always a nervous auto passenger here in the United States, I had heard horror stories about the traffic from co-workers in India. I tried to prepare myself by watching videos on YouTube, but it was still a shock to actually experience it first-hand. Apparently, the rules of right-of-way are based solely on the size of the vehicle: first buses, then trucks, then cars, then auto-rickshaws, then bicycle rickshaws, then bicycles, and last the pedestrians. Oh, I forgot to mention that cows have the very first right of way. We were pretty much in deep culture shock for the first month. I eventually found that the best use of my time while I was being driven to and from work each day by our intrepid driver, Modh, was to just read the newspaper and make phone calls. Or to shut my eyes.
While we stayed in the guesthouse, we began an apartment search and found (on Craigslist!) a great three-bedroom apartment, with a rooftop terrace, in Defence Colony, a fairly quiet residential area within walking distance of a market. We had tried to find a furnished apartment, but we didn’t like any that we saw. Everyone thought we were crazy to furnish an apartment for only 10 months, but we rented a few pieces of furniture, bought the rest, and then sold it on Craigslist before we left. The commute to Aptara’s offices could range from ½ hour to 2 hours, depending on traffic.
One of the best things about India is that you can have practically anything made from scratch, to your specifications—and it’s actually affordable! George set to work sketching a coffee table, bookshelves, a homemade “sofa,” and a shelter to provide shade on the roof, where I planned to grow herbs and lettuce. It’s easy to find people to make almost anything within a day or two. For our “sofa,” we went to a little stall in a market near us and chose some fabrics for the mattresses. When we asked when we could pick them up, the proprietor said, “This afternoon?” Sure. We chose the fabric, the cotton stuffing, and the thickness. They were all stitched by hand and stuffed right there, within hours of ordering them. I loved that.
Getting to Work
There were some difficulties. As with other languages, understanding English is very context-dependent. The word wound can mean either an injury or the past tense of wind. The word pulses means “lentils” in India, not the rate of your heartbeat. Sometimes, when explaining the meaning of an English word, it is not always possible to come up with an equivalent that can be understood by an Indian audience. The same is true when attempting to define Indian terms for an English-speaking audience: Occasionally, a comparable word just does not exist. This makes the teaching difficult.
My friend and colleague Meenakshi told me a story about her 4-year-old nephew who lives and attends school in Salt Lake City, UT (USA). He took his visiting grandmother, resplendent in her beautiful silk sari, to school one day for show-and-tell. He explained to the class that one thing he enjoys doing with his grandmother is making rotis. The teacher said “What are rotis?” He replied, “They’re like chappati.” The teacher said, “What’s chappati?“ He then said, “They’re sort of like parantha.” He could have said Indian flatbreads, but who in India calls them that?
When I explained to my class that the United States has laws about using child car seats and that you could get fined for not following these laws, one of the copy editors said, “Well, how do you use car seats on motorcycles?” Makes me wonder how far a family of four can travel down I-95 between Philadelphia and Baltimore by motorcycle before being pulled over.
George spent most of his days taking Hindi lessons and getting into all kinds of trouble in Delhi. One day, he lost his hat trying to escape from an auto-rickshaw driver who insisted on taking him to tourist traps who sell overpriced rugs and stuff and not to the Chandi Chowk market, as George had requested. How he replaced his hat is a story for another day!
R & R
While in India, we didn’t do as much traveling as we would have liked, but we did get to Jaipur, Agra, and Rishikesh (best known as the location of the Ashram where the Beatles studied meditation and yoga with their guru).
Ending Too Soon
When the time came to leave, I also felt that after more than 10 months, I’d finally learned a bit about how to live in Delhi. When we first moved into our apartment there, we thought it would be fun to have a tandoori oven.. We looked on the Internet and saw some models that cost about 1,000 (dollars, not rupees!), so we quickly forgot about that. Just a few weeks before we left, however, I discovered that cheap tandoori ovens are available in electrical appliance shops all over the city. If only we had known—all that delicious, freshly baked naan we could have had!
Carol Field is Director of Publishing Services for Aptara, a U.S. company that provides on-shore and off-shore editorial, production, and conversion services to many U.S. and U.K. publishers. Carol was based in Aptara’s offices in New Delhi, India, from November 2008 until October 2009, just less than a year. At her departure, her nest had been empty for only a few months.
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