Matthew B. Stannard says Urdu is a very cultured and vibrant language
He doesn’t say ‘good morning’, but, instead, greets you with ‘Assalamu Alaikum’. As you do a double take, he gently asks “main aapki kya khidmat kar sakta hoon?”
Nothing wrong with that. Only the man in question is from the land of Uncle Sam. As you continue to bewilder, he tries to engage you in chaste Urdu conversation with a disarming smile.
No prizes for guessing. He is the one who interviews you at the US Consulate in Hyderabad if you happen to have an Urdu background.
Well, Matthew B. Stannard loves to wax eloquent in Urdu not only at his workplace but just about everywhere. “It is a very cultured and vibrant language. I love to speak it,” he says.
Of course his accent is heavily anglicised but the choice and flow of Urdu words is spontaneous and natural.
During the last two years that he has been here, Mr. Stannard has gained a good grip on the language and is fully conversant with Hyderabadi culture too.
“The people here are very friendly and politely put up with me when I falter in pronunciation,” he says.
Mr. Stannard takes pains to avoid words like ‘tu and tum’ and uses the more respectable ‘aap’ in his conversation. We have to address everyone with izzat ke saath, he explains.
Of course he has picked up the typical Deccani lingo peppered with ‘hau’ and ‘nakko’. To show his expertise he reels off the tongue twister – Chandu ke chacha ne Chandu ki chachi ko ….
Learning Urdu was not easy. Mr. Stannard had to undergo an intensive six-month course at the Foreign Services Institute in Virginia before his posting to Hyderabad as vice consul at the US Consulate here.
He continues to brush up his conversational skills and spends time learning new words. “I read the Siasat newspaper everyday to improve my language,” he says.
In the next few months, Mr. Stannard will be moving to Brunei to take up a new assignment.
He hopes to keep in touch with Urdu by reading the Urdu blogs and tuning in to the BBC.
Cuisine and culture
Language apart, Hyderabadi cuisine and culture have left a mark on him.
Mr. Stannard couldn’t resist spicy biryani and haleem. Shahdab hotel is his favourite haunt for biryani. “This is my second Ramzan in Hyderabad and I am looking forward to the Pista House haleem,”he says.
The 40 something Stannard loves to drive his Bullet Enfield which he acquired in the old city.
He has covered 1,400 km on it zipping through Rajasthan along with a group of friends.
Burqa for wife
The sartorial excellence of Hyderabad has also rubbed off on him. He occasionally dons the ‘sherwani’ and plans to acquire a burqa for his wife, Kim. “Why not? It’s Hyderabadi style,” he says.