Friday, October 25, 2019

Farsi Friday

It's Friday today - the weekly holiday - and Farsi is on my mind.

Here is Afghanistan two languages dominate the sound-scape: Dari and Pashto. Last year, when I first landed at Kabul airport, I was amazed to hear the driver who came to pick me up, ask somebody, "Kujo ast?" - and I understood the meaning perfectly!

Then at my workplace, I heard a colleague asking for a "Kainchi" and I knew without looking up that he wanted a pair of scissors. As days went by the list of familiar words got longer and longer - Charkhi (rotate), Hal (solve), Kharid (buy), Khwaab (dream), Daan (gift), Giriftaar (arrest), Pasand (like), Mushkil (difficult), Khushi (joy)... Just about all the words I assumed to be Urdu actually belonged to Farsi!

It turns out that Dari is the same as Farsi, the language of Iran and much of the former Persian Empire which included not only Afghanistan but also Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and parts of southern Russia. It is spoken by no less than 110 million people! Countries that belonged to the former USSR stopped using the Farsi script and adopted the Russian script.

Now if the words sounded so familiar, how long would it take to make sense of the written Farsi script? The curls, dots and squiggles on banners, shops and books looked completely different from the 32 letters a friend wrote down for me. A search of lessons on YouTube followed, and I gradually learnt that the letters when written together take on completely different shapes.

I continue to be confused by letters that sound similar:
"A" can be آ or ع
"Ta" - ط  or  ت
"Se" - س or  ث
"He" - ح or ه
"Za" - 4 options (!) - ظ ض ز ذ
"Ga" - غ or  ق

It may take a while to get a hang of the written and spoken language but until then, we have music! Here is a sample of some amazing Farsi instrumentals by Mehdi Aminian -

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