800 days of Hindi

I’m not one of those people who baked all the things and learned all the things and got super productive during quarantine.

I just deleted social media apps from my phone and was able to keep my streak on duolingo so that I went from total beginner to roughly intermediate in Hindi.

In my twenties I went through a Bollywood phase. I bought a basic grammar book and invested an hour or two to learn the Devanagari alphabet and a LOT of hours watching movies, learning some basic words and essential phrases like “yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti”… I have fond memories of movies like Lagaan, Swades, Black, Rang de Basanti, 3 Idiots, Tare Zameen Par, etc. (*) Then life happened and I didn’t continue my learning journey.

Then the pandemic hit and I started spending too much time doom-scrolling on my phone, as you do. Eventually I decided to divert my attention to something positive and deleted social media apps so that my thumb would automatically open duolingo instead.

When you consistently expose your brain to things, it learns them in due course, despite yourself. That’s the most fun way of learning to me. The side-effecty way.

It means, of course, that the learning is slow. But I don’t mind. I enjoy the learning of things, not only the knowing of things. (**)

But how to decide what language to learn and how to go about it afterwards?

Deciding. Everyone has their own reasons to learn a language. Personally, I’m guided by my interest in some content that I don’t understand and want to access in its original language. Turkish and German are my two native languages, so I didn’t decide to learn them, they were presents in a way.

Tim Ferriss has a blog post about quickly getting a feel for any language in an hour to make the decision easier. (For more on language learning, also check out this guest post from Gabriel Wyner.) In this post he gives a list of sentences that reveal a lot about the structure and complexity of a language. Below are those sentences in Hindi, German, and Turkish.

The apple is red. 
सेब लाल है
Der Apfel ist rot.
Elma kırmızı.
It is John’s apple.
यह जॉन का सेब है
Es ist John’s Apfel.
O John’un elması.
I give John the apple.
मैं जॉन को सेब देता हूं
Ich gebe John den Apfel.
Elmayı John’a veriyorum.
We give him the apple.
हम उसे सेब देते हैं
Wir geben ihm den Apfel.
Biz elmayı ona veriyoruz.
He gives it to John.
वह इसे जॉन को देता है
Er gibt es John.
O onu John’a veriyor.
She gives it to him.
वह इसे उसे देती है
Sie gibt es ihm.
O onu ona veriyor.
I must give it to him.
मुझे इसे उसे देना चाहिए
Ich muss es ihm geben.
Onu ona vermeliyim.
I want to give it to her.
मैं इसे उसे देना चाहता हूं
Ich möchte es ihr geben.
Onu ona vermek istiyorum.

German is the worst with all its articles, gendered nouns, and gazillion rules. (I once tried to explain the difference between abnehmen, annehmen, ausnehmen, zunehmen, vernehmen, aufnehmen, etc. and it was torture.) But it gives you access to the writings of Goethe, Rilke, Nietzsche, etc.

Hindi has gendered nouns too, but it is much more flexible in its sentence structure. You can put words in different places in a sentence and it still makes sense.

Turkish is the easiest with no gendered nouns and few, if any, exceptions in grammar. Pronunciation is straightforward, plus there are cool ways to form new nouns and verbs. Look at this one word sentence “çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdan mısınız“? meaning “are you of those who we couldn’t turn into Czechoslovakians?”.(Czechoslovakia is being used in this example only because it has many letters.)

Exposure. I try to expose myself to the language I’m learning as much as possible, but only in ways that feel natural and don’t require me to go out of my way. For instance, I like to watch travel videos on YouTube, so I subscribed to Dhiren Bhagtani’s channel. Sadly he is not posting since the pandemic, but there are similar channels and YouTube is good at suggesting them to you. Themed channels like that are great, because the vocabulary revolves around mostly one topic. For content in a variety of topics I subscribed to Dhruv Rathee’s channel and Mohak Mangal’s channel. I have a much more difficult time understanding those videos, but it’s ok, my brain will eventually get there.

Tools. Thankfully the days of instruction books with their accompanying cassette tapes and CDs are a thing of the past. Instead we have lots of apps and websites to choose from.

duolingo is great, because it breaks the humongous task of learning a language down into chewable morsels, passive-aggressively inviting you to do the day’s work.

The content is organized as lessons that take less than five minutes, where you have to translate sentences to and from the language you want to learn. You also have to repeat sentences aloud.

Another tool I learned to appreciate is HelloTalk. It is a tool to connect people who want to learn each other’s language.

You simply specify what languages you know and what languages you want to learn and are presented with a list of people you can contact.

I’m sure there are other tools like that, but the winning feature for me was this feature to correct each other’s sentences in the chat.

To hear the correct pronunciation of words, I mainly use forvo.com. Many online dictionaries and also Google Translate provide pronunciations, but they sound mechanical. On forvo, you can find pronunciations by real people in almost any language and accent. For most popular languages there are hundreds of thousands of words already. The community is active, so that words that don’t exist and that you request are being recorded quickly.

After reaching a certain point, the only way forward is to read and write in that language. So for Hindi, I will try to get light books that I would normally read. Children books or Agatha Christie books would be great. Once I feel more at ease with my vocabulary, I would want to spend more time chatting with friends on HelloTalk.

On duolingo I will now go forward with Italian and Arabic, and hopefully one day Japanese.

(*) Beware of Hindi movies. They are three hours long and can ruin shorter movies for you. To me “normal” movies feel rushed now. Before you can feel an emotion, the scene changes. In a Hindi movie, if there is a happy scene, everyone savors that feeling for five minutes straight; if there is a sad scene, you have five minutes of crying.

(**) As a lecturer of (mostly) programming, this is the issue I have with most of my students these days. They all like the idea of being a programmer, but they want to skip the learning part. Online course and book titles like “Learn ____ in 24 hours” are not helping either. To set their expectations right, I refer them to the post by Peter Norvig with the title “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years“.

Of course everything will change now that there are tools like ChatGPT. We all will have to adapt our teaching outcome goals, content, teaching style, assessment approach, etc. Exciting times!


This post was not planned to turn out like this. The plan was to take a few excerpts and publish the audio snippets.

But, to remember my favorite parts I read it again. When I started writing the first draft of this post (months ago) my rating for the book on Goodreads was 4 stars. When I finished, it was down to 2.

What changed?

Well, what didn’t change was that I started choking up the instant there is the father-son tension at the beginning of the book and the son breaks his father’s heart. At the end the son becomes a father himself and gets his heart broken by his son and realizes the cyclic nature of things with a sad smile. That realization may ease his pain, but it doesn’t detract from the pain he had let his father go through. I cry my eyes out.

What changed was that this time I could not ignore Siddhartha’s arrogance throughout the book. How could I miss it before? I guess I was racing through the book to find out if he would go back to his father one day.

I know Siddhartha is a fictional character, but I treat him like a real one here. I didn’t want to do the character or the book injustice, so I read it one more time. And then I read it once more, this time in English. (The English version has a softer tone somehow? I would love to know if someone who read both versions has had a similar experience.)

The main point that Siddhartha makes throughout the book – his teaching if you will – is that wisdom cannot be learned from teachings or by following teachers; that it can only be attained through personal experience. He uses the words wisdom and knowledge interchangeably sometimes, which bothers me.

“It is good,” he thought, “to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don’t just know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for me, to know this!

“Es ist gut,” dachte er, “alles selber zu kosten, was man zu wissen nötig hat. Dass Weltlust und Reichtum nicht gut sind, habe ich schon als Kind gelernt. Gewusst habe ich es lange, erlebt habe ich es erst jetzt. Und nun weiss ich es, weiss es nicht nur mit dem Gedächtnis, sondern mit meinen Augen, mit meinem Herzen, mit meinem Magen. Wohl mir, dass ich es weiss.”

Thankfully this is not all true1 and we do learn things from teachings, from the experience of others, from fictional stories even, or from mistakes of our own; extrapolating what could and would happen if we made bigger ones. Where would we, as humans, be without that ability?

If the aim of knowledge is to gain certainty, then of course, some kinds of learning will lead to higher degrees of certainty, such as learning by experience. The question then becomes, in which areas do we need high degrees of certainty and which areas are fine with the level we attain through second-hand knowledge.

In the end, Siddhartha is the story of a man who can think more deeply than others and has knowledge and/or tools that most people don’t bother acquiring. However, he needs to guard himself … feeling different can lead to feeling superior very fast. And it does. When reading about his thoughts I shout in loud: “that is arrogance you ignorant person!” and hear it echoing right back at me.

Even when thanking Govinda for a kindness, he shows this haughtiness:

It also gives me joy, to see you again. You’ve been the guard of my sleep, again I thank you for this, though I wouldn’t have required any guard.

Auch mich erfreut es, dich wiederzusehen. Du bist der Wächter meines Schlafes gewesen, nochmals danke ich dir dafür, obwohl ich keines Wächters bedurft hätte.

Reluctant to ask for help, not wanting to admit he might need help, saying it was not necessary when someone does help, … “If you cannot thank sincerely, don’t bother!” I shout. And again it echoes right back… 

Too much knowledge had held him back, too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rules, too much self-castigation, so much doing and striving for that goal! Full of arrogance, he had been, always the smartest, always working the most, always one step ahead of all others, always the knowing and spiritual one, always the priest or wise one. Into being a priest, into this arrogance, into this spirituality, his self had retreated, there it sat firmly and grew, while he thought he would kill it by fasting and penance.

Zu viel Wissen hatte ihn gehindert, zu viel heilige Verse, zu viel Opferregeln, zu viel Kasteiung, zu viel Tun und Streben! Voll Hochmut war er gewesen, immer der Klügste, immer der Eifrigste, immer allen um einen Schritt voran, immer der Wissende und Geistige, immer der Priester oder Weise. In dies Priestertum, in diesen Hochmut, in diese Geistigkeit hinein hatte sein Ich sich verkrochen, dort saß es fest und wuchs, während er es mit Fasten und Buße zu töten meinte. 

He convolutes the point, as he frequently does. The problem was not that he knew too much, that he disciplined himself too much, that he worked too much. The problem was that he felt superior because of those things. No true teaching could benefit him, as long as he felt superiority in his heart.

I think that arrogance was there till the end. That is why he couldn’t learn from another human being. Not even from Vasudeva. Luckily for him, the river was not human and he allowed himself to learn Vasudeva’s teachings through the river. With considerable delay.

Another issue I have is how he treats Govinda at the end. What he tries to convey is not that complicated, but trying to sound profound, he confuses Govinda more and more and enjoys it. Basically: time is not a real thing; the sinning, non-enlightened, and enlightened versions of a person from different life times exist simultaneously; if you can internalize this enough you will understand many things and suffering will become meaningless. Simple.

That is why the ending of the book is not believable to me. Govinda with his humility had more chances of turning into light. Or whatever happened. But Govinda was not willing to let himself go further in his journey. He was probably afraid of not being able to differentiate between real experiences and hallucinations without the guidance of a teacher who went through it before. So he was content with being a follower of someone he recognized as truthful. And good for him. Being a follower of someone on a right path is better than some alternatives.

Ironically, the skills that benefit Siddhartha the most throughout his life are the things he learned through “zu viel Kasteiung, zu viel Tun und Streben!” … the skills that result in the probably most famous part of the book:

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast. …, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”

“Ich kann denken. Ich kann warten. Ich kann fasten. … , jeder kann seine Ziele erreichen, wenn er denken kann, wenn er warten kann, wenn er fasten kann.

In conclusion, all that haughtiness led to my low rating after reading the book FOUR times. Leaving only this part I can fully agree with.

So let’s think, let’s wait, let’s fast 🙂

You can find the carefully, produced English version in different formats on Standard Ebooks. And the German version on the Gutenberg website.

(1) Hat tip to J.D. Salinger.


Henry David Thoreau’s classic book Walden is one of my favorite books. I love when serious books still have fun parts sprinkled here and there.

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate… We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”

This reflects how I think about most of social media apps, supposedly connecting people. Deleting WhatsApp, for instance, was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Oh the horror of being added to countless groups *shivers*

(Disclaimer: I read the text in English as a way to force myself to speak out loud to improve my poor pronunciation skills. I read the text in German to provide learners of the language with audio snippets, hopefully from books they love. Check out forvo for word pronunciations by native speakers for all the words in the world.)

“A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”

“Einmal bot mir eine Dame eine Fußmatte an. Da ich aber in meinem Haus keinen Raum zu schonen hatte, weder drinnen noch draußen Zeit genug, sie auszuschütteln, lehnte ich dankend ab und zog es vor, meine Schuhe auf dem Rasen vor der Tür abzuputzen. Es ist das beste, das Übel gleich von Anfang an zu vermeiden.“

“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

“Als könne man die Zeit totschlagen, ohne die Ewigkeit zu verletzen.“

You can find the book in different formats on the Gutenberg website. Full audio can also be found there.

Autumn at Walden Pond” by jitze

Rèplica de la cabana de Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond, Concord, USA” by Sebastià Giralt

On the dangers of non-worship

(Before I start: this post will probably make only sense to Muslims. The terminology and the concepts will be more familiar to them. Apologies.)

Writing about the dangers of worship got me thinking. 

In Islam we know that intentions are very important. We try to guard our intentions so that we do our actions only out of worship, to please Allah. We try to guard ourselves against shirk and riya, i.e. doing things for show or to impress people, etc. I thought that I was doing not bad in that respect. (Even thinking that should have been a sign.)

BUT I just realized that there are things that I do, of which I sometimes explicitly think to myself that I do them not to please Allah – even though they are in alignment with the religion – but because they are the right thing to do, the moral thing to do. 

For instance, something simple like picking up trash from the street. I think to myself that it is something I do, because it is the right thing to do.

You might think, as I did, what’s wrong with that? The problem is that the intention is not tied to the worship of Allah. The intention is tied to me, my self-image. Thinking of myself as someone who picks up trash from the streets, who does the right thing not because to get some reward or escape some kind of punishment or to show off … patting my ego on the shoulder without even realizing, essentially praising myself on how good I am, how moral I am. 

And just like that ujb (pride) enters the heart, i.e. having a high opinion of oneself (regarding something, anything). The very very next step would be to think “I am better than people who do not pick up the trash, who don’t have that moral standard”. And just like that kibr (arrogance) enters the heart. And arrogance is downfall. (*)

Sometimes ujb and kibr are mixed up. But as in the above example, I don’t need anybody else to have ujb in my heart. But I need someone else to feel better than, to have kibr. Both are illnesses of the heart and have to be dealt with. Hamza Yusuf’s book Purification of the Heart contains a great summary of the diseases. It is published with an open license so you can find it online as a PDF file. 

I finally understand why our teaching is so keen on guarding intentions, to always tie them to Allah. It is yet another safety precaution to save us from ourselves. Unbelievable that it took me 40 years and writing a blog post about it to realize this. So that is why people are always raving about journaling 🙂 

(*) Whilst picking up trash from the street is objectively better than not picking up trash from the street, it does not follow that by doing that action a human is better/superior than the one who does not do the action. We are not supposed to think in terms of superiority.

… there is so much left to know and I’m on the road to find out.”

Three Men on the Bummel


Jerome’s book after “Three Men in a Boat” follows the same English friends, this time on a bicycle trip through Germany. Their prejudices and lack of linguistic skills make for some hilarious encounters. Clean British humour.

You can find the book in different formats on the Gutenberg website.

Here an excerpt in English and German.

(Disclaimer: I read the text in English as a way to force myself to speak out loud to improve my poor pronunciation skills. I read the text in German to provide learners of the language with audio snippets, hopefully from books they love. Check out forvo for word pronunciations by native speakers for all the words in the world.)

.. (Your German) likes his view from the summit of the hill, but he likes to find there a stone tablet telling him what to look at, find a table and bench at which he can sit to partake of the frugal beer and “belegte Semmel” he has been careful to bring with him. If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree, forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security.

.. (Der Deutsche) mag seine Aussicht vom Gipfel des Hügels, aber er mag dort gerne eine Steintafel vorfinden, die ihm sagt, was er sich anschauen soll; einen Tisch und eine Bank, wo er sich hinsetzen kann um von seinem genügsamen Bier und belegtem Semmel teilzuhaben, die er umsichtig mitgebracht hat. Wenn er noch dazu an einem Baum eine polizeiliche Notiz vorfindet, die ihm dieses oder jenes verbietet, gibt ihm das ein zusätzliches Gefühl von Behaglichkeit und Sicherheit.

Collage with photos from openverse

Seat with a view” by highlights6

Lederhosen, green knee socks and leather shoes” by Ivan Radic

Salami-Käse-Baguette – Salami and Cheese Baguette” by Jutta M. Jenning

ALLES VERBOTEN” by seven_resist

On the dangers of worship

This post is prompted by the quote from Ross Roberts’ blog post about his 12 rules for life in Tim Ferriss’ newsletter “5-Bullet Friday”.

“Rule 2: Find something healthy to worship”

The underlying assumption being that there is an inherent need in human beings to worship something (*).  

Personally, I would revise that to “find something true to worship”.

Worship means submission of the ego to the thing that you worship. When you look for something “healthy” to worship, who does the choosing? Is it not the ego still? 

The intention behind the search is important. If the intention is to find a source of meaning to not end up unhappy or unfulfilled, then the intention is still to benefit the ego. Just not a material kind of benefit. The result: still worshipping yourself —albeit in disguise —and feeling good about yourself.  Or worse: feeling to be better than others, leading to self-righteousness, leading to arrogance. And arrogance is downfall.

On the other hand, when you find something true, you have a chance to stump the ego.

For example, if you do good to feel good, you get that benefit. But you also get the risks. If you do good out of worship, as part of your submission, you will get the benefit of feeling good and less of the risks, being aware of them, guarding your intentions. And in that lies the struggle until the end.

(*) Additional information for people who are interested what the Islamic standpoint is on this. Please ignore if not interested.

In the Islamic teaching the answer would be yes, there is an inherent need placed in human beings. According to the Quran, every human being is created in a pure state, the so-called fitra, which is aligned with the guidance, ready to choose or reject it. 

There is no concept of original sin that pollutes that state, no concept of Adam and Eve sinning and all of us ending up here as a consequence of their punishment. They knew from the start that they were created to live on Earth. Their time in heaven ends up being a time for them to learn to be human, that is to make mistakes and more importantly to show the right response to that, which is owning up and taking responsibility; to learn about the enemy without (Satan) and within (ego). Their response to their disobedience was to acknowledge that they did something wrong right away and to ask God for forgiveness (which was granted). 

In contrast, the Quran tells of Satan’s response when he made a mistake when he refused to follow the order of bowing before Adam. He first tried to justify his disobedience by stating that he is better than him, because he is created from fire and Adam is created from mud (earth + water), revealing his arrogance. (And arrogance is downfall.) Then he blamed not himself but God for leading him astray.

Once Adam and Eve demonstrate responsibility, they are ready for their life on Earth and the story or history of humans on Earth begin.

resumed …

I tried to rescue my old blog, but there was some kind of versioning problem and I couldn’t export all the data. So I copied the post contents from the database and reblogged them. That is why all older posts have the same date. I will try to change them directly in the database, so that they reflect the actual timeline. The images still link to the old blog and will be broken at some point I’m sure. It can be that I unpublish the old posts once I prove to myself that I can sustain a posting habit.

A lot of time has passed since my last post from 2014 (?) I think and my interests have changed somewhat, so I’ve updated my Likes and Dislikes lists.

Home is where my yarn is

I is back !! 3.5 months away in a loud district of Istanbul and of all times during the election campaign, made me appreciate the silence here so much more 🙂 I had a good time in Istanbul and charged a lot of energy, but I couldn’t meet all the friends I wanted to meet … well, maybe in a few years then. I did meet this lovely creature at my aunt’s place though


Thankfully my mom was there with me for a month and made me finish THE EuroBlanket 🙂 She also helped me finish it and crocheted parts of it and the last lines around the blanket as well. So, a huge thanks to my mom !!

Now we the team have to decide where to sell it, to which price, and to a fix-price or auction ? Let the comments and suggestions come in 🙂 Maybe we should put a poll on the EST blog as well.


Turkish Breakfast

After I read Darya’s (@summertomato) recent blog post about what she eats for breakfast (healthy of course), I thought it would be nice to get to know what people from different cultures eat for breakfast, healthy or not 😉

So, I want to share with you a typical Turkish breakfast, because that is the one I am exposed to the most. Here is what a typical Turkish breakfast would contain nowadays (photo by @bergerx):

  • black tea
  • cheese (soft white cheese and hard cheese)
  • olives
  • tomato, cucumber, paprika ( note that all these fruits/vegetables taste delicious eaten with cheese )
  • honey and home made marmelade ( again, delicious with cheese )
  • white bread, simit, or different types of pastry
  • menemen (see my recipe) or eggs with sucuk (or pastırma)
  • a more traditional breakfast, as from Ottoman times, also included soup. In fact that is how people start their day at more rural areas of Turkey.
a typical breakfast table

It is a wonderful thing to wake up to the delicious smells of such a table, every food blogger will understand that it is equally wonderful to prepare them for loved ones and watch their happy faces.

However, times are changing. Everyone tries to rush out of the house in these days of ever faster running clocks. And breakfast is often times reduced to a quick tea, a simit and some cheese at a cafe/tea house or ‘simit palace‘ on the way to work (photo by @ilmiraggio). Not the healthiest and most nutritious of choices .. but delicious nevertheless 🙂

Tea, simit and pogaca at Pierre Loti (photo by @ilmiraggio)

It will take some time to convince my extended family members (especially my grandma) that a breakfast without the bread, pastry and jam is more fulfilling and the better choice. But I guess to enjoy a breakfast like this once in a while is totally acceptable .. especially if there are lots of people to gather around the table 🙂

Healthy Delights

It has been over a month since I banned processed sugar and white flour from my daily diet. As I said before, the transition was surprisingly smooth. My family and friends do not realise that it has been a huge change for me .. I mean really huge. If my late grandfather and best friend would see my eating habits now he wouldn’t believe it. We used to be partners in crime during the Eid days when it came to eating all the chocolate in the house my grandmother reserved for the guests 🙂

As easy the transition was, there was one thing I did miss during the past month … biscuits/cookies to go with my glass of milk.

But today, when I was looking for healthy dessert recipes without sugar I came across Heidi’s 101 Coobooks blog where she published her friend’s Nikki’s “Healthy Cookies Recipe“. Me being me, and also not having the exact ingredients at home, I changed the recipe a bit and was blown away by the way they turned out. And it was unbelievably easy and fast to make as well. I made a big tray full and there were only six left when I last saw them in the kitchen.


Without further ado, here comes the recipe with the title: easiest, healthiest, tastiest, bestest cookie recipe I’ve seen. Pity that my photo doesn’t do the cookies justice.


  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup rape oil
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2 cups of oat bran
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1/3 cup coconut flakes
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder


Mix all the dry ingredients. Blend the bananas in a large bowl with a hand blender and add the oil and raisins. Add the dry ingredients and mix everything using a spoon. Take tablespoon fulls of the mixture and place them on the baking paper leaving some distance between each.

Bake at 180 C until they get brown underneath (takes approximately 30 minutes)