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In my own case, I took up with Hindi at a time when it seemed my life had buckled out from under me. I'd been fired from a magazine job and come to a reckoning: I really didn't want to do this any more. And since, other than early forays into hostessing at Roy Rogers', magazine editing is all I'd ever done and past the age of sixteen ever wanted to, I was disoriented in the extreme. I'd always been passionate about the business. As a kid in the straitening suburbs of Philadelphia, I'd hoped to be either an archeologist, a circus performer, or a poet. Magazine work, when I hit on that idea, seemed like it might in some ways combine the best of all three. You'd dig deep into culture, perform high wire acts with deadlines. And you'd be immersed in lyricism of a kind, wouldn't you? 

Not necessarily, or not at the glossy journals where I ended up, or not so far as I could see, twenty years on, when a chant had begun to loop through my head—I want to lead a more artistic life. I'd looked around then and saw how my life, long set in this direction, was turning out. At 37, I had an extensive collection of give-away moisturizers; as the second most geriatric person on staff, I'd been required to test them. I had stacks of review copies of books I never read, for my evenings were taken up with rounds of business parties and merchandizing events that blurred together. I had a closetful of shoes that were unnervingly expensive and a cat with bizarre proclivities, a kind of foot fetish, I'd say. The cat liked to eat the toes off leather high heels, but only the finest ones, only the Manolo Blahniks. I'd come home and find him on his back in the closet, cradling one half of a gnawed pair, a sated, crazed gleam in his eye. I couldn't say what psychological derangement was spurring him, but I could see this was a sign.

By the time, a few years later, when I was fired from the place that required on-the-job moisturizing, my life no longer made any kind of sense to me. Not bedrock, regenerative sense. Compounding this state of feeling uprooted from my existence while still in it, I'd had several encounters with a serious illness. That, then, is the place where I'd arrived, first time I took a Hindi lesson:

I no longer had the language to describe my own life. So I decided I'd borrow someone else's.

Excerpted from Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich, copyright © 2009. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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