Indian soldiers pick up Mandarin in Nathu La pass - Times Of India OLKATA: "Nihao ma?" the burly Sikh soldier asks with a distinct Punjabi accent. His colleague from Madhubani in Bihar answers: "Wo hinhao. Ni ne?" The soldier's Maithili accent is quite evident, much to the amusement of the others watching the skit. The officers judging the show aren't laughing though. For them, it is serious business. The words exchanged are a simple "How are you?" and "I am fine. And you?" in basic Mandarin. Believe it or not, Indian soldiers posted at the 14,130 feet high Nathu La Pass in East Sikkim are not only picking up Mandarin phrases but also putting them to use in skits. These skits are judged by officers, many of who are experts in the language and the winning team is rewarded. "The soldiers are actually encouraged to pick up the language. The basic phrases not only help during interactions with Chinese soldiers and traders but also help to understand what is being said on the other side. It is a difficult proposition for a soldier from the Punjab or one from Tamil Nadu to pick up Mandarin but most have taken it up as a pastime as there is not much else to do in this remote part of the country. The competitions are organized to encourage them. Nowadays, some soldiers are even heard conversing between themselves in Mandarin, just for the fun of it," an officer said. For someone better trained in the language, the impromptu skits sound and look far worse than poorly-dubbed run of the mill Kung-fu flicks, an officer says but they serve a greater purpose. For one, it helps to lighten the mood during interactions like the special border personnel meet held on Independence Day. More importantly, it helps the soldiers interpret basic messages that they pick up from across the border during routine patrols. "Though we don't expect the soldiers - with their basic knowledge of the language - to interpret all messages, most of which are encrypted, sometimes even simple information can come in handy. There is also a lot of information that can be gleaned from traders, many of who can't speak Indian languages. The knowledge of basic Mandarin is crucial as the terrain is hostile and there is always the possibility of natural calamities when patrols are sometimes cut off from base," another officer said. Trade between India and China resumed six years ago. Under an agreement between the two countries, 29 items are exported from India and 15 imported. While Indian traders go as far as Renquinggang in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chinese traders come up to Sherathang. This year, nearly 300 applications have been received from traders for passes, sources said.