Monday, October 19, 2009

One-language woman

I'm language-learning-phobic.
I do admit it.

My grandfather spoke Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Pashto and English fluently. He translated Sanskrit with ease. My parents came from different ethnic language backgrounds and were, at least, tri-lingual. I have cousins, younger than me, who are in raptures over Spanish literature.

Someone forgot to hand me the language genes. You have to agree, it's unfair.

I understand that bloodpools have minds of their own, and genetic ancestry is really not a matter of conscious choice (I'm quite sure I would've chosen green eyes, longer fingers, slender knees etc.) But in this illustrous lineage of language lovers, I stand quite alone and quite awed at the sound of my family pattering off in other tongues.

I grew up speaking English and I love English. I dream in English, write poetry in English, sob on my knees on those heart-breaking days, in English, abuse mad drivers on Delhi roads, in English and yes, even conduct monologues (or would that be dialogues?) with my inner self in English.

When angels speak to me, they whisper in English and when gods, goddesses and gurus have paid dream visits, they clearly know what works. Their divine words of reassurance ring sweetly, not in celestial Sanskrit, but in the language of the monarch of England.

Certain cousins of mine, MAKE me speak Hindi just so they can laugh at me. I must put in that this is a tad offensive to our glowing family inheritance - this parading of my ignorance. It would be far better if I were just passed off as a quirk, a strange by-product who still can't get masculine and feminine gender straight in Hindi. (Yeah, yeah cousins...I know ya won't stop!)

I remember living in Phuket for six months in near total monastic silence. My colleagues spoke minimal English: "Hello, how are you?" "Have you had your lunch?" "Okay, have a nice day."
I kid you not. That was the word-fare I survived on for weeks. I obviously blew up all my money on phone calls just so I could HEAR half hour a day of grammatically accurate English, with enough verbs, nouns, pronouns and adjectives thrown in to make me float on a cloud of joy.

I refused to learn Thai. I just couldn't get myself to do it. I had a sneaky suspicion that even if I DID learn the language, conversation would still revolve around "Hi, how are you?" "Have you had your lunch?" "Okay, have a nice day."

Clearly not motivating enough for a language-learner-phobic.

So, I've come to realise that I must just accept that I'm a one-language woman; that when I speak to my school kids in Hindi, they will giggle; that when I address an audience in Hindi, I will be translating in my head, and still using 50% English.

So, I've come to realise, that English is just intimately tied into my brain neurons and triggers emotion, impulses, images and reactions like no other language can. We are intertwined in an intricate web of sounds and words that not even an ethnic tongue has managed to unweave.

So I've come to realise, it's me and English.
till death do us part.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love you, Daddy

I remember spluttering and squealing, clutching your wrists at age four when you shampooed my hair, because somehow, the soapy water always trickled into my eyes when it was your turn to give me a shower.

I remember the comfort of resting my head over your shoulder at age five as you carried me through endless late night weddings in India. My chin bumped against your back as you walked, and though I towered over the world from that height, I caught the sweetest naps in those moments, safe in your arms.

I remember the smell of incense and twisting my head to peer at you, upside down, as you did the headstand on a Sunday morning.

I remember how you drove the beat-up car so Mom could drive the supercool, more comfortable one.

I remember how you were always the refined, gracious, diplomatic one while Mom blazed trails of fire with her spunk and vivacity. Between the two of you, I tasted the wild and the controlled; that heady mix of opposites that gave me the flexibility to adapt to the norm, while keeping the fire of of my spirit burning bright.

Over the years, we've shared moments of deep sorrow that stretched before us like a boundless desert, misunderstanding that hung around like dark clouds and mistrust that crackled like a burning log, every now and then...

Over the years, we've shared moments of great happiness that pulled us through our barren grief, understanding that forged a bond no force can break, and trust, that sparkled with the innocence of fresh dew.

For the times you have been there to catch me as I stumble... For the times you have driven me to stand up, brush the blood off my knees and walk again... For the times you have nursed me back to health... the nights you've stayed awake worrying about me... and long ago, changed my diapers, cleaned up my puke...

For deciding to be a parent and dedicating all your waking and sleeping hours to the constant thought of my welfare...

For living through the day Mom passed away, putting your life together and finding meaning and purpose in it, all these years later...

For giving meaning and purpose to the lives of children you teach...

For choosing to be my father in this life - I would have it no other way.

I love you, Daddy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Karva Chauth - charm or charade?

(The day of the complete fast kept by a married Hindu woman for the longevity and health of her husband.)

I-pod firmly plugged in, I'm out on my late evening walk. Its the perfect weather, when you work up only the faintest beads of sweat. I know the theory is: sweating = great work-out. But some days, no sweating = fun workout. (For me!)

I am amazed at how many couples I pass on my route today. Wives bedecked in finery that makes them shine like christmas trees from a mile away; husbands gallantly reaching home early from work, to give their beloved partners some company on this difficult day.

All day I've heard people exchange greetings on the phone. Mothers-in-law who can see that their son's marriage is all but over. Daughters-in-law who spend the other 364 days of the year cursing their husbands.

I fail to see the point of the glitzy clothing and the fast. Yeah, it was a great way to get husbands to feel good about themselves and lord it over the women-folk (but hey! didn't they always do that in our culture?)

It was also a great way to make the women feel like they were sacrificing their very sustenance for their husband (and we wonder why Indian women are such martyrs - whoopee! there's even a day to celebrate it!)

Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against the ritual. Like many other rituals, I'm sure Karva Chauth, is about much more than the ego high for the male and the martyr lesson for the female. It is not about the sieve and the moon and the dolling up. Nor is it about the extravagant gift the wife demands of her husband. And for God's sake, its certainly not about the parcelling of specific food items from saas to bahu or whatever route it follows.

That it has degenerated to this, merely shows how pointless rituals are when perceptions are skewed.

Karva Chauth would be the perfect day for life partners to renew their vows and reaffirm to each other why they chose to be together, what they learn from each other and how the relationship is helping them grow as individuals. It would be a great time to take stock of how the other partner feels, where pockets of resentment might be bubbling and how best they can deal with it. It would certainly be a wonderful time to share their hopes and aspirations for the coming year.

Karva Chauth is when you look at your partner through the sieve, symbolic (to me) of looking at your relationship with a sieve. Sorting out your emotions and taking a good honest look at what you are giving to the relationship and what its giving back to you. Are you taking too much crap? Are you giving too much crap? Has this bond degenerated into bitterness? Is it a noose around your neck? Are you committed to your values? Are you a doormat? Are you selfish?

Yup - face it, face it, face it. In an ideal world, one would face it on a daily basis (but then, I realised at the humble age of 19 that an ideal world exists only in my head.) Well, if only once a year, atleast we're being honest with ourselves.

Let Karva Chauth be the day we thank our partners for the wisdom they've brought into our lives. For being mirrors to reflect our own eccentricities. For being teachers on our journey through life. For walking with us - as far as we can walk together. For accepting the moment when our roads part. For sharing with us in the exquisite human bond of love.