Holding hands with Kannada and Havyaka
During my most impressionable years it was recommended to me that my family weave our lives in the colonial fabric of English.
My Indian community told me that our mother tongues had no value. The message was delivered at dinner parties on Friday evenings, prayer services at the Temple, picnics in the park, and raucous sporting events. It was quietly said at poojas, shouted while biking across the St. John’s bridge, whispered in between tightening dance blouses, and mentioned after scooping green chutney onto the free samosas at music concerts.
You would think that every time this story was told, little Aishwarya would bring a tad more English into her home. For reasons I will seek my entire life, neither my sister nor I ever held hands with the bastard.
“Speaking another language is fun because you can talk about other people while they’re around”, they said. This is a good one. I laugh my throat raw, crack my spine while twisting into fits of glee.
Language is more than a transaction. It shapes a life. Non-English lives are not translations of English ones.
In our home we speak Havyaka and Kannada. Contrary to what those in English households believe, our way of being is not a translation of the English blueprint. We are not “saying the same thing, but in Kannada”. We are saying different things.
I have always felt that I could write volumes on what monolingual people do not see or hear, but the misery does not stop with them. There are too many who speak no language at all. It is for them that I have the deepest concern.
I remember a blonde girl in my elementary school who I befriended. She rotated between the same fifty English words, and I wondered what all she must have noticed and felt that simply went unexpressed or unpronounced. Did she see the shades of green I did while we played at recess amid towering Evergreen trees? Did she know the feelings of asaku, sankata, dakshinye or vismaya? What does she do when what she feels is neither happy, sad, nor angry but all that lives in between?
How will she ever paint pictures of our world and our lives without the words they deserve? They demand!
My concern for a muted world only amplifies when I ponder the limits of my own. Do I hear enough? Am I seeing enough? Who can teach me to hear and see more?