A Journey through Languages

“There are thousands of Languages in the world; But a Smile speaks them all”.

It is true when the matter is only to connect with fellow Human beings. However, if the matter is to survive and thrive in the world of the man, we got to do a lot more than just smile. We got to learn the language the world understands and recognizes.

I am born in a Hindi speaking family of a small town and my experiences with different languages and dialects have been quite interesting. Well, at least for me.

My Haryanvi experience:

This is not a very pleasant one and is a bit embarrassing. But I have to get this out. What I am going to share is mostly based on the story narrated by my mom at several occasions (as if it is something to be proud of) and my utter inability to speak a word in my mother tongue in public. For anybody who is not from haryana and has no experience of listening to haryanvi dialect and understanding the jaat sensibilities, it is hard to understand what I am talking about. It sounds like a harsh and rude language to a novice. But it is not bad; it is a little rough around the edges but very interesting dialect.

I picked it up fairly quickly from my Grand mom when I had the pleasure to spend some quality time with her in my childhood. As it happened, my mom was a working woman and she got transferred to a new town on her govt. job. She needed a bit of time to get settled. So, I was sent to live with my grand mom in our village for a few weeks. And as usually happens, we tend to pick up the curse words of every new language or dialect pretty quickly. So, did I. Not just the words but the tone and the expression and the sensibility too. It is true, you can’t really perfect a language or a dialect without grasping the expression, sensibilities or the culture that language and dialect represents.

In short, I became quite a Pro in my mother tongue. Seems like my Granny was quite an excellent teacher and a great influence on me.

During the same period, i got to spend a few days with my maternal-granny. And with my excellent language skill, I managed to scare the poor old soul quite a lot (I would not dare to explain in detail as to what I said to her). My mom obviously was shocked and decided to take me along and vowed to never send me to our village for so long.

Now, for all the people who belong to my generation or older, it would be easy to understand that for our parents it was a matter of pride and honor to see that their children are good mannered, well behaved and docile. I was none when I came back from village. It was quite hard for my mom, though other people would find it cute to listen to a rustic language from the mouth of a young 5 year old child. And then the doom day arrived.

One of my mom’s colleagues invited my mom for tea and insisted that she brings me along. So, we went. To my mom’s great horror, I behave absolutely the opposite of what she would have loved to see me do. I grabbed the entire snack plate to eat and insisted that whatever is left on the plate, I must take home with me. And of course, my language was quite the way haryanvi is. That was the epitome of misbehaviour for mom. She somehow managed a calm face in front of her colleague. But, the moment we came out of her house, turned around the corner, all hell broke loose. She literally beat the haryanvi out of me. Thank god that I do not remember that incident; otherwise I would have hated my mum for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, it is still embarrassing.

The instant and long lasting effect of the “Chittar intervention” (most of the north-indians would know what I am talking about) implemented by my mom was that I forgot about talking and cursing in haryanvi. I even till date am completely and totally incapable of using any curse words of any language and my soul squirms when I hear people using such words.

One downside of this intervention was that I could never connect with my grandparents and village folks in my growing up years because I used to talk to them in Hindi while they would

be talking to me in Haryanvi. So, my conversations were more formal and limited. I also could never feel like I am a part of them and they always treated me as someone special and different. Sometimes. I miss being one of them because I was not speaking their language.

The fact of the matter is that I can speak flawless haryanvi and crack jokes and make comments. But, I still do not do this with most of people who know me. I could find my confidence back in my mother tongue after many years of my marriage in a Jaat family where the everyday language is haryanavi.

So, you can take a Jaat out of haryana, but you cannot take haryanavi out of a jaat. It stays inside, always.

I guess thats all for now…. in the next part, I shall share more about other languages in my life…till then, Ram Ram bhaio, tike rahiyo….

My Punjabi Experience:

Some of the sweetest, most kind and compassionate people in my life have been Punjabi speaking. I feel a sense of belonging with this language though I am not and expert to talk fluent and flawless Punjabi. So, if you speak Punjabi, I am already a bit biased towards you.

I am not trying to say that people who speak Punjabi do not go rude or fight. Oh! hell they do. You just do not want to face a Punjabi gone mad, they can kill you just by their words. But, my experience thankfully is all sweet and loving.

If I remember correct, I am introduced to this language in early years of my life because of a wonderful Punjabi family. The Dhamija family. Pitaji, Chaiji, the patriarch and matriach of the family; Krishan mamaji, the jolly good brother to my mom and Kanchan Mausi, my soul mother and the woman who loved me selflessly. Chawla aunty, the sweet but a bit jealous woman. I have another story of her where she got fooled by a young me.

And the family of Sardarni naniji, the neibours of my maternal grandparents. I remember one of their daughters-in-law used to speak so fast in punjabi that the listener would feel exhausted after 2 minutes of listening to her chat. She wouldn’t even stop to breath. It is still a wonder to me as to how she managed to stay alive yet be so chatty.

My first ever introduction to Punjabi music was through Gurdas Man (except for the bhangra and Gidda we used to do in school functions).

How could I forget one year of my studies in guru Nanak Dev School, where I learnt to read and write Punjabi language? I do not remember it all because it was just one year. But I can still manage to read by sheer guess work and little effort.

So, in all Punjabi for me is a symbol of Life, fun, enjoyment, affection, compassion and everything good.

Rajasthani and different dialects of Hindi:

Our neighbor and the old Rajasthani woman, who we used to call Naniji was my introduction to the humbling and ever courteous language of Rajasthan. Such formal and yet intimate. I can go on listening to their melodious rant all through the day.

And then, the most simple Tiwari uncle introduced us to how hindi is spoken in UP. Gosh, I could have never thought that Hindi is spoken so differently in different regions before we met him, his wife and children. I think he had the Awadhi dialect. It was fun to try and interpret what his daughter used to say because some of the words were so different from what we would normally use in our dialect of Hindi.

It never failed to amaze me how different people talk. I loved to listen and observe the talks, guess I still do. This is one way for me to know people and find my way to connect with them.

My Telugu experience:

Oh! yes, I have some experience with a Dravidian language too. Telugu was a third language for me when I was in Navodaya School in Pabra. Telugu was introduced because the students from our school would migrate to Andhra Pradesh for 2 years and knowing the language would help.

So, do I know Telugu?

No, I can only look at the script and identify that its telugu. Apart from that I remember nothing of the language. I could never wrap my head around the language for some reason (that i am not aware of and never bothered to know either).

Wait, I do remember a song in Telugu which my senior girls (from Andhra) used to sing. Its something like, “Chakini chukkal sandit break dance, chakili gintal chatun break dance”. Please do not ask me what it means. I have no clue except that its got something to do with Break Dance.

I guess, that’s it for this time. I shall bring more of my relationship with different languages in my next write up….till then….”Waheguru ji da khalsa, te Waheguru ji di Fateh……bole so nihal, Sat shri akal”

While writing this blog, I realize that I have had an incredible journey through different dialects and languages. I never thought of it, not even when I started to write about my different language experiences. I did not think that I will remember so many beautiful and insightful experiences. Like, I remember our Hindi teacher in Navodaya School. He was one of most amazing Hindi teacher and I owe him my gratitude to be such a wonderful teacher. If one thing I am always confident of, it is that I never make mistake while writing in Hindi. And this comes from our teacher, Shastri ji. He used to say that Hindi is such a language that if you pronounce it correct, you will write it correct too. So, his emphasis was always more on correcting our diction and pronunciation. And it paid. I haven’t known anything about him ever since I left the school. But wherever he is, I bow to his passion for Hindi language.

My Urdu Experience:

If there is one language that moves my soul, its Urdu. Sometimes I feel like this would be my language in some previous lifetime. It come so naturally to me, though I never learnt it (have always wanted to).

I believe the major influence on me that brought Urdu to my senses has been the music and films. 60s, 70s and 80s….amazing poetry and beautifully expressed dialogues. And later, in college days Mirza Ghalib and his poetry has been the love of my life. Its like I have a love affair with Urdu. The language of Adab, Lihaz, Tehzeeb. So much so that even the harsh words would sound like sweet, sugar and honey.

No wonder when I started to express myself in poems, Urdu influenced the language of my expression. I love my own voice when I speak something in Urdu.

This language is my soul connects. I can never explain why, but it is.

Pur-sukoon, maya-junoon, dil-nawazi guftagu…

I wish some day; I would learn this beautiful language better and more proper…or maybe not. I will let it be an affair, where I know a little and yet have more to explore. Like a happy surprise with every new word that I add to my knowing. And then, i will play around with these new words. This becomes my personal Oasis.

Before I almost forget, I must share that I have some bittersweet experience with one of the ancient language.

My Sanskrit Adventure

I will call it adventure because it was nothing less. I mean, who in their right sense will begin to learn a methodical and classic language like Sanskrit in their graduation when they do not know the basics of the language. I am that adventurous Idiot.

And as if, the confusion of the classes was not sufficient that I went on to participate in the Sanskrit drama in youth festival. Now, if I think of it I am amused. Back then, it was sheer madness. We picked up a scene from “Abhigyan Shakuntalam” written by Kalidas. Trust me, it is not easy to bring out the emotion in a language you are not connecting with. Remembering the dialogues in Sanskrit, getting the correct pronunciation, then getting the right emotion and body language. And on top of everything, connecting with the audience.

It was total disaster. I was bored doing the play and the audience obviously was half slept. Still, like valiant soldiers, we did not leave the battle and fought till the last dialogue when we were slaughtered and buried. Obviously we did not win. We simply tortured the judges and audience and ourselves.

It is still a mystery to me as to how did I pass three years of Graduation with Sanskrit. All through those years, I never was confident that I know anything about the language. But, I

did learn. I don’t claim that I know the language well. but I know a little bit. Like, whenever there is a Havan and the Panditji is chanting the Mantras, I can make out if he is chanting real mantra or is faking it. And I can also understand the meaning of some not so complicated text in Sanskrit.

And, one thing I am most confident is about my pronunciation in Sanskrit. I can speak impeccably, just like a Pro (whether I know or not the meaning).

Finally, I arrive at the language in which I am sharing my thoughts with you.

My English Experience

Though, English is a foreign language for India, but its a language we need as an essential so our progress and our paths are not limited. Many would argue that its an irony. However, to me it seems all right because I know what advantages I have had because of knowing English. Now, I might be breathing, drinking and eating in English, but deep down I know who I am. I know I come from a Haryanvi speaking family, who looks at me in awe and pride when they see me speaking in English. I belong to the friends who speak different regional languages and dialect. In the core of my heart, I am a Shayar. And still, when it comes to my bread and butter, my everyday communication and connections, I come to English with much ease.

It has not been that easy in the beginning though.

I knew English alphabets from my early education in a private school. Though, later when I went to study in Govt. school, English as a subject was introduced only in fifth grade. Then, in ninth grade, I moved to and English medium school where all subjects were to be taught in English barring the languages of course. I was always good with English, my grammar was good, and vocabulary wasn’t bad either. I could read and write well.

But, the real eye opener came after graduation. I was always interested in creative pursuits and Fashion Designing was one thing I just dreamed of. So, me and my friend appeared for NIFT entrance test. I got through the written and received the invitation for Group Discussion and Interview, which were crucial to seek admission. Never before in my life I faced interview and had no clue what group discussion means. I prepared as much as I could and on the D day went to Delhi with Papa.

The Group discussion and Interview were to be in English. That was the real problem. English wasn’t the language of my speech. I knew English but couldn’t speak or express my thoughts in English. So, I was nervous as hell even before the group discussion started. Coming to NIFT was such a culture shock for a small town girl in me. I did not lack confidence; I had been on stage in front of audience several times. But, there waiting for the group discussion, I felt so limited and the environment there was just growing on me and I thought I could not cope. In group discussion, I did not utter a single word. And when the panellists gave me an opportunity to sum up the discussion, I still could not open my mouth. I know, literally the meaning of tongue tied. I lived it. My eyes were filled with tears. I was ashamed of myself. I felt like I humiliated myself. I was disappointed in me. All I wanted to do was to get up from the chair and run away. But I couldn’t even find sufficient strength in my legs to move. I knew then, that I failed and I saw my dream slipping away because a language intimidated me so much.

I was shaken to my core. I was not broken. I came back defeated but with a hunger and a desire to master English speaking.

At that time, someone said something which made perfect sense to me. He said, “to be able to speak in a language, first you need to start thinking in that language. The language of your mouth should be the language of your thought.”

I followed the advice and worked more diligently on the language of thoughts. I watched English movies, talked to myself in front of mirror for hours with different accents.

My MBA in GJU helped quite a lot, all my friends and teachers and most of all, my best friend Ritu. I envied her for her impeccable communication. And I learnt great deal from her.

By the time, I started to work in corporate, I was pretty good with my communication and what really soothed my soul was the fact that in my first corporate job, I was working alongside the NIFT pass outs. That took away whatever little scars I had from my very memorable yet not pleasurable NIFT experience.

The real test to my English came in the form of my work in the Global Mobility Industry, when I got to work with the clients from all cross the world, speaking their own versions and dialects of English.

My first client, American English speaking, huge and intimidating personality. I would go for meetings, they would talk, I will try to grasp what they are saying, will keep shaking my head, smiling, they think I understood everything, I will come out, exhausted and scared. I would not understand one word of what they said, what they want. Huuuh!

Yet again, learning never stops.

Languages are not just the words, structures that come out of our mouth. Language is a way of being; it is a culture, its sensibilities, its legacy. It is much more than what we get taught in the schools. So, to really learn and understand and perfect a language, you need to live with it, its sensibilities, its history and legacy, its culture and values. Languages are more like people. You can really start to get it, when you learn to appreciate it. And to appreciate something, you need to know it, understand it. Not just learn, but Understand. And to do that, you do not need to forget yourself or who you are. Languages are never barriers, never enemies, never threat. They are always connecting links for humanity.