mInd yOUR LangUage

In my first week at the Uni, I met several international students.Italy,Greece,Palestine,China,Armenia…all lost, fragmented in their identities, desperately in search of fellow countrymen and all feeling completely inadequate while expressing themselves. They would sit through numerous orientations, trying to glean some information, while White people in suit and tie,with flashy powerpoints would tell them what they should and shouldn’t do. They would come out, flustered and frustrated because they hadn’t understood a word of it. The Italian must have assumed she spoke fluent English back home, the Greek must have revelled in his writing skills. Then they come here to find that it was all a sham, the trouble they had gone through for years honing and correcting their accent was all for naught! Their high school English teacher was a fraud. They even have to go through a gruelling 3 hour language test, where they might excel in writing and reading but fail miserably in listening because this was not the same language they had learnt.

Meanwhile I get an exemption from the test, can chatter away in English and figure out the forms they have to fill and phone settings and bus passes. To them, I am clever merely because of my grasp of the language. I laugh as someone asks if people in India speak english, I smile graciously when they compliment my accent and vocabulary, I generously acquiesce to help them ‘figure things out’ while explaining that I have been speaking English since I was 2. My language is a validation certificate to be bandied about here to gain acknowledgment, to surpass the brown on my skin,to use well while avoiding the twang in my accent and common Indian slang.

 As a classmate explains how arduous she find the readings and how she sometimes has to find online translations of academic terms, I wonder if I might seem half as smart without being able to speak fluent English. The various affectations of my language in India, sprinkled with different regional languages gave authenticity to my ideas that atleast politically, were intrinsically Indian. The English I speak here  though, has a tendency of sounding like an outsider’s perspective even when I talk about India; atleast to my own ears. How then does a Thai student go through the process of translating her thoughts before being able to say it out loud and then have people not understand it? The very process of translation has diluted her idea and she is aware of it even as she forms the words. All meaning is lost. 

Who knows if the Over The Moon can wax eloquent on how the West refuses to see anything more to China other than perceiving them as a threat? Who knows if Just Punk Not Japanese can make long passionate speeches about politics in music?And I will never know if my very thought process would be different if I didn’t think in English.