Recently, my mother explained to me the importance of distance in relationships. The space gives you the opportunity to miss the person; it allows you to realise how much they mean to you. And then, when you do talk to them, there is so much you have to say.
It has been a while since I spoke to the language I speak in. Like people always tend to after a matter of time, I, too, take my relationship with English for granted. I use the words it gives me every day; I am using them right now. But in terms of distance I believe that the farther apart we are, the better it is. This distance lets me admire the beauty of the language without analysing its implications on my identity. And now that I am doing it for this essay, I understand precisely why I was hesitant before.
When I was in Class 5, pop music arrived in my life in the form of Miley Cyrus. I spent my childhood decorating my cupboard with Hannah Montana stickers and singing ‘7 Things’ and ‘The Climb’. My father would tease me for having an accent while I sang. I could not understand what he meant – I was pronouncing the words exactly like the singer was. It was not until he told me to sing the way I speak that I could tell the difference between the two. But without the accent, and I remember thinking, the words just did not sound glamorous.
Several years before this happened, when my younger sister was five, an amusing incident occurred. My sister called out to my mother in Hindi, telling her to come and sit with her. My mother then told her to speak in English. In response, she repeated the same Hindi sentence. Only, it was coated in what was supposed to be an American accent. My intention behind recounting these stories is to demonstrate how since childhood, we have perceived English as a Western import, even before we could fully comprehend it for the language that it is.
Besides, English that sounded Indian was just not English enough.
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English, for me, is like that partner that one thinks is out of their league. And so, you do what you can to make them stay and prove to the world and yourself that you are worthy of them. The more fluent I am in it, the better I know it and hence, the more deserving I feel of it. Perhaps that is why a deep sense of shame creeps in whenever I stumble over words or cannot articulate my thoughts properly. Is this what internalised racism looks like?
Akin to the bond between the language and the nation, my romance with English, too, is a quandary. I value the distance between us but also crave the intimacy and comfort it provides with its words. I take it for granted but not so much that I stop being curious about it. I admire how it accepts me but detest the ugly past that brought it to my doorstep. I revel in how powerful it makes me feel, but fear how vulnerable I would be without it. There is always room to laugh and to grieve, to love and to hate. It never turns me away. The language knows me through and through because I think in it. Does it think about me too?
What this relationship truly lacks, however, is exclusivity. The language has many lovers from around the world, from places I have never even heard of. Some have witnessed its milestones, some have nurtured its growth. Many know it better than I do, and many more have known it longer than I have. And while time is not always a marker of love, it certainly is that of wisdom and sagacity.
If I had been wiser, I would have put more effort into learning the language of my home. Hindi raised me and grounded me. On the other hand, English love-bombed me with sonnets and then left at the end of the 14th line. The kind of love that keeps you on your toes is enthralling until it is plain exhausting. Had I focused more on building a relationship with the language that never lets me feel that I am indebted to it, but I undoubtedly belong to, perhaps I would write sonnets of my own. After all, lovers come and go, but it is home that stays.
Saaya Vaidya is a Communication Studies and Theatre student from Mumbai, India.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty