Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The language has remained as aloof as ever

The Telegraph Front Page > Opinion Tuesday, December 15, 2009 OPED
Letter, spirit and persons
One’s thoughts must necessarily have a language that is tangible, organic and perhaps a combination of the languages of the thinker. Since the act of thinking precedes express... Read..

If Gujarati, my mother tongue, is a language of my primal emotions — there are terms such as those for items of food, parts of the body, to urinate, to go to bed, house… that I think of primarily in Gujarati — Arabic could very well be a language of my fears. While walking down a deserted road or while feeling there is a ghost in my bathroom, I find myself chanting snatches from the several passages I know in Arabic. I don’t know what they mean, but in moments of extreme anxiety, I am assured they are protecting me from evil.
Hindi, my second language in school, is one that keeps reminding me of Bollywood, and of the mindless filmy and melodramatic sessions — khush to bohot hoge tum aj, says a friend tilting slightly to one side like Amitabh Bachchan, to which one is expected to come up with an appropriate retort, Shashi Kapoor style.

By the throat
Languages are persons. Or at least, they have personalities, even characters, that may be pleasing, rough, transparent, tricky, furtive, sunny, bleak, manipulative, pliant... Read..

Devanagari holds no terrors for me. But except for hai and, perhaps, a few words like ladka or ladki, the language is an insoluble mystery to me. They tell me that watching Hindi films is a great way to pick up the language, everyone knows Hindi because of Bollywood. I have done so, faithfully, and the language has remained as aloof as ever. Hindi songs I love have not helped. I have learnt up the meanings of words, I have tried to read paragraphs of stories — and have ended up by being put in my place, puny and powerless. [...]

Official callers on the phone often insist on talking in Hindi, making my shamefaced English seem disgracefully out of tune with a resurgent India, and giving me no chance to display the frantic goodwill and desperate apology on my face. Worse, I don’t get it. I don’t follow a word once the conversation crosses the mark of three words. Hindi trounces me every time, apart from the fact that there is a deafening buzz in my ears when I find myself trapped in it. If a language refuses you, there is nothing you can do about it.
Pity I’ll never know who I would have been in Hindi.

Tongues in the dark
Is bilingualism a kind of bisexuality as well? Are our English-speaking erotic personalities different from our vernacular ones? To what extent are sexual identities linguisti... Read..

As I was carefully translating into Bengali words and phrases that I would automatically use in English, the very nature of these things, their ‘feel’, started changing for me. I found myself becoming a different kind of speaking personality — a voice whose sexuality felt discomfitingly alien, and over which I seemed to have less and less control. Paradoxically, what this extended mother-tongue made me feel was not a greater facility of communication, but its opposite — a peculiarly tongue-tied distance from other human beings that was at once social and more intrinsic than social. [...]

In a society riven with inequalities, sexuality has a conflicted relationship with both language and silence. Most forms of repression and oppression feed on silence. The breaking of these silences often involves importing words and concepts into the vernaculars from another linguistic register or language (usually English). Such ‘consciousness-raising’ then becomes informed with the awkward gradients that separate the worlds of these languages or registers.
Sexuality’s necessary darkness needs to be protected as much from the divisive and clarifying glare of language as from the ills of benightedness.

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