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My Confusion With Multiple Languages
Vasu Reddy from Chicago
Chicago in 2004 is like Hyderabad. Chicago in 2004 is like my boarding school in India (will keep the name private as it is called a public school and don’t want my old friends upset). In my school, college and professionally working days I rarely spoke Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, Tamil, Kannada or some other languages. Much of the languages at home or visiting friends still ended up with English and rarely any of the languages I was capable (actually I realize fond of) speaking. Lately I seem to be speaking at least three languages in a single conversation. For example I could speak to Prashant at India Tribune, and a typical hello will be “Prashant Bhai, this is Vasu, sub theek hai? Is there something I can do?” Somehow the Hindi in my sentence makes me feel more communicative.
My discussions in multiple languages have a lot of reasons: ability to speak, trying to connect, making a point, feeling close to the person by speaking his or her dialect, better way to express myself, forced to speak the language as everyone else is yakking away in a particular language, expression of anger (this I can do in more than ten languages), swearing, someone I am close to, and I could go on about the confused multiple language conversations I have these days.
My cousin said to me in a gathering earlier this year, “Vasu, please speak in English” as he felt the rest of the crowd spoke more sophisticated Telugu than I did. I immediately launched into a series of words in English, which perhaps made my Telugu very polished. I made sure that I translated every one of the English words into Telugu to demonstrate that I was good at expressions in both languages. I also notice that the gatherings in Chicago these days are more of friends or people of a state or region. Gone or the days where Indian and their friends (non-Indians) partied together. Even the restaurants at lunch have tons of people from the same state gathered and yakking away in their own language. I am sure in years to come we will have restaurants that will be identified by individual states of India, rather than just Indian restaurant. How about Madras Palace just serving for people from Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Vilas for people from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi Durbar for people from Delhi, and American Desi for Indians who can’t eat curry or hot food?
I am not complaining about the use of multiple languages and sometimes absolutely chaotic conversations. A few of weeks ago I went to see a Hindi movie with Sreedhar and I was laughing at something funny, and he asked me what was I laughing at? There you go, here is a guy who is crazy about movies and want me to see movies with him, but don’t have any clue what Rani Mukherji is saying in Hum Tum. I did not feel like translating as I might kill the essence of a good scene. But again how can anyone translate and do justice to a funny scene from Hindi to English to Telugu. There you go as it really creates absolutely meaningless conversation.
Let me be very positive about my positive feelings about multiple languages I speak. I type and speak in Telugu (absolutely amusing to my friend when I say something in Telugu) as we come from different parts of the same state but mine is more rustic than my friends. I understand well both written and spoken words of Telugu; while I still translate from English into the dialect I chose to communicate in. Must be fun to listen to. In this case I try hard to remember as much Telugu as possible to communicate, but the minute I don’t have the right word I switch to English. The conversations either written or verbal seem to be wonderful when you have dear ones to communicate in your own language.
My discussions with my Amma are in Telugu, as she doesn’t speak anything but Telugu. I never search for words when I speak to her. Somehow it seems natural. But when I speak to my friends in India or colleagues it is automated to English except for pleasantries. Even those buggers seem to want to speak in English and sometimes in Hindi to have multiple languages into the conversation. Last week I said a phrase to my good friend Shareef Bhai in Telugu, and he used the same phrase for the rest of the day even though I thought what I said was quite normal for the place I come from. He felt that my use of particular words to finish something was amusing. In any case when I introduced Shareef Bhai to my folks, they were also surprised at his language skills. By the way although Hyderabad is in Andhra Pradesh where the spoken language is Telugu, much of the old city folks speak Urdu (localized albeit) and don’t speak Telugu. No wonder my folks were surprised at his ability to speak Telugu. I also notice most people from Hyderabad can speak Telugu and do speak it, but the folks who moved into Hyderabad, and then to Chicago insist on speaking Hindi (which is not really Hindi but a mixture of whatever languages they can find). So, now I relate Hyderabad to Chicago. Actually much of the latest migration be it in education or IT has been from Hyderabad (I am guessing as it looks like that everyone says they are from Hyderabad and speak in broken Hindi).
In my Chicago college days, there were very few of us who were of Asian descent. We would speak in a language we were sure that the other folks did not understand, as it was more of a code language. These days even Indians don’t understand their fellow Indians by simply speaking their own mother tongue. Absolutely phenomenal. Chicago (or any big or small city in USA) is just like India, segregated by language. I did not forget to interject my wonderful private school I went to as a child (I tried to run away from school several times, but was caught by my schoolmates and was forced back, which is another story), as even there we were forbidden from speaking our native languages except in the privacy of our rooms, and unfortunately many of my room mates did not speak Telugu. So, even if wanted I was forced to speak the Queens language, and when I went to school in Chicago there were not many to speak the language.
These days I have been to Devon quite a few times. It is incredible that you rarely hear English. You feel you are in Chandini Chowk or on in Abids Road or in Nariman Point. Although I notice that Devon is dirtier, as even the mixture of meaningless language which includes a lot of phrases, which makes comic sense rather than linguistic pleasure. I know that many of the local temples hold language classes in the greater Chicago area for children. Poor kids, can you imagine their plight? Parents and their friends yakking away in three o four different languages and the kids have absolutely no idea of what they are saying or why they are learning the language on Sundays, instead of PS2.
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