Sunday, October 06, 2013

Don’t humiliate me just because I cannot speak your language!


There are times when people from different states migrate to other cities. Some will find it difficult to adjust. Initial period would be troublesome. But if your neighbours turn out to be helpful and you stop feeling lonely, that’s when your happy life starts in a new place. But it becomes torture when you are not so fortunate.   

I learnt a lot in my golden days of engineering at Hyderabad. I call it golden because apart from learning about electrical instruments, power supply and electronics, I also learnt the harsh reality of consequences of being someone from a different state in India. 

I was the only girl in my engineering class who did not understand or could not speak Telugu. While getting admission into this English medium college, I was highly thrilled to be entering into my college life/freedom. Making friends, bunking classes, finishing assignments while sitting in a back bench and reading novels during technical lectures was fun. But I also suffered from something completely different which was strange, annoying, humiliating and many times frustrating.

I had good professors throughout my college life, who knew what they were teaching and were eager to instil true and useful technical stuff into our rarely used brains. But there were few who were not so humble. The first year had very few who accepted me as an ‘alien’ of my class. Heads turned in my direction when other students and professors came to know that I didn’t know Telugu. By my classmates, I was easily accepted. I made friends and talked with everyone in English. I talked in Hindi with my Muslim friends. But some professors were not at all kind. They delivered many lectures in Telugu. Later they asked me in English whether I have understood anything at all. There were times when general instructions were given in Telugu. One professor, in his free period, announced that he wouldn’t be teaching anything that day and started giving philosophical speeches in the rest of that hour in his local language. In between he turned, looked at me and declared in English that as I am not understanding anything, this class is not meant for me. I looked up at my best friend in alarm. She gave my hand a reassuring squeeze in sympathy. 

Yes, it had come to this-begging everybody for sympathy and rendering myself dependent on others to translate what the hell was going on in classes. Later in the next year onwards, I got used to the partiality and injustices that my being as the only North Indian in the class, brought on me. In my fourth year, I developed absolute indifference. My whole class knew me and I was made to feel one among them. But some lecturers came and went, carrying the same narrow-minded attitude and regarding me as someone who didn’t deserve to sit in the class. I was looked upon with constant doubt, as if I had landed from Mars or Jupiter. Some taunted me for not having learnt Telugu in four years of my stay in Hyderabad. They considered it unacceptable and rude on my part. My constant explanations and reasons fell on deaf ears many times.

Why? Because I was a North Indian who had failed to understand their language.

I argued, fought, choked and kept myself sane with the help of my Telugu and Muslim classmates. They were my constant support and translators during lectures. One of my Telugu bench mates has become my good friend for the rest of my life. Others around me, when they felt my low spirits, tried cheering me up during breaks and lunch time. This was my generation and they understood me. But some elders teaching in front of me failed to have similar thoughts.

I have studied in Maharashtra, a place marred by onslaught of abuses by the likes of Thackerays on North Indians. But I never felt it in my childhood days spent in schools. I have stayed for two years in Surat, Gujarat. This stay turned out to be useless in terms of learning Gujarati but I was never mocked for that in the state. The Mysore training is the epitome of cultural diversity. A place packed with trainees from different states in India and speaking in different languages. But never one would feel lonely or alien in this campus. But cultural differences leave their permanent spots somewhere in our lives. I had the bitter taste of it in my B.Tech days. Few years back, my older cousin, in fear of not getting selected in a job interview, lied about his birthplace.        

I cannot learn new languages easily. My only excuse of having learnt to read and write in English is because that was taught right since childhood days. I suck at learning other new languages. So what shall I do? Get myself humiliated by others for this for the rest of my life? The worst is that I cannot speak fluently in the local language of my own hometown-Bhojpuri. But never once did anybody scold or abuse me for that.   

Some say let it go. Or why am I so bothered? Why in the first place did I feel humiliated? I don’t understand someone’s language and the other person doesn’t understand mine so I shouldn’t give a damn. And most importantly I shouldn’t feel humiliated.  One of my favourite writers claims that Gandhiji has said- happiness and sorrowness should be in your command and not others. I nod at such inspiring lines but when I look back at my past, somewhere down the line, it still hurts. I just wish I hadn’t gone through those traumatic moments back in college. I wish people would have stopped taunting for my inability to understand their local dialect. Was it my ‘fault’ that I wasn’t born in that state and learn their language since my birth? Is this even justified, mocking someone because he/she cannot speak your local language? 

If I meet anybody in trains, buses or in my own campus, hailing from different state and not understanding Hindi, I switch to English. Sometimes when people do not understand English, I switch to sign language or try talking to them by hunting for a person who would understand their local language and act as a translator. But never have I mocked anybody for it. I have never underestimated anyone just because they cannot speak in English or Hindi properly. Last month, I went to Mangalore where there was some miscommunication between me and my housekeeper. She couldn’t understand Hindi nor English properly and I didn’t understand her local language. So I started pointing at things and explaining to her which things I wanted done. She nodded and from their onwards we started communicating in our own invented and patented sign language which couldn’t be decoded by others! :)

So in future if anybody wants to meet me and talk to me in your local language, do not hesitate. Please come and join me and my surrounding translators if you have any work! Do not raise your eyebrows and look bewildered when you come to know that I have been to your state for a stay of 5-6 years but still cannot speak your language. Because that’s me. You won’t find a second human being on Earth like me. After failing terribly in learning my own native language of Bhojpuri properly, I cannot guarantee you that I would be learning yours anytime soon.

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