what does it mean to be bilingual?
I can speak in two languages. I don’t know which I’d call the first, nor which one is really the second. They’re tangled up together in my head; sentences, phrases, words and syllables, like messy chords of earphones I can’t seem to get untied, it’s been like that ever since I was a child. That’s probably why I don’t see it as a special quality. Not one of those ‘I’m bilingual’ on a list of five fun facts about me.
Hindi, was handed down by ancestors of a faraway past, Over the last few years, it has been laced with influences; a product of travel, invasion, and migration. I could say I speak Urdu, I know a couple words in Farsi, most of my expressions are Punjabi, isn’t it strange that these names, that speak volumes of emotion to me, a series of images flashing in front of my eyes. these names, that carry the weight of entire communities and cultures, these names, have no resonance in your life? English, the other one, has been a relatively new addition to my people; the longest lasting legacy of an oppressive colonial past, a sign of civilization? A justification for everything that was taken? It still remains a mark of superiority, in most places. Even more perhaps, than a comparison between white and dark olive faces.
I am a result of strange paradox. I talk in English, I read in English, I think in English, I always, always dream in English. Remember when I said I was bilingual? It’s only now that I realize, I can’t be an active advocate of resistance, I’m not sure if in English I speak for all of my 1.3 billion. There are a hundred and twenty-two recognized languages in my land. Can you imagine that? A hundred and twenty-two ways of saying ‘hello’, a hundred and twenty-two meanings of ‘I love you’, emotions expressed in a hundred and twenty-two different shades. Can you really imagine that?
love, lacks the intensity of ishq
remembrance, doesn’t have the devotion of zikr
noor, is more than just the ‘the light’
azaadi and freedom, are not synonyms in my mind
These words, they can never be translated. Because even meaning, has a cultural backdrop. The way they sound, the context they represent, in translation all the gravity is lost. I talk in English, but the sound of Hindi music is what feels like home. I read in English, but Urdu poetry is the one that makes my heart stir. I think in English, but my laughter is native in an unexplainable way. I dream in English, but I seek a love whose heart beats in one of those hundred and twenty-two rhythms. I’m always straddling between two worlds, but in this I know I’m not entirely alone,
There are so many people with the same complex historical past, their existence too, like mine, is a strange paradox.