Attending seminars and workshops has become a norm for me in Jamia. In one of the dozen seminars I attended, I had a moment where I thought I could not betray myself. I had to speak. I didn’t stand up from my chair. I just threw the question at the lady who had read some poetry on Kashmir.
Paradoxically, her poetry was in Urdu and my question was in broken English. The next few minutes the lady gave me an unsatisfying answer in the language she had chosen for her poetry. I understood what she was saying and in my mind, I was formulating a new question to refute her.
By the time I formulated the question, I realized she was already listening to another student. I cursed my brains for being so sluggish. When I went out of the seminar room, a friend congratulated me and said, “I never expected you to pose a question.”
I replied that I couldn’t withstand her poetry that is why I asked. However, I didn’t tell my friend that I had another question but due to my inept brains I couldn’t ask. The same brains that first think in their native language (Kashmiri) then translate it in the language of articulation. Whatever is the system of my brain, the process is always time consuming.
A few days later, another good friend opined that good orators always think in the language of articulation. Out of curiosity, I googled ‘language’, and subsequently came upon other terms like ‘Neurolinguistics’ and ‘language acquisition.’ I didn’t understand a single word reading about them. In the end I just concluded that I am a very bad orator. In fact, oration is a distant thing. I can’t even question a teacher to clear my doubts. Of course, I can when it is in my mother tongue, Kashmiri.
It has been more than three months since I joined Jamia. But I am sure most of my classmates will say that they have never heard a word from me. For many of them I might be dumb. If not dumb, then it would be definitely abominable for I don’t chat with them.
I know if I talk to them, I will have to converse in Urdu (Hindi) or English. Alongside I also know I can’t converse in either of these languages. So I prefer silence. Sometimes I wish I could converse with them, share my stories, the stories of my homeland, but alas, language doesn’t permit me. Sometimes I wish they spoke Kashmiri. In that case we would share stories.
What is worse is that I cannot answer simple questions the teacher throws at me. Sometimes a good discussion pops up in the class but I am never a part of it. The discussions seem to have died for me.
The only culprit is language. I remember in my school days, we never used to speak any other language except Kashmiri. If someone dared to speak English, we teased him for days and would say things such as, “Oh ho, angreaz (Englishman).” Or for those who spoke Urdu, Ghalib was our favorite to tease them. Once I said at home, “Aaj sey hum angrezi mein baat karengey.” (From today we will speak in English only). I am still made fun of at home for trying to impose English language but lobbying for that in Urdu.
The rule at home was you learn other languages inevitably with the passage of time. First learn Kashmiri. May be it is right, for Urdu and English have many benefactors but Kashmiri has none except us — the people of Kashmir.
Recently, I faced another problem. We had presentations to make in class. The students from the Hindi medium presented in such chaste Hindi that I only absorbed the tune in which they spoke, and nothing else. I felt myself in an alien world. However, that was not a problem; after all they are the sponsors of their language. I was concerned with my own presentation. Did I articulate well enough for them to understand me? I had choked seven times during the whole presentation.
In his book The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie writes: “Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.” I lack this courage.
I have the ability to conceive a thought but then like a foolish coward I hesitate to speak. It often happens when I fail to read flashing boards in Hindi on DTC buses showing bus destinations. I gather courage, formulate my language to ask anyone what is written but then I break. I am not able to speak. I get scared. And thus I am not able to turn my thoughts into truth.
Over these months, I have been constantly engulfed in these terrible thoughts of not having a language. I asked some friends for solution. One of them said that he has contacts with a call center guy. He advised me to go there so that I could better converse and let my voice box free. I am skeptic. My problem is in my brains not in my larynx. Another said I should watch movies, both English and Hindi.
However, one thing was clear to me, movies won’t do anything. I have grown up watching movies and watching them seriously. If it was true that movies better your language, then I should have been so fluent, like we say in Kashmiri, like a parrot.
Now my only panacea is, perhaps, writing. I am quite sure that I need time to think to speak; to translate my thoughts in my mind; to translate them in a language other than Kashmiri. But speaking has a time constraint. By the time I would finish forming a sentence, the other person would be in his home, drinking a nice cup of tea.
Writing has no such time constraint. But who knows, that too might become an issue in the future. I have no idea what I will do then. Surely my only window to the outside world will be closed.
[Iymon Majid is a postgraduate student in the Department of Political science and can be reached via email at: iymonmajid [at] gmail.com]