Saturday, 26 December 2015

Don't let your language die

Do you know what is a 'menu' called in Hindi? Can you name the three greatest Punjabi writers? Will you be able to make sense of Faiz's poetry without a translator? Unfortunately and shamefully so, neither will I...

Like many of you, I was born to educated middle class parents whose sole ambition in life was to see their children do well. And one of the pre-requisites for doing well was your command on the English language. So, having worked tooth and nail on their toddlers, they were overjoyed when my twin sister and I got admitted to a reputed school run by Christian missionaries. Now, if you have been to a Christian missionary school you will know how it is. You pray in English, you curse in English, you think in English, you speak in English and you even dream in English. Class monitors are often asked to 'fine' the students for speaking in any language other than English. You will, of course, learn Hindi formally because it is compulsory, but it will not be encouraged.

So, my schooling was majorly responsible for my love for the English language, and my family for my love of books. It just so happened that 99% of those were written in English.

I grew up to be one of those English speaking snobs who frowns on those who make spelling and grammatical errors, and can't stand the 'texting' language. I won't read text messages written in Hindi and my proficiency in Punjabi is limited to home schooling by my dad. Till date, I get cold feet if I have to write or speak formally in Hindi. Punjabi? I will hide my face and run. My accent is just too funny! 

I'm assuming that most of the people reading this will identify with what I'm saying. Our generation grew up to be in love with everything 'Englishy'.

My Nanaji would often reprimand my mother for our lack of Punjabi speaking skills. Trips to Nani's house meant that at least at some point of time you would be handed over the 'Ajit' newspaper to read. 'How will our 'virsa' (heritage) survive?' Nanaji would say.

To be honest I had not thought much about it until recently. Though I yearned to learn more Indian languages, I was happy and complacent in my English world. What made it important for me was my recent move to a southern state of India. Everybody here speaks a language I don't know and they guard it fiercely. They may know English well but among themselves they will talk in their regional language. Add to it a new mother's pangs about giving all the wisdom and knowledge she can to her child. This sort of shocked me with a Eureka moment. My virsa will get lost if I don't make an effort to save it! I say this at the cost of sounding like a fundamentalist, but the onus of saving my culture lies on me.

The language that you speak in is not just your mode of communication, it is thousands of years of your cultural heritage. A heritage that comes with its own prose, verse, vocabulary, religion, social customs, medicine and science. If we allow our language to die, we are also letting that thousands of years of heritage to die. Who will tell the foreigners about the Shastras if we can't study them? How will I tell people why my Guru is important for me if I can't understand what it says? How will my children discover the joys of 'Panchtantra ki Kahaniya' or the poetry of Dinkar if they have no interest in Hindi?

I think it is safe to assume that most parents hand over a book of the English alphabet before the Hindi one to their children. We presume that our kids will learn their mother tongue through daily dialogue. It is true that most kids will gain a working knowledge of their mother tongue like that. But it is also true that unless we work hard on teaching them this language and their culture, they will be unable to appreciate its depth. They will not have the right words to express the innumerable things that English has no room for. They will not be able to address an audience in their mother tongue.

We have to make them feel proud of who they are, and not just convince them that speaking good English is an important life goal. Learning English is important because it is the language of the world, of science and technology. It is the language of the World Wide Web. It has brought humanity closer in more ways than one. You will get judged harshly if you can't speak and spell in English.
But it is not what defines us. What defines us are our roots. Roots that hold the fabric of our lives together. Roots that provide us our identity as a civilization. Roots that will get lost if we lose our language.

We owe it to our children to give to them the best of our culture. We must talk to them in their mother tongue. Teach them how to read and write in it. Introduce them to good regional literature that encourages them to read more. Let the school take care of their English, French and German. You take care of their Hindi, Punjabi and Kannada. Occasionally, wear that saree that you've been saving for the 'ethnic days' at office. Your dress is not a 'costume'. It is YOUR dress. It is a part of your being.
I've recently made some pathetic attempts at reading and writing in Hindi. I promise I will try writing more often until I learn to express myself meaningfully. In my bucket list is also to write a poem in Punjabi and to learn elementary Urdu. Let's see how far I can get. Until then you try saving your virsa and mine. And make your children fall in love with it.

(Dedicated to my Nanaji, who has spent his entire life trying to teach Punjabi to reluctant souls like myself)

An edited version of this post appeared here.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Hey girl! Take care...


In our society, and in most cultures around the world, women have been the primary caregivers. They toil day and night to make sure that everyone around them is looked after. Women, unfortunately, are also twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and stress related diseases. Their biological makeup and the monotonous and thankless nature of their work are probably the main contributing factors.

I too am among those women who put family before themselves, and get stressed easily about everything. From my own experience, I wish to share a few self care tips that have kept me together when everything around me seemed to be falling apart. 

You have to understand - it's important to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of those around you. A moping, unhappy and unhealthy woman cannot bring cheer to others. You need to recharge your own batteries so that you can fill in everyone else's. It's not being selfish. And don't let anyone have you believe so. It's only when we love ourselves truly are we able to love others wholly. You're doing everyone a favour by looking after yourself.

So here are my few self care tips for all my girlfriends out there. As a disclaimer, while this article is aimed mainly at women, it applies to anyone who is the primary caregiver in a domestic setting.

1. Try and sleep at least 6-7 hours a night.
Trust me I know what I'm talking about. There is nothing more important than a good night's sleep. As a person who is a chronic insomniac, I value my sleep more than anything. Lack of sleep predisposes you to all sorts of anxiety disorders, eating disorders, physical, emotional and mental fatigue. Try and catch those 40 winks. They ensure the start of a healthy being. 

2. Eat well
Don't skip your meals. Ever. Crash diets never did anyone any good. Learn to make some quick nutritious meals so that you don't end up eating junk or missing your own while you are busy taking care of everyone else. You owe yourself that much at least. The multivitamin pills cannot make up for lost meals. 

3. Get up. Dress up. And show up. NO MATTER WHAT!
There are times in our lives when we are truly grieving. The times when we would rather stay locked inside our room and not see anyone in the world. Those are the times when you must go out. It peps you up instantly. The ritual of taking a nice warm bath, and dressing up to look good will immediately make you feel better. Go to work. Or go out anywhere. Just 15 minutes of sunshine will make you feel happier. Also, it will distract you from whatever negative thoughts that are surrounding you. 

4. Stop underestimating yourself 
I have, time and again, said this- there is no such thing as a weak woman. It is only when you face it do you realise how much strength you have. Every time you overcome what you thought was impossible, you will give your self image a boost. So don't ever give up thinking you can't do it or aren't good enough. 

5. Make time for your friends 
True friends are one of life's biggest treasures. They remind you of your inner beauty and strength when you think you have nothing left. They bring laughter, and cheer in life. And they will even slap you hard and bring you back to reality when you start getting lost. So don't lose touch. They are important.

6. Say what you feel 
No point keeping it in. It will only make you more frustrated and you will burst one day. Better to say it the way it is.

7. Stay quiet when you are angry
Wait. Let it go. It will save you a lot of regret. Go back and clear it up when you are cool. Most things seem better the moment you cool down. 

8. Switch off your phone, and TV and laptop - move your butt
The modern smartphone, while a very useful device, uses too much of our mental bandwidth. Switch it off. Talk to people face to face. Go out for a walk. Listen to the birds chirping. The lesser your screen time, the happier you will be. Get moving. Nothing works better than exercise as a stress buster. 

9. Go to the salon. Often. 
I don't know one single woman who wouldn't love to feel beautiful and be complimented. Please, please go to the salon and get all the beauty treatments you want to get done. We have but only one life. 

10. Lower the bar
The quest for perfection is a sure shot way to lead a miserable life. Take it easy on yourself and those around you. Life will be so much better. 

11. Do the things you love to do
Every  day, keep 15 minutes aside for yourself. Read a book, dance to Shakira, bake that cake, go out shopping. Make sure you take out time to do things that YOU love, not what others want you to. 

12. Shut out the people who talk negative stuff about you 
You don't have to take the bullshit. Ek kaan se suno, doosre se bahar. Better still, don't listen. Treat yourself with compassion. Respect yourself. And don't let anyone take it away from you. 

13. Don't ignore your own illnesses
Get a massage for that aching back, visit the dentist, get your cold treated. Take rest if needed. 

14. Invest in some good lingerie 
Ok, so good lingerie can be really really expensive. But it's worth the money. It makes you feel so good about yourself. And by good, I also mean appropriate. Leave the racy stuff for the bedroom. Buy some well fitting, full coverage seamless brassieres for the workplace. What you wear on the outside may bring you respect, but what you wear under it is a reflection of your own self respect. 

15. Seek help whenever you begin to feel lost
It may be a spiritual guru, a friend or a doctor. Make sure you get help if you feel like it

16. Have faith 
In God, in yourself and in humanity. Pray pray pray. Faith works wonders. 

Last but not the least, make sure you cuddle. There are not enough hugs and cuddles in the world. So just give one and get one in return. Especially from little babies. And your loving pets. Who can feel sad when you have so much cuteness around?

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