When we use different languages, we live in different landscapes of the mind
Every now and then Bunny and i speak to each other in Bangla. Though neither of us is Bengali by birth, we were both brought up in what was Calcutta, and Bangla came to us as naturally as the air we breathed.
Though we left Calcutta for Delhi some 30 years ago, we like to practice our Bangla so that we don’t lose it, and with it lose the landscape where we grew up. When we speak in Bangla – its lilting cadences so distinct from the staccato stride of English, or the robust rhythms of Hindi – we evoke the lush green countryside of Bengal, dotted with sleepy pukurs, or ponds. Bangla conjures up for us the city of Calcutta, with its rattle of rickshaws and the clank of tramcars, the melody of Rabindra Sangeet wafting down a Sunday street along with the aroma of baigun bhaja being fried in mustard oil.
Bangla brings to mind the kal baishakhi, the norwesters, which come sweeping in with a roll of thunder and lightning and rain, and plunge April’s soaring temperatures into sudden winter chill.
Hindi has its own textures and flavours. It is the hot, dusty andhi of north India, it is the womb-like comfort of a warm razai in the cold of a December night, it is the exuberant vigour of a foaming glass of lassi drunk down with steaming hot parathas for breakfast, it is the blazing fire of the gulmohor in bloom, and the sunburst of the amaltas, an incandescant shower of gold.
Ever since i lost my mother with whom i would speak it, i’ve lost most of my native Kutchi, and along with it the immediacy of the salt tang of the sea in Mandvi, the town in Kutch where the family came from, with its silver white beaches, dazzling in the noonday sun, and its cobblestone lanes somnolent with the drone of flies and the lounging shadows of slumbering bulls.
India, with its many languages and dialects, has diverse landscapes of the mind. And many, if not most, Indians can speak more than one language, live in more than one interchangeable world of words.
This is what makes us more than just Bengali, or Punjabi, or Gujarati, or Tamil, or Malayali: it makes us uniquely Indian.