In a candid interview, I sit down with my non-English speaking Nana to discuss the nuances of language in our ever-evolving world.
This was going to be an article about my Nana’s struggle with not knowing English in this society. Specifically, it was going to be about highlighting how without not knowing English, Nana managed to raise a family, run a household, and contribute to her community. But when I listened to her story, I realized that this story needed to be about more than her struggles with not knowing English. This should be about how the very perception of English has been connected to modernism in our society.
My Nana is 60 years old now, living near the small town of Kanyakumari, about 90 km from Madurai. Growing up, English wasn't something my Nana paid much mind to. In her world,
wisdom wasn't about how fluently you could string together English words. It was about actions and heart, a lesson that, as I've come to realize, holds more weight than the world gives it credit for.
“In my time, you showed what you knew by doing, not by talking fancy,” she says with a playful glint in her eye. As she spoke, it was as if she held the secret recipe for living life, and it had nothing to do with conjugating verbs or mastering complex sentence structures. Her
entire persona, a roadmap of years gone by, had stories to tell.
“My work spoke louder than their words ever could,” she chuckles, as if her fingers were the pen, and she was writing her story of a life well-lived. It was her way of saying that hard work didn't need a language; it spoke for itself, a universal dialect that transcended linguistic boundaries.
“I may not speak English fluently, but I speak the language of the heart,” she exclaims, her smile softening any judgment that came her way. For her, emotions didn't come with an English manual. They flowed freely, breaking through any linguistic dam in their way. It was a
reminder that connections run deeper than the words we use to express them and she exclaims, “The younger generations see me as someone who could not be a part of their conversations,” her eyes wandering back to times when stories weren't confined to English alone. Her stories become poignant examples, shedding light on a broader issue wherein proficiency in English unintentionally becomes a prerequisite for participation in certain spheres.
"I may not know English, but I know life," she says, telling me about instances where she got
through the worst moments of life with connections that she had made.
In a world obsessed with fancy words, she stood her ground, reminding everyone that knowing how to live well has no connection to knowing English.
In my conversation and laughter shared with my Nana, there's a lesson the world seems to miss. English might be the flavor of modernism, but it's not the only spice in the pot. My Nana’s world was colored with a palette of regional languages and dialects, each stroke adding depth to her life's canvas. In the bigger scheme of things, we forget that wisdom isn't confined to the language in which it's spoken and that my Nana’s voice rings clear.
It's in the stories told through her actions, in the language of the heart that needs no translation, and in a life well-lived, no matter the linguistic shade it wears.
Written by Nandini Jaithalia