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Memories of Daddy, Post 37: Language And Culture Are Inseparable.

My first language was Hindi (NOT Hindu, which is a religion yet so many people make this mistake).

Since my parents first language was Hindi, they were at least as comfortable speaking Hindi as they were English (which they were both extremely fluent in as well). Mummy said that my Hindi was excellent when I was a child, and it would primarily be the only language I would speak.

Well, this was a big problem, at least in 1980's America.

I had some trouble in school initially since I did not speak English that well. Instead of recognizing the plasticity of a small child's brain and the fact I would pick up English quickly as a result of being surrounded by English speakers on a day-to-day basis, my teacher told my parents she was worried about my language skills and encouraged my parents to only speak to me in English at home.

Daddy was 100% on-board with this.

In his mind, he wanted us to become as integrated as possible, to become as "American" as possible. He wanted to minimize any chance we would be discriminated against (though color is all the extremely ignorant need as a trigger). And he didn't care if we spoke Hindi since we were in the US and felt it would be of no use anyway. So he stopped speaking Hindi to us altogether, and he pushed Mummy to do the same thing. Fortunately, Mummy always had a habit of slipping back into Hindi, and the Hindi we understand today is because of her (at a decent conversational level).

Though I could understand a fair amount of Hindi, I had lost my entire ability to speak it. Years later, my parents came to strongly regret this decision.

My parents grew up speaking multiple languages and they did fine, so there was no reason to believe we wouldn't do fine either. Most of my Indian friends spoke their mother tongue fluently as their parents wanted badly for their children to hold onto their culture in this new land. I never had a chance to actually have a conversation with my grandparents before they passed away, and therefore, I never had the chance to get close to them, to grow in my love for them.

One time, my Naniji (my mom's mom) cried to my mom because she could speak to us but that she would never get the chance to have a conversation with her grandson.

This crushed Mummy.

Language is a huge part of culture, yet Daddy didn't appreciate at the time the importance of preserving that culture through his kids.

Whenever Mummy would speak to us in Hindi, Daddy would always ask us if we understood what she said, and all of us (including Mummy) would be flabbergasted. Over time, he realized the folly of his actions, but he just did what he thought was best for us at the time. I know that's the truth, but I still couldn't help but get frustrated with him.

I asked Daddy to speak Hindi to us again when I was in my 20s, but it was shocking how difficult of a time he had speaking it to us. He hadn't spoken to his kids in Hindi in almost 2 decades (literally), and it was like his brain kept hitting the brakes each time he tried to speak since this went against the paradigm he had established for so long. He "improved", if you consider speaking to us 99% of the time in English, instead of 100%, as improvement. But hey, he did what he could.

I told both Daddy and Mummy that once I had kids, they could only speak to them in Hindi with the hope my kids would get a chance to learn and retain it for the long haul, unlike myself.

Unfortunately, they won't ever get that chance with Daddy.

Daddy would've loved them even more than he loved me, assuming that's even possible. And I would have loved it if my kids could've had conversations with their grandfather. I would've loved to see them get close to their grandfather, to see them grow in their love for him and vice versa, in a way I never could.

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