My family is a multilingual and multi-traditional one… the husband is from Hyderabad while I am from the great city of Calcutta (ahem!)! We now live in the US and since our kids have practically been born and brought up here, it is a bit of a task to ingrain in them a modicum of understanding of any Indian language.
It’s not that it cannot be done; it is probably that the two parents are really lazy, and since our children ‘languish’ in daycare most of the day, it’s no surprise that they know more English and a smattering of Spanish but not much of either Telugu or Bengali!
Of late, we realized that this would not do! Of course, before any regional fights broke out, we compromised and decided to go national! Hindi was the order of the day, month and year! It was after all the language that we as a couple use to communicate, most of our friends spoke and knew Hindi, and we dearly did want to go and watch Hindi movies in the theatre, so this was a very happy compromise indeed! Of course, neither set of grandparents were very pleased with this end result but the decision was passed, and they swallowed the bitter pill; at least the ABCDs were getting some Indian instruction!
It so happened that one of the husband’s younger cousins came to visit us while he was on an assignment here. My in-laws were staying with us too. Since this cousin had not met our boys before, he immediately started talking to them in Telugu, only to be answered by blank stares. He realized the situation and promptly changed to English, but the shock on his face was visible.
Later on, I heard him commenting about it to my in-laws. I may not speak very good Telugu, but can understand it reasonably well. It was therefore amusing to hear him lament at the fact that his nephews did not know his native language. My father-in-law tried to soothe him by saying that at least they were learning Hindi! “But,” says this unfortunate young man, “how will they talk to their wives?!!”
After that, I had to leave the room, or burst out laughing! There were so many assumptions in that one sentence, that it was hard to contain myself! The first idea was that we would be choosing their spouses, which, given their upbringing, is ludicrous! We already have one son who himself proposed to his first love; they already knew that their parents’ union was not by any kind of external arrangement; and, both were quite intentional in making their own decisions all the time, thank you very much!
The second assumption was that we would not only be choosing their spouses, but that their spouses would probably be of such a background that they would not be able to communicate properly in any other language other than Telugu! How on earth did this cousin think that this kind of marriage would last?! What commonality would there be between such a person and either of my sons, except perhaps some stars in their horoscopes magically aligning?!!
We now live in such a multicultural, cosmopolitan neighborhood that my sons’ closest friends are of Chinese, Korean, Polish, and Hispanic descent. We are so happy that they mix with such a wide variety of cultures and that nothing seems ‘weird’ or ‘not something that we people do’! They learn new facts and words and attitudes every day, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! My sons’ favorite foods are sushi, corn dogs and dosas!
The idea of forbidding them to mingle with any ethnicity, should they choose, would be shameful and mindless, in our opinion. It is regrettable that this young cousin does not understand how much he himself is missing out in not knowing or caring to know about the wonderful diversity of this world, but it is not something we are interested in snatching away from our children in the interest of narrow tradition.
Of course, the third assumption this young man made was that our sons would have wives, but that is the topic of a whole new post.
Roshni was born and brought up in Calcutta and is now living in California. Her two rambunctious boys, Big A, age 9, and Little a, age 5, are the main subjects of her blog (http://www.bigaandlittlea.com) and she can be found tweeting away (@RoshniAaMom) in her free time (you may well ask, what free time?!)