I am not sure what to say when someone asks me what my first language is. Although the right answer is English, because that’s the language that’s mostly running through my mind, I do feel like I’m doing an injustice to Marathi – the language that is spoken in my family and the language I first spoke before I started school. And I would like to think that my Marathi is superior than most others of my age who grew up in Marathi homes but went to English schools. Growing up, I read English books from the local and school library, and I also read Marathi books from home. I get my love for language from my parents and thanks to them, we spoke pure Marathi at home.
But the longer I stay in the US, the farther I find myself from my “mother tongue.” I grapple with certain words while talking to my parents, and I find myself wincing at myself when I use certain words incorrectly, or especially when I intersperse my conversation with a lot of “ummms” and “errs” because I can’t find the right word. I cannot stand that! I love languages. And I fluently speak three of them – or at least I am supposed to. Sure, a lot of Delhi-ites will gag at my Hindi, but I can manage very well. But, how heart-breaking is it that I can’t speak the language that I uttered my first words in? And I know it will only get worse. After all, I don’t celebrate any of the festivals that my family does in India; how long before I forget my language?
While chatting on the phone with my mother today, I realized that the word to express a feeling is called “vyakta” (or व्यक्त) in Marathi. The word for a person is “vyakti” (or व्यक्ती). How beautiful is language? The root word for “person” is the word that means “to express.” And so, being human… being itself is all about expressing. So maybe that’s all that matters – an ability to express. Whether it be in broken, or pure Marathi. Or grammatical-error-ridden English. Say it, write it – let people you care about know what you think, before it’s too late.