Category Archives: creativity

The language that runs in my blood

odiyaI don’t remember the exact year. But it was early 1990s. My friend and I were going to Connaught place (New Delhi)  in bus no 615 (from JNU). We were talking in Odia (the language spoken in Odisha) and just before we alighted from the bus, a co-passenger asked us. “Which language is this?” My friend without batting an eye-lid said, “Italian.” We got down from the bus and laughed to our heart’s content. It felt exhilarating to be able to speak in a language that somebody standing next to us couldn’t understand.

I have always relished the fact that I can speak another language fluently other than English and Hindi. I love languages and love collecting words in different languages and write them down in my notebook, mobile phone, mind and heart. Odia is my mother tongue and that’s the language I first learnt to speak.

I remember spending beautiful evenings under a cloudy sky listening to Chittaranjan Jena’s soul soothing song, ‘Mo priya tharu kiye addhik sundar, ediki manoi jiha se…’ (There’s no one more beautiful than my beloved… but she is so moody that only when she’s in a mood she tells me that she’s mine) and Shekhar Ghosh’s ‘Hridayara ei sunayata ku’ (When I ask the emptiness of my heart). I learnt English before I picked up Hindi. I loved English as a language and always scored well too, making my father feel very happy. I was equally good in Odia and my favourite leisure activity was reading all kind of adult literature (mostly novels and short stories) in Odia. Some of the stuff I read, I didn’t understand at all. Nevertheless I just read the books. For the sheer pleasure of travelling through the forbidden territory. My mother had kept away one such novel far away from me in one of her secret shelves. The little devil in me egged me to hungrily finish that novel when she was fast asleep in the afternoon. I think I read that novel faster than a Sukhoi 30.

As a child, I never felt attracted to Hindi as the teacher was not that exciting. He was an old man who was lost in his own world and didn’t pay much attention to our young inquisitive minds. I wish I had somebody to teach me Hindi well in school. I love the sound of Hindi, I love the beautiful, mesmerizing world of Hindustani. I deeply regret not exploring the rich textured world of Hindi literature. But I remember the first Hindi word that left an impression in my mind. The word was ‘kachchi dhup’.   One of my friends had just shifted to Odisha from Bihar and she was good in Hindi. She explained the meaning of the word to me. I remember standing in our garden early in the morning and telling to myself, “Oh, this is kachchi dhup (tender sunlight) playing with me.”

For three years in school, I flirted warmly with Sanskrit and enjoyed listening to the Sanskrit news bulletin on All India Radio (AIR).  It was a highly pleasurable activity for me even though I didn’t understand much. The other day in the newsroom at work, we were talking about our childhood memories and then I started, “Eyam Akashvani. Samparti bartah suniryatam. Prabachika Deepika.(as they used to start the Sanskrit news bulletin on AIR). Everybody burst into laughing. The three language formula in school gave me enough joy to fleet in from one world of language to another.

Now my fourth language is Gujarati. For this, I owe a lot to Taraben, my cook. She didn’t understand Hindi when she became a part of my home and world. So, I had to make an effort to learn Gujarati and now I can speak Gujarati and manage to read it if it’s written in bold letters. I hope, one day I will be able to read a Gujarati newspaper completely. I want to push myself. I want to do it.

Language feels like a trusted companion in my personal and professional world. I feel lost without language. We need to embrace each other for my own sanity. Language is the lover I love spending time with. I need to hold language in my heart. I need an effortless relationship with languages. Languages are not just about words. Languages are about emotions. Languages have a feel of warmth in them. Sometimes, I feel the salty breeze of Bay of Bengal in my mouth as I speak to my childhood friend of 30 odd years in Odiya.  Sometimes I feel the taste of a lightly spiced fish curry and mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil, finely sliced onion and green chili, when I go through old letters of my mother written some twenty odd years ago. Sometimes it gives me a strange of comfort while sitting in my apartment in Ahmedabad, only I can relish the content of the letters written in Devnagari script. It feels very intimate and special.

As I flaunt my grey hair with gay abandon, I now look at languages with a kind of warmth and fondness. I remember my maternal grandmother who always carried a basket of Odiya proverbs with her. She was a tough lady who believed in dishing out a proverb or two at the right moment. She never missed a chance. She had mastered the art of firing proverbs with missile like perfection.

Even as India surges ahead on the path of globalization, we need to protect our languages. It still amuses me when I see upwardly mobile Odia parents speaking to their children in English or Hindi at home but not in Odia. Years ago, a young man asked me “So you speak Odissi at home?” He was then studying in a prestigious college in New Delhi. I looked at him and said, “I speak at home. I don’t dance.” (For the uninitiated, Odissi is a form of Indian classical dance.)

As I indulge myself in English literature, conversations and music, I feel I need to move a bit closer to my mother tongue now.  I can no longer write a poem in Odia. The language is in the process of distancing from me as I am not nurturing it with tenderness and dedication. I have been an inconsistent lover. The touch of ‘sahitya’ is missing in my mother tongue. I am losing a slice of my love. I can’t remember when did I write a letter in my mother-tongue? May be a decade ago. But I now feel the desire to do so..

Now I listen to Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale, Mohit Chauhan, Elton John,  Cat Stevens, Mariah Carey, and Adele.  I no longer listen to Akshaya Mohanty, Chittaranjan Jena and Prafulla Kar. They are childhood memories carefully tucked away in some corners of my heart. Their songs are on a pause mode for me. Their voices no longer waft through my home.

Most importantly, I express love in English. On rare occasions, I do it in Hindi. My love has a language that was never in my blood. Never in my vein. I express love in a language that has been far more global than mine actually. A language that has a limited vocabulary  for fire, water, earth and sky. Leave alone love. English makes it easier for me to write a love letter. It enables me to shed my inhibitions. To create a different world than the world I am familiar with.

In strange ways, I now stay connected to the language I first spoke. I speak in Odia to the visiting pigeons who come and happily sit on my balcony wall and sometimes wander aimlessly in my living room. I ask them in Odia, “Are you paying the rent? Why are you going and banging yourself against the glass window? When will you have some intelligence?” I make a mental note of my ‘TO DO’ lists in Odia. When I am desperate, .I talk to my late mother in my mother tongue asking her to make things easy for me. I tell her, “Why did you go up there when I want you to be here? If you are not here, then at least make life easy for me.” I feel a sense of peace and resonance when I talk to her in the language she taught me to speak and encouraged me immensely to explore. And unknowingly, she gave me a chance to discover adult literature when I was very young,  She gave me an entry ticket to the wonderful La La Land called ‘Imagination.’ I will be eternally grateful to my mother for introducing me to Dr Kunjabihari Das, the doyen of Odiya language and his seminal works on proverbs, Lok katha.

Right now, I am feeling a lot more closer to the language that runs in my blood. Even though I am writing this piece in a language that is not mine. Some emotions or memories always stay true and authentic even though you express in a language that is not actually yours.

 

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Yes, I love my curls

Last week, I was sitting in my friend’s beautiful kitchen while she was frying fish. There were four of us — talking, laughing and enjoying a drink. She walked up to me suddenly, put my hair behind my ears and told me, “Deepy, You have such an adorable face, why don’t you just tie your curly hair?” She loves me a lot and she just became the newest member of the brigade propagating this ‘tie your unruly curly hair’ philosophy.

I am the only one in my family who has curly hair. Well, it’s genetic as my father had it. Growing up as a girl with curly hair in small town India (Orissa to be precise) was not a smooth ride. To top it all, being dusky was another major ‘perceived disadvantage.’  So, wherever one went during the adolescent years, scores of self-righteous aunts, uncles looked at your hair and asked, ‘Why don’t you have straight hair?’ Or ‘Why don’t just tie it tightly (so that it won’t look like curly hair)?”

As I grew up in  pre-liberalized India, there was no talk of straightening my hair. But, then I was given numerous other names like ‘Sai Baba’, ‘Pagali (crazy) and “African”.  These name-calling were certainly not a pleasant experience for a young child but never once did I think of having  regrets about not having straight hair like my sisters. In fact, I always felt better-off when I used to see my sisters sitting in front of the mirror and laboriously applying lemon juice and egg whites on their straight hair. Mine was ‘zero maintenance hair.’

As a young adult, being in relationships, the hair issue followed me zealously. Otherwise bright, socially aware men had a problem with curly hair and constantly mentioned about tying my hair in a neat ponytail. Well, this was nothing new to me so it didn’t really affect me. I continued with what I was comfortable doing.

But it was unnerving to encounter strangers commenting on my hair. When I went to file a police complaint in New Delhi after losing my wallet and I-card, I was persistently quizzed by the official in the police station,  ‘Aap toh honge Kerala/Goa se baal jo aap ki aise ghoongaralu hai?”(You must be from Kerala/Goa because you have curly hair.” Till today, I have no idea of the connection between filing a police complaint and curly hair. While travelling in the train from Delhi-Bhubaneswar, generous co-passengers never failed to ask me that question (in between feeding home-cooked vegetable pulao and poori-alu) “beta, aap ka baal aise kyon hai?” (Why do you have hair like this?). Look out of the window, in sheer deseperation.

And then something changed in the mid 1990s. India embraced the path of economic liberalization and with the satellite television, people started noticing fashion and style trends from the West. Perming became a cool word in urban Indians’ hair & style lexicon. And then in 1997, Arundhati Roy won the Man Booker prize for her debut novel God of Small Things. Suddenly she became the poster girl (a huge amount of prize money added to the glam). For the upwardly mobile urban Indians, curly hair became a symbol of being cool, stylish, successful and creative too. Suddenly, everybody wanted to become a writer.

I remember, after a month of Arundhati’s win, I had gone to a salon in Vasant Vihar for a hair-cut. Three rich and stylish women accosted me and asked, “Are your curls natural?” When I said “Yes”, they squealed with delight, “OMG, We love it. It’s like Arundhati’s hair. You are so lucky.” I rolled my eyes in disbelief and actually basked in that compliment. Temporary happiness.

Ironically, years later in 2005, when I was travelling in a train from Jodhpur-Ahmedabad, two young engineering students came up to me and asked me for an autograph. They thought I was Arundhati Roy. I thanked God for their poor eye-sight and told them that their mistake had actually made me happy.

The curly sunshine moments have followed me even after this incident.  When I interviewed one of India’s great ad gurus and noted theatre personalities, in between our long engrossing conversations, he told me “The moment you entered into the room, I knew it would be nice talking to you.” I asked him “What made you think so?” He answered, “Your curly hair. In India, it’s not easy to be a woman with curly hair. I know, you have to fight so many battles against mindsets and stereotypes.”

Well, now I love my mop of curly hair. I can’t really remember when did I last go for a hair-cut because the standard comment of hair stylists is : “Can’t do anything to your curly hair.” I have done google search on cool curly hair styles and taken print outs to give ideas to the hair stylists. But all my diligent efforts have only made me poorer by few thousand bucks without any noteworthy result. So, I am saving the money for a pair of cool mean distressed jeans.

Has life changed for this curly-haired woman? Well, sometimes people ask me, ‘Are you an artist/designer?’ And the obvious reason for asking this question is my curly hair and huge silver rings on my fingers. Well, considering the times we are living in India now, by any stretch of imagination, a journalist can’t be an artist. Sometimes, when in a playful mood, I say, “I am a cook (not a chef).” Go, figure out, my love. If that makes me an artist.

Of course, India has loads of people who will be forever on Darwin’s first stage of evolution till their death. So, in the midst of conversations on people who have influenced us, when I say, “It’s Maya Angelou for me.” Some laugh and say, “Oh, it got to be Maya Angelou for you coz you have crazy curly hair like her. You know that African connection.”

Well, when you have poet-singer-actor-human rights activist Maya Angelou as your role-model, you always remember ‘I know why the caged bird sings.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A digital flirt. Not a nice feeling

I feel like a digital flirt. I don’t enjoy the feeling anymore. I joined instagram few days back. Having the app on my smartphone gives me the freedom to post a photo and note from anywhere and anytime. I see the world through words. Even photographs speak to me through words.

I have an aversion of putting my own photographs. Most of my family members are intensely private people. So I don’t want to be the intruder. Selfies don’t excite me. To be honest, I don’t have the body of  Kim Kardashian.

But I have been flirting here and there in the digital world. And the destinations vary from Facebook, Twitter to Instagram.

As much as all of them allow me to express myself, there’s no greater joy than sitting in front of my computer and expressing my thoughts filling up the screen. The sound of the keyboard makes me feel alive. connected and joyful.

As I write this, I feel this space of mine gives me the feeling of home (Aah.. the Gypsy talking of having a home. But life is all about having possibilities or imagining possibilities).

I have had enough of being a digital flirt. Let me enjoy this solid feeling of being in a meaningful relationship.

And a little note of ‘Thank you’ to all those wonderful souls who have stopped by this space and encouraged me with their generosity of appreciation and heart-warming comments.

The Gypsy hopes to meet more generous souls on the road ahead.