Though I’ve had the realization several times in the past, it really seemed to hit me last Monday.
It was my younger brother’s eleventh birthday, but that was completely overshadowed by a much more important event for my family — my grandmother visit from India. She was, understandably, moody about having to spend the next six months in a country where her friend circle didn’t extend beyond her six children and eleven grandchildren that live here, and so I called to say hello, to reassure her that I was eating well, and to let her know that was in fact, alive. However, there was one major problem: I don’t know how to speak Gujarati.
Thanks to my parents spoke Gujarati my entire life, I understood it perfectly, but when it came to speaking the language, I was lost. After my grandmother and I exchanged hellos over the phone, she asked about when I was coming back, and I couldn’t even muster a response to that. My mind blanked, unable to retrieve a single Gujarati word to say back to her. So, as usual, my conversation with her ended about a minute later when she handed the phone to my mom and muttered in the background “I can never understand what she says.”
And it was then that I started to reflect on my relationship, or lack of a relationship, with my grandmother. We hardly see each other, only once every three years, and when we do, our interaction is next to none. While everyone around me is close to their grandparents, I never had a relationship with them to begin with, and as someone who is nearing 19 and has a grandmother with deteriorating health, I felt the sudden urgency to build a relationship and kindle it while we still had the time to.
However, as of right now, all I can say to my grandmother is this:
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I can’t speak the language that you do, and, a result, we really don’t know each other as much as we should. It’s not like I haven’t tried to speak my mother tongue, but whenever I do, I’m suddenly reminded of how I’m an outsider. While speaking, my incoherent and broken grammar, coupled with my American accent expose that I’m not …well, truly Indian. Among all of your grandchildren, the majority of which have lived most of their lives in Mumbai, I’ll always be the one who stands out, and as time has gone on, it’s become harder and harder for me to assimilate. Before, there used to be a time when my cousins didn’t really care where I was from or what I sounded like, but now, they do, and for once, I sound stupid. And you know me enough to know that I hate looking stupid compared to others.
On the bright side, I haven’t stopped trying to learn how to speak Gujarati, and, to be honest, ever since my last conversation with you, it’s gotten a lot better. I guess already understanding the language has helped me pick up words and actually remember them much faster than I expected to.
I hope that this helped you understand the juxtaposition that I’m consistently in. In many ways, I’m a person who doesn’t really have a country to call home or a single identity that’s mine, for I’m too Indian to be an American yet too American to be an Indian. However, that doesn’t mean that our relationship should remain as minimal as it is.