A maid’s language

2:03 PM

DH and I took Ishita to the park together last Sunday, took along her cricket bat and ball as she loves to play with her papa, regular casual activity.
There were two little girls playing at the playground under the supervision of their maid judging by the young age and conservative clothing. So far nothing quite unusual, the little girls noticed we brought a bat and wanted to play too, but Ishita suddenly grew possessive of her toy, and more importantly her papa, no sharing him with just anybody but the younger of the two girls really wanted to play so she kept asking “Can I play?” Which we were fine with, and by that I mean DH and I, Ishita was less than thrilled.
DH who talks in Hindi with Ishita just devised a plan and talked to the girl in Hindi as well to invite her in the game, at this point the girl looked at my husband square in the face and said “Talk English Uncle”, I was baffled, DH a bit surprised asked “Why you don’t understand Hindi?” (having heard her speak to the maid in Hindi earlier), and the girl to reply in a very assertive, and a bit disdainful tone “That’s the maids language!”

I was shocked, not because there is yet another mean way to segregate people into social classes in India, because let’s face it, there are far too many already, nope, what shocked me is that this little girl was no older than 5, and she was already clear in her mind about using languages as a status symbol, clearly she didn’t come with this one on her own, and I find it sad that educated well off parents perpetrate these labels and make sure their kiddos will continue making distinction of class and possibly caste between human beings!
So Hindi is no longer good enough to be spoken by certain people because they should be above it? How insulting is that? Have DH and I missed the memo on how uncool a language that was? i mean DH speaks Hindi, I speak French, we want her to grow up knowing her parent’s respective native languages, English, she can learn in school, and she will, DH and I both did, and we are good at it.
But sadly, it seems parents in metro make the choice to speak no local languages to their kiddos and prefer English and this is becoming a big trend, I was discussing it with a friend, and that very Sunday earlier in the day another friend with whom we had breakfast pointed the same thing, the reasoning of the parents for shunning away from desi languages? English gives them the edge in pre-school and later school, if they are fluent in it, they will perform better and earlier!
BAM! It once again all boils down to the insane level of competition placed on tiny tots in the school environment, not that some pre-school would even care how fluent the kids are in one language, but certainly is a brag factor for moms to just shove into every other’s parents face at pick up time how her kid is knowing more colours and numbers than the other toddlers in the group…oh dear! The worst of all is that this insanity is probably not so far in my future. I already had a few ladies back in Bangalore and here in Mumbai asking me “Oh she doesn’t talk yet?” on a tone suggesting there was something wrong with her, well in all due respect she talks a few words, of French and English, and understands what I say and quite lot of what DH says in Hindi as well. And I pointed out these things in a casual way in a more explanatory way than bragging (lame attempt at justifying myself to stranger that should normally not go under my skin), the minute I mention 3 languages exposure all at once at age 2 and the ladies are suddenly gasping a shy embarrassed “oh” and leave the topic alone, probably perceiving my casual explanation as why my daughter can’t recite sonnets and ballads in English (ahem nursery rhymes) as a challenge toward their kids (even if there are none offered).

So yes it seems we live in a world where Hindi is now a lower class servant’s language not worth using on anybody but those below you, and a girl all high of 5 years of age reminding a grown up Uncle about it.



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