Monday, February 2, 2015

I put the world in neutral

Over the last few months, I have drifted far, far away from my daily Bengali study.

I don't know exactly why, especially at a time when I should have been eager to learn - our Let's Learn Bengali open group has crossed 800 members and the intermediate group has progressed so much. I still speak with my in-laws regularly. I have many Indian and Bangladeshi friends who want to talk to me in their own mother tongue, yet it is me who resists, even as I don't want to resist. I want to hear them talk about their day, the joys and frustrations, the deeper things of life, to be fully and truly themselves. I want to be able to capture that in myself, the inflections, pauses, the allusions. I have so much opportunity right now to really plunge in and become bilingual, culturally competent in more than one sphere. 

But I'm not there, and maybe it's that I'm judging myself for the halting sentences, the superficial conversations, the accent I will never lose, the translating from English, the trying to remember what page in the textbook that grammatical construct was on. I'm spending too much time in my head that I can't converse, I can't understand, I can't love. So I go back to default, put my world in neutral instead of moving forever forward. I can compose the most beautiful lines in my own mother tongue, weave words into a tapestry that captures a feeling, decorates a moment. Yet when I read Raihan's Bengali poetry, I'm lost on the third word and I can't even understand the denotative meaning, much less appreciate the beauty and deeper meanings. A cry of delight leaves me analyzing - can I say those words too? When? Will they laugh at me if I do? Does sundor apply to more than just things you see? What about things you hear? taste? Why am I wondering these things when I should be enjoying the time with friends, the good food, the music? I hate that I am thinking so much and living so little, so little that I don't even remember the moments afterward. I'm not even learning very much this way. But is it necessary? I know that I have to be uncomfortable while learning and using a new language, but is it even doing me any good? I know there's still lots to learn and work to do. But the work is getting in the way and I seem to be spinning my wheels, not improving.

I don't have to learn Bengali, you know. My husband speaks perfectly good English. There are plenty of non-Indian women married to Indians who never learn much more than a few phrases. I speak well enough to have simple conversations with my in-laws. But I just want more than that. I want to be able to connect with them about more than just the weather and cooking. I want to be able to comfort my friends in difficult times, on their terms. I want to be able to discuss books and movies, and exactly what I liked and did not like about them. I want to know when the compliment I think I'm getting is an icy barb in disguise. But no textbook has chapters on these things. I am not interested in textbooks anymore; they don't teach the things I really want to know. How to live, how to love, how to connect to people in the language their heart speaks. That's the reason I want to learn and always has been. It still feels like there's a gulf between, and I'm not sure if I can get to the other side. 

But from yesterday on, I'll make my tiny futile attempts to do just that. 

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