The other day, I was dropping my son off to school. Here, I was waiting for the car ahead of me to move, and that car in turn was waiting for me to leave. This was in complete contrast to Bangalore, India – where I had just returned from, a few days ago. In Bangalore, honking rules, traffic chaos are the order of the day, and going the wrong way on a one-way is the norm. You deserve to be trampled by almost any vehicle, if you dare cross a road on foot. No wonder! my mother felt people in Helena were very nice, because they waited in their cars patiently with a smile, as she slowly crossed the road! She wouldn’t even dream of crossing a road in Bangalore!
To think of it, there was a time when Bangalore was mellow with lesser traffic and more trees and happy people. In the mid 70s, our family comprising my parents, brother and me, had just moved to Bangalore from another state called Bihar in India and it had felt like we had moved to another country altogether. My father could speak four languages Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English and yet, my earliest memory is of him using his fingers to buy bananas, and bargain with a good measure of hand signals and head nodding. How different are the languages from state to state? Well very different, the script is different, the grammar is different, the words are different, the pronunciation is different and off course the food, the culture and religions could be different too!
Punjabi has been spoken in both my parents’ homes for five generations or more, so like other indians, my parents have continued the lingual and cultural tradition of a Sikh-Punjabi at home. Actually, all of our immediate neighbors were from different states in India, so as a five year old, who enjoyed spending time in their houses, I learned to speak a few phrases in their languages, while enjoying their food. Thanks to my daily conversations with our maid, I could speak Kannada too! My favorite line was “Lets beat your yejmanroo ( husband) with a kuchi ( stick). As her yejamanroo was the reason she sobbed almost everyday.
My parents couldn’t speak Kannada, the primary language of Bangalore, so as a six year old, I became the Kannada – spokesperson of our house. I accompanied my mother to the vegetable market, usually bargained back and forth between my mother and the grocer, but never to my mother’s satisfaction. If I refused to talk to the big burly tomato seller, she reprimanded me “for being meek and cowardly”. She preferred a hindi-speaking grocers, so she could bargain herself, but then they didn’t always have what she wanted.
If the maid did not show up for work it was my job to interrogate her when she returned! My mom would want to know why she had skipped work. “Jwara” (fever) the maid would sigh! “She is lying, must have gone to watch the latest movie! Anyway if she had come, I would have taken her to the doctor”, my mother would retort angrily. Being the only one, who actually understood the exchange, I embellished, so as to soften my mother’s harshness, towards Parvati – our maid, it made me feel good!
The Guhas, our new neighbours from the state of Bengal, came over to our house for a visit. “Bangalore kaisa lag raha?” (How does Bangalore feel), my father asked in Hindi. “ Bahut Accha!” (Very good), replied Mr Guha, nodding his head. Mrs Guha was happy that she could talk to the milkman in English, as he politely greeted her with a Hello and a How do you do? When in fact , that poor guy was only saying “Halloo”, which means “Milk” and “Howdo” which means “Yes” in Kannada! Often times, a random person on the street would ask “oota aayitha!” “Had your meal?” a common way of greeting people in Bangalore.
Would I still want to live there, after having lived and raised my boys in the United States for almost 20 years? Yes!! It is a city, where multitude languages are spoken, where different accents are a way of life, where your name being mispronounced is common place, where everyday is a festival for some family belonging to some region of India. While, there is a sense of comfort & joy in connecting with people who speak the same language as you, there is also a sense of unity in diversity as people converse across languages, by using common keywords, replete with hand movements and head shaking. Our family (me, my husband and the boys) has visited India almost every summer, this year I have already been to Bangalore thrice!!!
Yet when I return to Helena, our home for the past eight years, that feeling of warmth embraces me, as I see familiar faces and smiles everywhere. When I hike on the trails here, with the cool, crisp breeze touching my face, and the beautiful mountains in the background, it feels like heaven!!! As a family, we enjoy hiking together, then maybe walk to the downtown area to watch a movie or a concert, followed by a walk back home in the dark. Did I not dream of living in a place like this all my life? I have spent a lot of time comparing the two cities in the two different continents, But, if I allow both the places and the people to surround me in their beauty, caring and sharing. The boundary between the continents and countries feels like a blur, that doesn’t need to exist.
Finally I am at peace with a foot here in Helena and another foot there in Bangalore!