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Language: The Key to the Cage


Hello, my name is Neha Gupta (N-ay-ha Gup-th-a). I am a first-generation Canadian, but I am 100% Indian by background. Today, I felt I wanted to write about my Indian heritage as it manages to seep towards the forefront of my identity everyday.

In so many ways, my life is multidimensional. Subtle changes in my everyday differentiate the separate parts of my life, which ironically all seem to seep into each other. One aspect that unifies these multiple dimensions of life is through culture. The broader idea of identity is the thread linking our experiences, our personality, our perception and our sense of understanding towards the world around us. It is through our identity that we are connected to a larger community, shape our values and take pride in our differences.

Until I was five years old, I marvelled at the complex tongue my parents used to communicate with one another. It was like a secret language, and I was put into some sort of cage barring me from understanding their dialect. And because of this, I distinctly remember the landmark days on my journey to learning Hindi; my first lesson (taught by my dad), first sentence, first pooja (prayer), first conversation with my grandparents without a translator and more. As I continued learning and diversifying my understanding of Hindi, without quite knowing that I had just taken the first step on my momentous journey of self-discovery, I grew to appreciate its beauty.

At home, I converse with my family in Hindi. And the beauty of this lies, in my perspective, in the fact that we have been able to emulate the feeling of living in India without having to try. It is through language that we express ourselves: through words strung into sentences. The phrase “language is culture and culture is language” also comes to mind, as the two are intertwined and play as crucial a role in one’s understanding of their roots. Language, as I see it, is the road to connecting with culture.

I have felt oftentimes detached with my culture, and I worried that I would someday feel a disconnect between the depth and gift that Hinduism has given me in the future. As a child, I found such joy, an eminent sense of maturity and an indescribable feeling of accomplishment in learning Hindi. But as time passed and the everyday chaos descended, I sadly found less purpose and motivation to maintain my tongue. All of a sudden, I found the delicate accents and dialect of Hindi hard to reach the tip of my tongue without quite knowing how I had let my knowledge evaporate unnoted.

I have always found it hard to feel truly connected to my Indian heritage. With about 11500 km of land and sea separating Canada and India, the disconnect can seem like a wedge. However, my household has implemented many treasured traditions which makes my house feel like a tiny piece of Indian culture. And even though multiple years separate my visits to India, the country feels that much closer everyday through language. I have felt that Hindi has become my “reclaimed language”, and I wished to confront my journey with it. Being given the chance to reflect on my complex connection to my dialect helped me see that Canada is where I live, but India is my home.

Perhaps it is because of the Coronavirus that I felt such an urgency to reclaim this language that felt lost, as it was now the only way I could connect with my culture with closed borders. But the fact that I now see is this: language and culture provide us an overall sense of direction. And I cannot wait to see what Hindi shows me next.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others

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