“Monai, kemon achcho?” my Grandpa lovingly asked me over the phone all the way from Kolkata, India. I replied in Bengali, the tongue of my ancestors, “Bhalo achchi, Dadai.” I am fine, Dadai. “Tomake khub dekte ichcha kore.” I miss you a lot. “Eikhane abaar kobe aschcho?” When are you coming here again?
I talked with my Grandpa for a few more minutes before handing the phone back to my mother.
Language is a most incredible and powerful thing. It connects people from all around the world and forms the basis of vibrant cultures. But more importantly, language unites me to my heritage, family, and the Indian half of my cultural identity. Language is the one thing that always reminds me of my Indian heritage, even when I am half a world away from the place my parents left behind to come to America. That is why I believe in the power of language to bring unity.
When I was younger, my parents would softly urge my sister and me to keep our home a 100% Bengali zone. I wouldn’t object and would quickly change gears from English, the language that connects me to my school and my friends, to Bengali. I never second guessed my parents’ tender insistence for me to speak in Bengali, but at the same time I never really understood why they insisted. Now I understand, and I could not thank them enough. I’ve come to realize that I share a most beautiful and intimate relationship with my parents because of our language. I have come to appreciate the sweet simplicity of speaking in Bengali for the closeness and love I experience when I visit my relatives in India. I am grateful for my language because it is a precious gift, an inheritance, that has been passed down for generations and that remains now as a link to my culture and family. I am grateful because my language has helped shape me for who I am.
Having realized the momentous impact that language has had on me, I realize all the things I would have lost if I had turned a deaf ear and not listened to my parents. I understand that there would have been a permanent language gap between them and me, a break in the long path traveled by my ancestral gift. Without Bengali, I would not feel the closeness between my grandpa and me solely because of an inability to express myself to him or for him to express himself to me. Without my language, my cultural identity would be incomplete, because, after all, I am Indian, and that’s something that I can never ignore.
I believe in the power of language, the power of my language. I believe in the ability of a few simple words to transcend time, space, and all barriers. I believe that language is a gift, a gift of love and unity that is constantly bringing me closer to my family, my culture, and to myself.
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