When you start living in a country where they don’t speak the language you are conversant in you sense a certain handicap. Fortunately I was to move to France so no drama of learning a new script else I swear on all the languages the world speaks that I would have said no to love and marriage, both!
Before the saat pheras and mingling with my new Punjabi family happened, I had to apply for visa like everybody else. The French government are apparently quite particular about integrating étrangères in their culture and they demand that you ‘speak’ or at least ‘understand’ their langue. So naturally, one of the prerequisites to getting it was passing a basic French language test and another that dealt with valeurs de la République française. Not that I have heard but I’m sure the same doesn’t in India or does it? खैर, I enrolled myself at Alliance Française de Delhi. Within less than three months I graduated from saying a mere Bonjour to framing coherent sentences that promised to help me at least survive. Finally in January this year, with my life literally packed in two suitcases, I moved in with my permanent roommate in a quiet city in the Parisian suburbs.
It did help to be able to make sense of the signage on roads, shops or metro junctions, but whatever accent-free français I tuned my ears to not as much. Anything said between bonjour and bonne journée fell on deaf ears ! The only French I could understand was if there were two kids talking. Naturally, I felt out of place much like Sri Devi in English Vinglish. It also reminded of days when I would snap at my ija (mother) because she would keep asking me about what the English-speaking fellows were really talking about on news channels or otherwise in the movies.Ouch.
Initially, the fear of losing the language I was born to i.e. Kumaoni was natural, but that was taken care of. While my husband and I spoke with each other in English, Hindi and French, he crossed paths with a few never heard before Kumaoni words. To my surprise he continues to slip them into our conversations fairly effortlessly.
Next up was Hindi that I missed sorely and somewhere with no amount of love (not as yet then) for French, I in my herz I hoped to move to Deutschland where my dormant Deutsch would come to life. Coming to anglais, je pense que cette une autre histoire. I didn’t seem to be irked by its non-existence because I somehow felt betrayed by it. All these years of schooling and years spent in the university, I had let it usurp my mind and to what? Eventually however, I made peace with that feeling owing to an epiphany that made me realise it was les Français who were at fault. The thing is that these guys will go watch an English film, but never be found speaking en Anglais. The only time you’ll spot them murmur in English is when they’re drunk. In their dizzy state of being they trust that your French is as bad as their weak-in-the-knee English! Anyway, who am I to complain, right? Don’t they say when in Rome do as the Romans? So, I enrolled for French lessons at Marie de Paris, but not before I declared myself an illiterate at a French government office!
Unlike the French we Indians don’t need to be drunk to speak a language we little know. We are brave hearts and will speak only in English whether or not you speak or understand it! So well, here I was waiting my turn at the office of integration of foreigners and a lady asked me if I can understand French. I said that I would try speak as much as possible and didn’t agree to the proposition of asking my husband to join us. Eh, voilà! Under that confident, calm demeanour was a part of me that was flustered, but I gave myself a pep talk. I made myself believe that attentive listening and lip-reading will help. To a few questions I managed to answer satisfactorily in ‘oui’ and ‘non’ and rejoiced by mentally waving a flag of victory. Yay. It is quite possible that in that celebratory moment of delirium which I’d like to think was more of absent-mindedness, I said that I went to school for 5 years (WHAT!) when what she meant to ask was how many years did I attend school for. To this day there are only two friends who know about it and today you too. I still can’t fathom how I could have messed up between l’ecole and l’université!
Never mind all that.
As of now, my report card language language report card (can you see how interfering and nosey French is?!) says that I can speak as fast as I manage to think. What hasn’t changed is that I continue to miss Hindi.