My mother was born and raised in the southern part of Kerala, India, my father too. He later became a migrant to Maharashtra for job. In India, it’s natural for women to move with their husband after marriage. The language spoken in Maharashtra (Hindi/Marathi) was completely new to my mum. My parents were a Malayali family. Malayalam is the language in Kerala, the citizens are Malayali. 2 years into marriage they had their first daughter and that’s me. And 3 years later my sister was born.
What it was like for my mother growing up
A short briefing for those who have never been to India, a place you must consider visiting, India is a hub for various cultures in one pool. You will find completely different perspectives on the two halves. In the Southern part you’ll find the beauty of nature, experiencing extremes of climate. Whereas in the North, you’ll find the cold, snowy scenery. You’ll find Kerala magnificent while Kashmir on the top is known as “Paradise on Earth” for a reason.
Being born in a small town in Kerala, my mother has an older sister and two younger siblings. She was a scholar securing 3rd rank at school. Life wasn’t the easiest when she lost her father at the very young age of 17. It was a tough job for my maternal grandmother to take care of the family and educate her 4 kids. As time flew by, my mother became an adult, completed her studies, worked. She received a marriage proposal from a place far away in Maharashtra. She didn’t speak the language and she didn’t know any job opportunities there.
Language barrier in this huge country
India is a country divided by states where different languages are spoken every time you cross the state lines. Languages are a huge barrier among people from different states. We grew up hearing stories of the old days, days my mother used to struggle speaking the language (Hindi).
One of the stories I remember goes like this. My mother was already 25 at the time, hardly an age to pick up a new language from scratch. Learning a new language is fine if you know the basics but starting from scratch is a bit tough.
As it was compulsory to learn the language if you were planning to settle down, my mother devoted her time to it without much success at first. The beginning was brutal. The only 2-3 words she learnt was “Kya” meaning “what”, “khaana khaaya Kya?” meaning “Had food?” And some more. So with this little knowledge she encountered an incident she still laughs at till this day.
Got left behind in a place where she didn’t speak the language
It was a Sunday morning one month into their marriage. They were visiting some relatives in nearby place when they decided to travel by bus. Bus was the most affordable travel option for a long distance journey. The bus was so crowded that my mother couldn’t get on it. My father didn’t notice his wife didn’t make it on the bus, as it was that crowded.
Minutes later my father realised that my mother was not next to him. The very next thing he did was to run off the bus and back to the station. My mother was standing at the same place with eyes full of tears. The moment she saw my father running towards her all she could do was to cry her eyes out. The feeling of being lost, shook, scared of being in a place where she didn’t understand the language was going through her mind. Even today she’s not able to exactly elaborate what her feelings were.
Learning to deal with situations
Similar things happened before me and my sister were born. There used to be bus service in Kerala for travelling short distances. Whereas in Maharashtra, railway service was the soul for transport. Those days travelling by train to work place was difficult for a small town lady who was not familiar with travelling. My father could not always accompany her. She used to make a train chart scheduling time and travel destination. She would show those cards with translations if she needed help. With all the necessary telephone numbers written down on a paper because it was that difficult.
The lesson I learnt from my mother
Of all the stories my mother told us, this was one I want to share as I learnt the importance of being prepared. My mother was horrified when she couldn’t even ask for help as she didn’t speak the language. Today, I see her working with a lot of people, dealing with clients outside India. Her confidence and strength have grown tremendously.
Whenever we feel there’s no way out of the current situation, it’s usually not as we think. We will overcome everything when we work towards it and not by running away from the issue.