Pourquoi, indeed. Fellow blogger and kind soul Vaibhav posed me a question in a comment to a previous post that I had originally intended to answer as another comment, but have realized in the process of formulating said answer that it is too detailed for that space. And I have also come to the conclusion that knitters may be wondering where the fiber went (it’s in my craft room, hibernating while I finish the Socks of Eternity).
Why am I learning Hindi so earnestly?
The short answer is that I feel that if I am going to do something, I’m not doing myself any favors by doing it halfway. “Oh, sure. That’s okay. I’ll only get a half of the tattoo. I really don’t need the whole thing. Wouldn’t want to commit too much to it, you know.”
The long answer is quite long, and will partially take the form of a comparison (though not immediately).
My parents are solidly American. I love them dearly, and would not trade them for any others (except that my 13-year-old self would probably trade a few experiences for cooler ones, but you can’t please teenagers, anyway). My mom is one of my best friends, and my dad has given me a love for learning that has proven invaluable on numerous occasions. They were sorta-kinda-hippies in the 70s. I ate a lot of homegrown, homemade, and organic food. I didn’t eat sugar growing up. I didn’t wear new clothes. I hate peanuts because that was the sole snack food in our house, aside from the delicious and wondrous Little Debbie Cakes we got in our lunches (my brother would eat his all in one go, but I rationed mine out, which I still do with cookies, for months on end, until my husband gets frustrated and asks to finish them off himself). We went to see the symphony, spoke a smattering of Spanish, and celebrated holidays Just So. This is my culture.
My culture is also a Swiss-German family who emigrated to Texas in the 1850s to homestead and raise cattle. My culture dealt with marauding bands of Apaches, baked bread outdoors in big ovens, and broke horses. My culture was a butcher who loved his wife but almost married an Indian woman in WWII when he was stationed in Delhi (though this did not work out, I have some lovely carved ivory elephants and a beautiful silk handbag that was my “something old” when I got married). My culture was an irascible old German woman who only liked her eldest granddaughter. My culture has spectacular parties for funerals, and always serves butter mints. My culture is a nearly unbroken line of Anglican priests who moved around the East coast until one of their daughters married a hobo (seriously!) and moved to Texas. I am the daughter of an ex-nun and a priest’s grandson.
I think this is what it means to be American. Through all these people, I am an amalgamation of French, German, Swiss, English, and Scottish cultures. And at the same time, I am none of these. I don’t know what it means to be any of these things. I know what it means to grow up watching Alf and Punky Brewster, eating Froot Loops and Pop Tarts, wearing Nikes and Jordache jeans, reading Tiger Beat and listening to Michael Jackson. I know what it means to go to the roller rink every weekend, and to have had an after-school job at the mall and to drive a beat-up car to school and secretly (or openly) despise kids with better cars. I know about having pizza for breakfast, Chinese takeout for lunch, and Ethiopian for dinner.
But I don’t know if this is really American. This America is different from my parents’ America, which is different from their parents’ America, which is drastically different from the place my ancestors came to when the pilgrims’ ships landed.
To be fair, the England, Scotland, France, Germany (er… Prussia?) and Switzerland of that time were drastically different from what they are today. India is probably not the same country it was 50, 100, or 500 years ago. But I only have my own experience to go on.
And here is where the real answer happens:
As a child, I had a friend whose parents grew up in India. We went to their house frequently enough that I have vivid memories of what it looked like inside, what it smelled like, and how incredibly spicy the food was (I was eight. It was very spicy). When I was 13, Jay’s mom dressed me in a sari and jewelry for our school’s cultural day. I’ve since lost touch with them over the years (my parents still visit on occasion; I’m told Jay has grown up into a nice young man), but the fascination has stuck. And can you blame me?
Would you rather have this
[Keep in mind that I am a designer and an artist; color is very important to me]
[from FaceMePLS’ photostream]
[and I realize that again, I’m oversimplifying it, but I’m attempting to make a point]
I started this with Bollywood, but I can’t stop there. India isn’t just its films, and it’s not just the Panjab, and it’s not just the Hindi language (not at all; I haven’t tackled Tamil or Bengali yet, or Marathi or, well, you get the idea).
It’s vibrant and colorful and alien and ancient and I’ve fallen in love with it.
And I plan on knowing at least 10 languages before I’m 50. I know English and French and a little Spanish, and I hadn’t tackled a non-Romance language yet. Hindi seemed like a no-brainer.
[Something else my parents gave me was a fascination with and appreciation for other cultures. My mom had a dream at one point of opening a pan-cultural restaurant that served different dishes every day, all from different cultures. She makes a mean lentil soup. In the 70s she worked for the Minority Affairs department at the University of Kansas, and has really wonderful stories about people from West Africa, people from South America, and lots of Native American friends. I know Spanish because my Swiss-German-English-Texan mother spoke it at home. So I truly come by it all honestly.]