…The Musings of a Strange Guy

Aaaarghhh

I finally got it! I will die now!!!
It’s….the FLU!!!!!

It’s terrible but once I realised what was happening, I just shot to the supermarket and bought a jar of honey, some oranges, some lemons, and some flu medicine. I also bought some carrots, some mushrooms and a packet of cinnamon sticks for my special biryani dish. How all these things going to help me is indeed a great mystery…

Well, the honey and lemon is absolutely heavenly, but the lemsip is awful.
 Note to myself: If it’s that bad, does it mean I’m going to get well?

Anyway, Anna texted me tonight and asked how I was going on. Strangely, she always asks about my assignments first, and then complains that she is not doing so well with her work. I guess she must be keeping track of how far ahead or behind I am compared to her. Strange mentality, that.

My aunt phoned around 7 pm. I was still eating my fried chicken and tomato chutney with bread. She wasn’t very happy to hear that she’d passed on her cold to me. It’s not the end of the world but I know, and she knows too, that I have very little resistance against colds. I don’t really know where to begin to stop this or get rid of it. It’s been a great 4 months, with practically no illness. It must have been that flu vaccine I took when I came to Leeds.

But again, it’s nothing to worry about.

Watched Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, after Bend it Like Beckham. Both are actually very nice and depict certain realities of life. I wonder how MW seems to non-Indian viewers. There are so many things (cultural, linguistic, social, otherwise) which I take for granted when I see an Indian movie. But then MW is not your typical Bollywood output, even if the majority of the West actually mistakes it for being just that. I grew up watching Bollywood films that were imported from India. I practically learnt to understand Hindi, and to some extent, Urdu, merely by watching these films.

I don’t find it strange at all that people should spontaneously burst into song or dance around even if this might seem incongrous outside the scene of a musical for many Western viewers. Indians are very sensitive to music and songs. Nearly all the films that are produced by the Bollywood film industry are musicals.

My father, in his idle moments, usually hums old hindi tunes from yesteryear, the ‘golden tunes’ as he calls them, not the exhausted, re-re-remixed ‘trash’ that comes out now. One of the games I used to play along with my cousins a long time ago was to guess and sing songs from films. Actually, I never was any good at all this. Most of the time, I can’t even remember one complete line from a hindi film lyric, which is a shame, especially when you go camping by the sea under a tent with your friends and everyone gets drunk and they start a singing contest and you know you can’t really sing more than one or two lines.

I have a very eclectic musical taste. I listen to practically every form of music. I would just as gladly listen to a techno beat as I would listen to a Western ballad or Carnatic instrumental music. I have a certain penchant for tribal and fusion music as well and I also listen to some New Age from time to time.

Ah, I realise that I’m getting off the track again. For such a short film, MW impresses me with the elaborate juxtaposition and layering of detail and facets of Indian life and culture. At the same time, there is also this message that this film is about universal human problems as well.

The film is predominantly in English but there is also the use of Punjabi and Hindi. This is actually very realistic because much of middle-class India speaks in English. English is as natural to them as to a native UK speaker. What I find interesting is this subtle blending of Hindi and English, what they call Hindglish, or something like that. When I studied linguistics, there was a term which we used for this, called Code-Switching or Code-Mixing. These are actually two different things but for Indians, you find evidence of both. I do much code-switching and mixing as well, both when I speak and when I write informally, such as when I chat to my friends on messenger or when I text them. This is because there is this assumption that we share more than one language and are thus sure of being understood, even if we suddenly switch from one language to the other. I often switch from one language to the other because I can’t find a word that is appropriate enough or strong enough to express what I am thinking. I believe it makes conversations richer. Of course, switching languages can also be elitist: you thus exclude other people from your conversation, directing your words only at someone whom you know will understand what you mean. For me, it is quite easy to switch from one language to another, but I have to be careful not to bring this into my academic life as a student of English, hehe. But no worry about that.

My native (mother-tongue or first language) is the Mauritian Creole. This is a language which is still developing and though it is very rich, it still has no standardised written form. Of course, there have been attempts to ‘fix’ the language with the introduction of several Creole Dictionaries, but the fact remains that each Mauritian still writes Creole the way he feels. The fact that most of the words are derived from French (Colonial French) means that many tend to use the French orthographe when they write down. But Creole is a vibrantly oral language and the Mauritian who says he cannot speak it is a liar. French and English are obviously the other languages that everyone learns in our country, but French is much favoured over English. Despite having an english-based curriculum, where the majority of subjects are taught in the English medium, French remains the most popular second language of all Mauritians. Many families (middle and upper class, usually) tend to use French a lot in their households. It is so civilisé. You are expected to speak in French in polite society though I have most of the time never adhered to this convention. My love for English has also made me respect and love the other languages I speak, and I’m an ardent supporter of the Creole language.

 English, on the other hand, is rarely spoken, except by some few madmen like myself. French is given much importance in the media as well, with most of the newspapers written in that medium. The French News broadcast on telly is at 7 or 7.30, the ideal prime time while News in English is erratically broadcast around 9 pm or 10 pm. We also have fewer radio and tv programmes in English. Even in cinemas, most of the Hollywood films, through I don’t know what tradition, come to us dubbed in French. It’s the same thing with the films we used to get on telly though the National Broadcasting company is now making serious efforts to bring in the films in their original version.

So, besides the Mauritian Creole, I speak French and English. I can also understand and speak some Hindi. The interesting thing about my country is that there are so many ethnic communities brought together, each with its own identity and culture. Thus, we have people from Europe (not many), from Africa, from China and India. People of Indian descent constitute about 55% of the Mauritian population, so that there is always this predominatly Asian flavour to the Mauritian culture. But the fact that there are other very different communities as well such as the Creole community (people of african descent) or the Chinese community makes it difficult to say that there is one community that is superior to another. I am thus part of this Indian community, but even this is subdivided into smaller communities. For, when our ancestors came from India, they came from various parts of India, and in India, a region is akin to a country in size and as different to other regions as far as cultural and linguistic factors are concerned. We thus have the Hindi-speakers, who are the majority of Indo-Mauritians. Their ancestral language is Hindi and their ancestors mostly came from the upper states in India such as Bihar. They also speak Bhojpuri here in Mauritius, a language which I can understand but wouldn’t venture to speak. My grandmother and father as well as many of their generation are well-versed in this. Shame on me :P. Then there are the Marathis, whose ancestors came from Maharashtra and whose ancestral language is Marathi. The ethnic group I belong to is that of the Telugus or Andhras, whose ancestors came from the state of Andhra Pradesh in South India and whose ancestral language is Telugu. I can write a bit in that language and can actually understand some of it but I have not been much exposed to it. One of my aunts teaches this language at secondary level. Some of my cousins have got very good academic results in this language. Again, it is quite a shameful thing for me not to be able to know my own ancestral language, especially when it is this language that primarily sets your community to be distinct from others. The Gujratis are a smaller community of people whose ancestral language is, obviously, Gujrati and they hail from the Northern (I think) state of Gujerat. My cousin got married to a girl from this community last year. I got the opportunity to observe their rites, rituals and customs, which, while being both Indian and Hindu, like mine, are nevertheless quite different. The Tamil community is a large community that hails from the state of Tamil Nadu and speaks the native language of Tamil. The primary distinction here, as I have pointed out earlier, is based on linguistic difference but there are other more distinct cultural differences pertaining to each community.

And there is also the difference in religion: Indo-Mauritians can be categorised as being Hindus (majority), muslims and christians (not that much). Muslims usually adopt either Bhojpuri or Urdu as their ethnic language. Urdu is written in the Persian (need to check) or Arabic script but when you listen to it, it is quite close to Hindi, which is written in a wholly different script. I certainly have no problems understanding Pakistani serials (which are in Urdu) on telly. It’s just some words and phrases that have this arabo-persian twist to them that I have some difficulty comprehending. But considering how neither Urdu nor Hindi are my native or ancestral languages, it’s quite good for me to be able to understand these languages.

Anyway, what I meant to say is that sometimes, depending on my company, interlocutor or addressee, my choice of words changes. Sometimes, I would use simple Creole, at other times, my creole would be sharply coloured by French, English or Hindi words. But like I said, all depends on the company.

Now that I think of it, it’s actually both hard and easy to pinpoint an exact identity for myself. How does one define oneself? How does one’s belonging to a particular community or group affect one’s self-definition?

I am in the UK now and I may be mistaken for a Paki. But for the British Asians, I am as foreign to them as I am to the White population. I don’t speak like them, I don’t dress like them: I do not really belong. Even the Indian Indians (ie, the students I’ve met who have come directly from India) see me  as different. There is the language thing, of course: I have no obvious accent (though someone says I have a French accent!) whereas they have this very strong Indian accent (which I sometimes imitate for fun). As soon as I open my mouth, they immediately know that I’m not from India. It’s quite funny, really.

 It is actually quite difficult to try and stand alone as someone from Mauritius (which is both an island and a country that is categorised as part of the African continent), who happens to be of Indian origin, and is also a Hindu, but of South Indian ancestry, and whose first language happens to be very close to French. For someone who tries to defuse the negative aspects of categorisation, I find myself within a subset within a subset within a subset… I know that for some people who are in the same situation as I in the UK, there is this strong impulse to conform or belong to one group. But more about that later.

I need a strepsil.

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