Tuesday, April 28, 2009

reading woes

standing in front of shri kalyanji temple in Diggi (a few hours away from Jaipur) I realized I am indeed illiterate. Carved into the stone wall of the temple was the history of the temple. The person who accompanied me to the place waved his hand affectionately towards the writing and said "everything you want to know about the temple is written here".

I stare blankly at the wall... pretending to read what looked like gibberish to me.

This experience of not being able to read is not new to me. In fact, I've spent the majority of my life in a country where I couldn't read the local language. But I had never felt that to be a handicap. Or more so, a fact about me that I was embarrassed to admit to someone else.

Later we sat at restaurant and a menu in Hindi was placed in front of me. My colleagues insisted that I decide what we'll have for lunch. Once again i started at the menu. Thankfully, my numerous visits to restaurants like these had given me a good idea of the kind of names that should appear on a menu.

"anything is fine" I squeaked out sheepishly. What must have seemed like shyness or some sort of politeness was actually just inability to read the menu. I was surprised at my own hesitation to just tell them things as they are... after all its not just a big deal. right?

Later on, i realized it was not so much admitting that I do not read Hindi rather than the assumption that I do read it that made it so difficult speak up. One might say, and i do so believe often enough, that i have enough excuse for not reading Hindi. At least I read my own mother tongue. Yes, I smatter through it... but at least...

Perhaps thats where nationhood comes in. Not knowing Thai never bothered me but I can't seem to hold the same perspective towards Hindi. It's all the more ironic considering the nature of my work and many inferences during all these trips to education and literacy.

Of course the space between realization and action still remains. Two books lie dustily on some shelf somewhere around the house. Both promise to make me proficient in Hindi.

The change has been that in the past few days I've remembered that those books exist and have in some way been convinced that its time i put them into use. Maybe thats the blessing Kalyanji's bestowed on me: a flicker of who I should be, now that I am here.