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For sadly, languages become alien when we stop reading in them

A couple of months ago, a friend lent me a play script penned down in Hindi. It was a classic titled Andhon Ka Haathi, a political satire by (late) Sharad Joshi; a renowned writer whose works I had read as part of school assignments. Perhaps, the last time I had ever read anything in Hindi. So, when the tiny book landed in my hands, I was excited. The same night, I ticked off all the boxes for the perfect reading experience — switched on the bedside lamp, put the mobile on silent and away, and made myself a cup of Hibiscus tea. I was ready to romance the yellow dog-eared pages.

But, within just a few minutes and barely any pages down, I found myself struggling. It took me time to get a grasp of the words. I was missing the pace of reading, comparing it when I read in English. Every now and then, I was halting at words, wondering what they meant. Nevertheless, I did read the script in its entirety the same night. I relished the experience, I told my friend, who by the way went ahead and directed, produced, and staged a full-length play on the classic. The show received a lovely response from the Hindi-speaking Dubai audience, suggesting there was something that many of us had been missing.

I confess the whole exercise of reading left me feeling restless. I began to wonder, why don’t I read in Hindi anymore? The fact that books in Hindi aren’t easily available in Dubai can’t be the only reason. There’s always Amazon. Am I forgetting the language, widely spoken in India (especially Northern India, my land of belonging)? But, I do converse in it. I am a big fan of Bollywood films and my current playlist to suggests my love for the language. Yet, I can’t recall the last time I stopped at a listicle titled Season’s Best Sellers in Hindi. Or picking up a pen to write in the language, even my name.

There is a certain distance that’s come in between the language and me. Can I bridge the gap with ease, maybe not? Can I write in the language, maybe not? I don’t think in the language, anymore. At times, of course, I come across a verse in Hindi that stays with me for days, weeks. But then there’s something I can do — once a while, I can attempt to devour the language, the written words. For, the essence of a language truly lies in words — the written words. For sadly, languages become alien when we stop reading in them.

I don’t know what language you speak, but I hope every now and then, you indulge (even as you struggle) in words in your mother tongue, or the language you grew up with.

This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.

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