by Syed Asma
A few days back my friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old son Ishaan came to visit us with his mom. For most of the day he hid behind his free-flowing curls; but when he finally met my eyes, he giggled and came running towards me. It takes him a while to adjust or get acquainted or re-acquainted with people he already knows. But what keeps him at bay most of the time is his mother’s dictate that reads loud and clear, ‘you should not talk in Kashmiri with anybody.’
This poor soul, who is too young to understand the dilemma of language, seems to have taken his mother’s words to his little heart. He fumbles, stops, then again fumbles, and then finally says nothing at all or at most utters something in broken and incoherent Hindustani, which his mother calls Urdu.
Thankfully he does not live here as almost every single person in our household speaks Kashmiri, which would have made things even worse for this poor chap. It is not that people around here doesn’t know how to speak Hindustani or whatever neo-modernists call Urdu. It is the sense of pride for our history, struggle, and cultural uniqueness – which is passed on in our family as legacy – that makes us opt for Kashmiri as means of communication. House rules are simple: Kashmiri or keep quite.
Now you must have understood how difficult it must be for this little chap and his mom to spend even a courtesy one hour in this house. While the kid was struggling for words to communicate with people around him his mom was looking at the clock constantly to get him out from this place. But just as his mom was looking for an exit, my neighbour’s three-year-old son, a Tom Sawyer kind of rustic fellow, who has acquired his father’s crude humour, jumped in from the window.
He scanned the ‘sophisticated’ kid for full thirty seconds before saying in typical Kashmiri, hatah yi kusu (Hey, who is he).
Poor chap could not say anything at all as he probably preferred to pass this one. Then before Ishaan’s mom could have forced him out of the house, our Tom Sawyer came closer to the kid and asked him innocently, meh seeth gindekhah? (wanna play with me?)
Ishaan, who was visibly getting bored in his mom’s presence and probably needed some fresh air, was more than eager to go out with this kid whom he had just met. But knowing his mom and her strict guidelines, he probably knew that going out with a kid who speaks nothing but Kashmiri is like blasphemy. How come he be allowed to even stay closer to him. Still Ishaan looked at his mom pleading wishing that she would say go, once. But instead her expressions were like, ‘stay where you are or you will be grounded for better’.
After a couple of unsuccessful requests our Tom Sawyer busied himself with some sundry items that were spread across the room and started playing. And for Ishaan, he kept his eyes fixed at him trying to figure out why, despite being of same age, they can’t play together. Is it because of his expensive dress, his dad had recently brought, that he cannot play with that kid. Or is it the language! Or maybe its Tom Sawyer’s appearance, un-kept hair, soiled clothes, hands still smelling of pickle, hint of jam and jelly on both cheeks, that puts his mom off. But aren’t kids supposed to act like that only, he questioned himself.
Then before he could have said anything or registered his anger, he felt a strong grip around his wrist. His mom was dragging him towards the door while saying goodbyes half-heartedly, when all of a sudden Tom Sawyer, rushed towards Ishaan and kissed him on the forehead and said gach khudayas hawaaley kormakh (May God protect you). Before Ishaan or his mom could have reacted, everybody in the room began to laugh.