Lost In Translation

The imposition of multiple languages other than Kashmiri is leading to an evolving Kashmiri society. But what does it mean for the new generation? Syed Asma reports.

A mother looks disappointed. Her eyes are wet, the phone rings and her tears roll down her cheeks. She answers the phone in a meek voice and suddenly breaks down. Her mother-in-law takes the phone from her and talks. “Saiba has not qualified for the interview. She is not on the list.” Saiba had appeared in an interview in one of the missionary schools for her admission in the nursery class. Her mother says she had worked very hard on her but has failed.

Not qualifying an entrance exam for a primary class in a missionary school is considered a disgrace in Kashmir by some, and this trend is now picking up.

Saiba and her mother Nasreen are usually in Saudi Arabia where Nasreen’s doctor husband works. They usually visit Kashmir once a year and only for a few days. But this year, they had to come twice, the second time for Saiba’s interview. Her mother wants her to be a part of the leading schools of Kashmir. She says it is comparatively inexpensive and better than what is offered in Saudi Arabia.

Saiba is four and memorizes everything that her age can handle, but she could not make it to the merit list.

The only problem that one notices while hearing the little soul is her diction. Her words are not as clear as a four-year-old should speak. Doctors have declared her a completely normal child and have said she will take time to speak like other children of her age.

Her grandmother says there was a delay in her speech. She did not start speaking at her due age.

When Saiba was a few months old, her mother took her along to Saudi Arabia. It became difficult for Nasreen to handle an infant, so, she hired an Indonesian maid. As time passed Saiba’s interaction with her maid increased. Nasreen says Saiba easily understands and sometimes also speaks her language, Bahasa (Indonesian language).

But gradually, Saiba grew confused about which language to learn, and which language to express herself in.

Her parents talked to her in Urdu, the maid addressed her in English and in her local language (Bhahasa). She would come across Kashmiri interaction when her parents addressed each other. Saiba was exposed to multiple languages—and now she understands every language, but cannot speak any of them properly. The phenomenon is known as “speech confusion” which sometimes causes a delay in speech as well.

Dr Peerzada Mohammed Amin, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Kashmir says, “Most of our children face speech confusion. They stare at your face when you ask them something. They are confused how to answer, in which language?”

Saiba is not the only case having delayed speech because of speech confusion. Many other families in Kashmir face similar situations. These days most families encourage their children to speak Urdu and read English, besides Kashmiri, which is spoken (only by adults) in most families.

Dr Arshad Hussain, a psychiatrist says “every child has his own capacity to learn. Some children can easily cope with multiple languages and some cannot. The latter category has to suffer from speech confusion and delay in speech.”

The doctor says that learning multiple languages in not bad, provided a child has the capacity. Different children have different skills and cannot be treated alike.

Recent researches have shown that learning multiple languages increase a child’s mental capability. It can even help them in solving arithmetic problems and train their brain to learn a variety of things at a very young age.

Dr Hussain suggests educationists and parent should take the lead and bring about some changes. The fact that “every child cannot be a genius” should be accepted.

Apart from creating “speech confusion” and “delay in speech” in some children,the common use of multiple languages seems to be leading to the steady decline of the Kashmiri language.

In several households, two languages are used, Kashmiri and Urdu. Kashmiri is used among adults and Urdu mostly used among children and a mixture of both when children address their grandparents or vice versa.

Shaista, a student of class second, lives with her parents and her grandmother. At her parent’s insistence, Shaista is told not to talk to her grandmother in any other language but Kashmiri as she is illiterate.

When Shaista’s grandmother Haleema is asked what she thinks of her conversation with her granddaughter, Haleema says, “Haraam! Mein haikehn fikri chu taraan, woin chasa sori yor karith jawab dewaan”. [I don’t understand her language. I just manage to answer her questions].

Our children now use words from English, Urdu and Hindi together to compose a simple Kashmiri sentence.

According to DrAmin, the establishment should promote regional languages. “The usage of multiple languages will never allow our children to be specialized in any of the languages. There need to bring changes in the basic education system.”

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