I visited my granddad and struggled to communicate with him. I used to be the only one of my male cousins who could converse in Gujarati, despite our being referred to as coconuts by our more fluent female counterparts. Slowly though, English influxed into our house, especially when visiting with my English fiance, who we wanted to ensure was included in all conversations. Initially, mum would switch to Gujarati to talk in private about things like ‘Does she like spicy food?’ or ‘Can you tell her we take shoes off when we enter houses?’ and much as this would annoy me, the buffer, this was how the relationship blossomed, to the point where my fiance could understand pidgin Gujarati, definitely moods of conversations and definitely when it was time to eat or sleep or watch something or go somewhere.
Then we went to Kenya and because of the bad telephone lines, I stopped trying to talk to my mum over the phone in Gujarati. Now it’s fading. Years later, my conversion to coconut is complete. I barely do anything Indian anymore, nothing even vaguely cultural, I find it hard to talk to my grandparents in their language, the language of our ancestors. It’s strange to think that my mother and father brought me up on a version of our culture that was cherry picked from their favourite bits, so not everything will have been passed down. Now I’m getting married and considering families, I wonder what I’ll be passing down to my kids, admittedly mixed race-to-be, what will they know of our culture? They certainly won’t know Gujarati. I came out of my granddad’s… no, bapuji… I came out of bapuji’s house and said to my mum, ‘I need to go to Gujarati classes, I think.’ She agreed, wondering why I didn’t come to her to learn. ‘Because, you’re my mum… it’s a surefire way of starting a fight.’
At the same time, Gujarati is destined to be a dead language as it hasn’t evolved with time to include words like phone or internet or blog or text or hello or please or ice cream or crispy pancake or noodle… etc etc. Part of this is the colonisation of English into the business-speaking world, and well, India wants to be part of the business-speaking world. They say that in India the older generations speak the dialects like Hindi and Gujarati and Punjabi, but the working class speak a strange hybrid of languages that no one understands or needs to (because they’re untouchable) and the middle/upper classes all communicate in English. This is partly due to commerce and business opportunities, but it’s also because India wasn’t a country till 50 years ago and they certainly weren’t linked by languages, so different throughout the country that South Indians will never understand North Indians and vice versa. So they all learn and speak English, not just any English, a strange Victorian version.
But now technical words are virally spreading through languages, I wonder if the dream of Esperanto (a global language) is no longer so far off? And the vocabularly constituting these Esperanto will be technical words like blog or CMS or render. Maybe my futuristic science fiction children won’t even need to learn Gujarati, they can just learn HTML instead, because that’s how the world’s getting closer… and it doesn’t matter: soon we’ll all be conversing in 140 characters anyway.