When I first came to US in the month of July, I started my life as a newly married young girl who left everyone who is near and dear back home, just to create a life of my own with a total stranger as my husband. During the course of a few months of
time we were no longer strangers.
Although it was difficult to give up a life, that was filled with amazingly wonderful memories and a life that was all made out for me as the way I wanted and I never once needed anything in my life then.
To cross half way across the world to make a new life is not an easy thing to do. But I have learned and still learning. A had a lot to cope with in a short time. When my husband went to work, I had nothing else to do other than cooking, so I drank a lot
of coke and watched TV shows such as I love Lucy, All in the family, Beverly Hillbillies, Addams family, Bewitched, Andy Griffith show, Brady bunch, father knows best, I dream of Jeannie, etc., just to name a few and of course, I have also put on some
weight …from 100 pounds to 120 within a period of one year.
At first I wasn’t really sure if the programs I was watching were in English! Then slowly I realized they WERE speaking in English but I just could not understand the accent.
It took me a good 3 to 4 months to clearly understand and follow what was going on in these shows.
For Thanksgiving, my husband’s boss invited us for dinner at their house along with several others. By then it had been almost 5 months since
I landed in US. I wore a sari with jewelry and looked like a typical Indian woman. I am not saying that Indian women ‘look’ any different now but the ‘dresses’ definitely are.
Once we reached there, I saw about 8 to
10 people. After the introductions, I tried to mingle with others and offered my help while seeing some of the ladies were in the kitchen trying to help. While I was there, they all commented on my sari and admired the way it looked. After a few minutes,
one of the ladies said, “Your English is good. Where did you learn to speak it?” I was a bit puzzled by that question. However, I tried to hide my expression and said “I learned it in school where English is our first language” with
a cool face and a smile. She seemed a bit surprised. Then she said, “I hope you don’t mind, may I ask you a question?” Of course, there was no way for me to know if I would have minded or not, without hearing the question. So I said “Of
course no problem, what was the question?”. Then she said, “How did you go to school? On a camel or an elephant?”.
I was astounded by that question and went into a shock. Okay, okay, may be I am over reacting! I did
not go into a shock. But I was surprised at the fact she asked that question. I tried not to show my smug look. I realized that would be rude so I snapped out of it. I answered her by saying “We went to school with other kids in the neighborhood, in
a rental rickshaw and I went to college, sometimes by bus and sometimes by a chauffeur driven car” with a cool face and a smile. The lady was obviously speechless for a few seconds and then showed great enthusiasm and asked more questions related to
India. I was equally motivated and answered her questions.
I realized how much ignorance there was about India in US at that point. Of course, I am not blaming people. People only see and hear through media and make their own opinions. At that
time or a few years back then, TV news used to be all about the cyclone that hit India’s northeaster part and how it took people’s homes and destroyed crops and killed a lot of people. Due to that there was a huge famine in Bengal and every piece
of news that was shown on TV was about that. So I do understand why she asked the question and cannot really blame her. I honestly think the lady was really curious and did not have any ulterior motive in asking that question.
I did however tried
to explain how big India is and how different people are. Even though we all look the same and have the same culture and festivals, our traditions, food and most of all languages are so different. Due to British rule obviously English seeped into our languages
and yes, we do speak it with different accents and we made it our own. And it is also considered an official language of India along with the national language ‘Hindi’. Every state or region does have ‘English’ as a medium in schools
along with their regional languages. So yes, every one who goes to school that is, has a chance to learn ‘English’.
I still remember the way those 4 ladies listening to me with a mesmerized look. It felt good that I was able to
do my duty by enlightening them with my brief explanation. Ha! Ha! Ha! However, one thing is certain, that question about “Camel or Elephant” will never be wiped away from my memory as long as I live.