A Voice for Her
Few years back DG was an interpreter for an art exhibit where the curator had flown artists from des to demonstrate their art. It was a middle aged couple from interiors of central India who only spoke local dialect not even proper Hindi. The lady until then had never stepped out of her village her first trip was to New Delhi US consulate for visa and second was landing in the US of A. The couple and a very amiable relationship they had six children back home few of them were married.
As an interpreter DG’s job was verbatim communication between the artists and the museum patrons. Patrons had too many questions for the artist and their exotic land. They would answer in monosyllables and the patrons would look at DG’s face as if she was refusing to interpret what they just said. Any question they asked, like how did she like the place, how was food etc. the woman just had one word in her language, good. The patrons asked why don’t they say anything else or elaborate. This compelled DG to think hard why was she so reticent in usage of adjectives and sentences. She was neither dumb nor reticent she just didn’t have words to express herself it is not that her language lacked it was her lack of knowledge of language that limited her expression.
This revelation took DG to her childhood where her dad would drag the family to visit his widow mother and would insist kids especially DG listen to the stories she told. Every year the old lady told same stories a princess and her bad step mother or how the sparrow and crow together made a porridge. They were interesting until DG had not started reading Reader’s Digest ( at seven she was reading RD) once you are exposed to the world of words who wants to listen to same old stories. Working with these artists DG realized how limited and isolated was her grandma’s life in that hamlet where oral tradition only lost and nothing got added to it by a generation that as no longer interested in listening. It reminded her of alienation of ABCD grand kids from their desi grandparents who raised them from the day they were born here in the US and Canada. Once kids entered middle school and experienced a wider world these loving grandparents were speaking a different language . The kids could no longer communicate with their grandparents ones they realized their classmates had grandparents who were not only driving but were net savvy and understood their experiences at their level.
As Malcolm X proclaimed in Learning to Read, “I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially those to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there. I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional.”
When someone is sexually assaulted they have difficulty describing what was done to them it is not that they do not know what was done to them it is lack of vocabulary that prevents them from articulating their experience. This is especially true for children because some can’t even name their private parts. Reminds of those 1980s movies where in court scenes rape is being prosecuted and the victim is asked to describe what happened to her. What you cannot name how can you be expected to describe it. Shaming the words is disempowering the user.
Words are powerful they not only open a doorway to the world but they also put you in the center of the world that refuses to let you in. Words carry meaning so choose your words carefully for they can make or break you. If you don’t have words you don’t know what to tell and if you don’t tell your silence is taken as your choice. It is important for us as women to not only master words but claim them for they are the steps to our redemption. As mothers and socializing agents we can teach our kids whatever we want then why not begin with naming the unnamed…