Mi Dohni Marathi Ani American Ahe (I am Both Marathi and American)
“Ashu!” Aai yelled from downstairs as I wrapped up a game of Civilization, “ye! Dinner ready.” I closed my laptop and began to walk down the hall as my name was called again: “Ashu, coming beta?”
“Ha, coming.” I responded, making my way down the stairs. “Khidki band karto?” I asked. “Ha, band kar, she responded, and so I closed the blinds before setting the table.
If this excerpt of my life is any evidence, then it should be clear that standard American English is not my home language, not in any manner. Phrases include words from both Marathi and English, and yet contain the grammatical rules of neither language (a fun mixture, which I personally prefer to term Minglish). Pure nouns and verbs are reserved, while complex phrases, grammatically correct sentences, and all known rules of sentence structure are blatantly ignored. In my home language, “Can you turn on the TV?” becomes “TV on kar,” and “where are you?” is simplified into a single-word phrase, “kuthe?”
My home language is not suited to the norms of standard Marathi nor standard American English. Even in writing this excerpt in text, I struggled to find the grammar to best represent my home voice on paper. I questioned whether I should write Marathi words in the Latin script or it’s native Devanagari. Do I write my name as Ashu or आशु? Which one better represents my home voice, or my identity? Theoretically, they both refer to me; they have the same meaning. But Ashu is my name to my friends, my peers, and my professors. आशु is my name to my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Which one’s right?
Following another example, what would be the best way to write out the phrase “let’s go by the car?” Using Devanagari and my home voice, I would write “carछे जातो.” Using transliterated Marathi words I would write “carche jaato,” and if I wrote it how it actually sounded in our Konkanasth accent, it would be written something like “cartze zaato.” Which one’s better? The first, in Devanagari, represents the sharp difference between the two languages. One script ends, and the other begins. Two languages, two identities, two scripts.
And yet this does not capture my experience as an Indian-American. At home, my Marathi and English words are not in opposition to one another, they string together into strange and beautiful phrases. In a similar fashion, my identity is not so sharply split between being Marathi and American. I am both, at once, and neither individually. If I returned to Ratnagiri, Maharashtra and spoke my home voice, I would be labeled an American. And if I spoke openly in my home voice at school, I would be seen as an Indian. I am neither wholly Marathi nor wholly American, but both at once. I am Indian-American.
Shankarpale Bavanto Ahe (Making Shankarpale)
“You know, in North they call shakkarpare.” Aai said, laughing, while kneading the sugary dough that would form the sweets. “Shakkar meaning sugar, ha,” she continued, “but we say shankarpale, like god Shankar.”
“Which one’s right?” I asked.
“Shankarpale,” she said, “it’s Marathi, it’s ours.”
If English and Marathi compliment each other at home, Hindi and Marathi are at war. Every word is a complex choice. Shankarpale or shakkarpare, nako or nahi, ho or ha? The answer is telling.
To many North Indians, Hindi is and should be the language of India. It’s spoken wildly across the most populated regions, including the capital, and represents most of India’s exported culture – from Bollywood movies to gully rap. To speak Marathi, to make Marathi food, to be Marathi, is all in defiance of the Hindi majority. Making shankarpale is just a fun activity on the surface, but in reality, reflects the constant re-assertion of identity contained in the language.
Despite this, Hindi has snuck into my vocabulary. At school, my desi friends speak Hinglish, a mix of Hindi and English, and a language I can understand fairly well, even if I can’t reply with the same fluency. Most of the Indian music I listen to, Bollywood songs and gully rap, are in Hindi, and the rest, mostly AP Dhillon and Sidhu, are in Punjabi, another North Indian language. Even my favorite Indian movies, 3 Idiots and Chennai Express, are Hindi language films.
To me, Marathi and English mix beautifully, two opposites that attract and form sentences that make sense in a way that proper English and proper Marathi don’t. Hindi in comparison is devious. The language is understandable, the words are spoken everywhere, and yet it feels foreign to my ears. I know what shakkarpare means, but I would not call the mithai I make that.
Laaltze Lihi (Writing in Red)
Whenever I write in my home language, so long as it’s on screen, a strange event will occur. After completing a sentence, red lines appear under my words. Google kindly informs me that shankarpale is not a proper English word, nor are kuthe or ghar or karto. The lines only become more persistent when I combine words the way Marathi does, forming compound words like biketze or gharla. According to the internet, my words are not valid unless they are standard English words in a standard English sentence. My writing, from diary entries to this very memoir, are covered in red lines, where the internet has decided that my language is not proper.
Although annoying, these red lines give me a sense of pride. My home language, essentially “broken” English with the odd Marathi word, continues to be written despite the standards imposed. My words are underlined in red, but they’re still my own. Mala conformity nahi pahije. I do not want to conform.
Schoolla Zaato Ahe (Going to School)
“Ganapati bappa morya,” I sang, on the way to school.
“Mangalamurti morya” Aai answered. There was going to be a test today, and as we always did on test days, we sang a little mantra to the god Ganpati.
“Kuthale subject?” Aai asked.
“Do well, ha? Don’t be like Dada.” Dada was at a lower reading level than the rest of the class. Reading was a pain for him, and writing was arguably worse.
“I won’t, Aai.” I assured her.
While I didn’t fail the English test, I stumbled elsewhere. As the years went by, school taught me to speak English, and only English. My peers spoke their own Englishes (and occasionally Hindi or Telugu, if they were desi), and my Marathi voice was slowly replaced with standard American English. No one understood when I said “khato?” to ask if it was lunch time, or “bas” to tell my friends to stop playing around. Even my English words were policed, the British spellings my parents taught me replaced with American ones.
Over the years I gravitated towards other desi students. Although they rarely spoke Marathi, (and if so, their dialects were often distant) they could understand many of the words I said, the movies I referenced, and the food I baked for them. The education system taught me to be an American, but it also taught me to find my own people. Our home languages were different: some spoke Hindi, others Telugu, and even others Malayalam. Regardless, our words were unfit to be spoken in America nor in the motherland. We shared an experience, reflected by the words we held on to and the languages we refused to lose.
Ata Mazjhi Language (My Language Now)
With a foot in both worlds – Marathi and English – I explore the unique experience of many Indian-Americans. Neither wholly Marathi nor wholly English, and with hints of Hindi sneaking in, my home language reflects my identity and the blend of cultures I grew up in.
Now, I find myself in the strange position of contextualizing it all. I am Marathi, but also American. I listen to Hindi, English, and Punjabi songs, and the language I speak with my family is a mix of Marathi, Hindi, and English all combined. The languages I speak and the languages I understand are many: the basics of Marathi; words in Hindi, Punjabi, and Telugu; and a solid understanding of both standard American English and American slang. They reflect my experiences, and beyond that history, my identity. Mi dohni Marathi ani American ahe.