Language! A life without language?? I personally feel life without a language would have been like an emotionless motion picture. Language is a medium through which we express ourselves and communicate with each other. And the most beautiful part is the deeper emotions we can express through it.
Of the thousands of language that exists, we only know and speak only a few of them. But little are we aware of how powerful a language can be. A single word can be expressed in various ways in different language, in different dialects etc. But to bring meaning to it and to make others understand is the feelings that you put into it. It is the feelings that breathes life into words and language itself becomes a beauty of nature.
Language builds bonds into the land you are in. I was studying in Assam, the place that holds a place in my heart. First when I went there, I felt so alienated. Most of the people in my hostel and university spoke Assamese and I was so lost and felt I will always have trouble in communicating with them, staying there. 2 months I spent, missing home terribly bounded with a feeling to drop a year or change universities or anything that was possible to get me away from that place. I tried to catch up with words I heard from shopkeepers, vendors, even bus conductors and my friends and slowly my roots started getting deeper in that place. Then afterwards, I got the flow with Assamese.Then the remaining 22 months, I wished every day to get back my two months which was lost in thoughts to go home.
How and why I learned that language was influenced and fascinated by the love that their people have for their language: Assamese. The utmost respect they give to it and the high regards and the pride they have in it reached out to me and I also became one of them. I could not learn everything but the feeling of pride of an Assamese was also engrained in me. It was the familiarity of the language that held me to the place and made me realise the power of what a language can do.
Then another power of language: the Emotions speak it all.
I came to Kamjong as a Teach for North East Fellow for two years. As soon as I reached here, the different languages were already music to my ears. The cute kids with rosy marshmallow cheeks playing here and there and the weary happy people walking up down the cosmos embedded slopes . It felt like I am once again home in another home. The kids were so lovely, innocent and their tenderness overflowing that I was instantly attracted and wanted to get close and talk with them. But sadly, they could not communicate with me properly so all we could do was just to smile from end to end! I was reminded of one article I came across in Poknapham Newspaper (I could still remember it vaguely) when I was studying in school which described a scene where some Meitei people went to Burma to celebrate Lai-Haraoba together there. And when our people stood face to face with the Burmese Meiteis, the deep feelings and attachments overflowing, wanting to express how much they have missed them, how much they love them, how much they wanted to listen to how they have been doing, to share their problems, to build the brotherly bonds even better but language acting as a catalyst to the gap they could not express themselves, tears overcame them and it carried all the emotions and the memoirs of the place they once left. I could imagine the tears under the moonlight and the inner urge to speak with them, standing end to end with a teary smile and yet they could understand how each other felt without a word spoken.
The same scene I had felt. I have had myself in the same situation here.
However, with every passing weeks and months Language stopped being a barrier to love, to care, to teach, to express and to understand. We started going for student’s home visits and then to different villages to conduct learning level assessment. There we met many kids. There was this baby girl Them-Them, she was studying in class B. She didn’t know meiteilon and I didn’t know Tangkhul. But we were drawn to each other and I was speaking to her in meiteilon and she was replying in Tangkhul. We didn’t understand each other’s words but the gleam in our eyes and the gestures spoke it all. I carried her as we walked to different homes. When she clung to me around my shoulders as I carried her, the warm love and fondness was all I could feel, a sign that she felt safe in me. A few days later she urged her mom in every means to come over to our place and play with us. Again we could not tell each other stories too, so the option left was to draw and play. She drew all kinds of stuffs without resting for a moment. And this time we spoke our affections through drawing for each other. One surprising thing was that, we have met only twice by then, yet when she was moving around in our home, she could make out which ones are my shoes from the rows of our shoes resting on the wall. That was the very moment I started torealise that to communicate, to build relationships, to love and to express, verbal language is not the only option as we have thousands of ways to do the same.
Language is never a barrier to love and its differences teach you many life lessons.
A few weeks later, we went to Phange Village, an hour walk from the place we are staying. We walked with the November sun focusing right above our heads and indeed it was tiring. Yet the moment we reached the village and saw the kids all our weariness was drawn away. We started conducting the assessment. By the time it was almost done, I stepped out of the classroom. Then I saw this kid with a cute bob cut with hair so black walking towards the school. I cannot say what led me but the moment I realized myself, I was asking his name “Nawui Ming Khipa ho?” “bung-bung’ he said. I instantly thought of my nephew back home. Both of same age. I felt like he was my own nephew. The moment Bung-Bung caught hold of my hands I just could not let it go. This child didn’t let go of my hand till the moment we left from their village. He first took me to his church uphill. So small he was and panting on the way up. As soon as we reached the church door, there was a sanitizer on the chair. Bung-bung went up to it and started applying it on his hand and taught me how to rub sanitizer on the palms and fingers. He took me to the nooks and corner of his village. We crossed lawns of unknown neighbours and came to a bench overlooking the sloping hill. This urge to teach something came out and all I could think of was to tell him lovingly that since schools are closed we should study 2 times in a day. Once in morning and once in evening. He obediently listened. A small boy he was and so was cavities too. I taught him how to brush and how many times to brush in a day. If I am to remember it all back, I still cannot make out if I spoke Meitei or Tangkhul or English. All that is true and sound is that we understood each other. I still remember his tiny hands wrapped around my palm and once again proved me that to trust and to love, our different identities, our political enmities, our differences cannot be the barrier to put it to an end. What mattered the most is the innocence and the free-willed soul to think that everyone is equal and we are all humans.
We also went to Kangpat Khullen for the assessment. I personally had a not so good drive till there. Moods all tangled and yeah! I was a bit sad. Bypassing the view of our once our own lush green Kabow valley on the left we reached Kangpat Khullen Primary School. A lot of small kids were hovering in their green campus and the tiny classrooms. I was still off. But! Kids are truly a miraculous medicine, 5 minutes at the most and I’m hopping around asking names going around in the classroom, their innocent jolliness filling the room up to the brim. The papers were passed and instructions to fill in their names was undergoing. With all hustle bustle and the music of different dialects, the assessment started. There was a kid busy looking at the question, counting his little fingers and mumbling to himself. I went up to him and asked if he didn’t understand the question. He was confused with addition and subtraction. A bright kid indeed and needed a little more push. I was explaining him how to do addition, subtraction by using our fingers instead of drawing slashes on the paper or bench. It took some time but he got it already and could follow up and do it by himself. Another teacher who was behind me asked him “Do you understand meiteilon?” in Tangkhul. He replied “I don’t.” Then the teacher asked again “then did you get what she explained?” and he said “yes!” I was surprised myself and felt proud too at the same time. And it kept me wondering how it happened. The amazing things language can play and the different forms it takes and how easy it becomes when the real intention and emotions are put into it.
There was this section for the smaller kids where they have to read out the alphabets and numbers. Many teachers were taking up the students one by one but it was a whole lot of them and I wanted to join in too. Ah! I saw a stylish baby girl sitting and waiting eagerly for her turn. I asked her out and we sat outside the classroom door. She read the alphabets first then moved on to numbers. Somewhere she was shy to read out in between and I personally thought it was because she felt shy if in case her answer was wrong. I smiled and said “yes my dear! You are almost correct, say it” Then only she started speaking out and by the time we were almost done I realized this group of kids forming a lively group around me and listening to the A B C, 1 2 3 read aloud excitedly. Our tone of voice, our expressions, speed of speaking etc. all play a huge role in dealing with kids. Theory-wise, I have heard a lot about this. However, practically I have been seeing myself in reality recently and that too in a different setting with different languages.
It is indeed unbelievable how we people build bonds and how everyday incidents teaches us new things. And the most amazing things are those which we learn and realize after dealing with kids: living in the moment and sparkling innocence and boundless love.After all the emotions speak louder than any verbal language.
Sapam Anjana is a Teach for North-East 1st Year Fellow and is currently teaching in Kamjong High School.