My parents fell in love in the disco era of the 80s and I was born in 1983. They wanted to get married but my father’s family was against it because they belonged to the Dimasa tribe and my mother was a Mizo.
‘Society’ put pressure and a case was registered against them. I lived in Mizoram with my mother for the next two and half years. I started learning the Mizo language. Finally my father convinced his parents and ‘society’ to bring us from Mizoram and live together as a family. My grandparents soon grew very fond of me. But I could not converse with them.
I knew Mizo and could not speak either Dimasa or Haflong Hindi or Bengali, the three languages they could speak in. I started learning the Dimasa language while spending time with my grandfather. Soon I was fluent in Dimasa. I used to speak in Mizo with my mother. I joined school and started making friends. Haflong, being a multi cultural town had been using ‘Haflong Hindi’ as the preferred choice of language as it connected everyone across tribes and religions. I joined a missionary school and was learning the English language fast. Soon I started speaking in Haflong Hindi at home too as it became strange using two different languages with your parents. My father knew very little Mizo and my mother was learning Dimasa but it was not an easy task. Thankfully, Haflong Hindi made it easier for us to communicate faster.
Soon, friends took over family as I entered my teens and Haflong Hindi was all I was using to converse throughout the day. English was used in school only when the teacher was present and for the 1 hour we used to spend in tuition classes after school. I started watching Bollywood movies and understood most of the Hindi/Urdu? used in them but never had the need to converse in them in real life. They were limited to just songs and few popular dialogues.
I was part of a small group of friends belonging to diverse groups such as the Bengalis, Kukis, Hmars, Dimasas, Manipuris. We all spoke in Haflong Hindi. Soon my grasp of the Mizo language declined. I did not prefer speaking the Dimasa language with my Dimasa friends when we were around non-Dimasa friends and so my Dimasa started suffering too.
My first encounter with a completely new language was when I reached Class 6. Assamese language was part of the curriculum till Class 8. I hated it. Haflong has a very small Assamese community living here and the Assamese language was an alien language to all of the students and took us by surprise. It was extremely difficult to learn a new language let alone write essays for tests within a short span of three years. Non-enthusiastic teachers did not help the matter. I would consider myself a good student academically and used to top my class regularly. for the first time I was struggling with a subject and I barely managed to pass. To the relief of the students, the school administration was not taking the students’ marks in the subject too seriously. We realised, it was just a formality they had to undergo being under the Assam Education Board. It was a nightmare I was very happy to forget. But it was soon going to come back and haunt me even worse.
I joined Cotton College in Guwahati in 2000 to take up science after leaving high school. I also took up coaching classes as was the norm for most science students. I was aghast to find that Assamese was the preferred choice of language for most of the teachers. English was used sparingly and Hindi, which I was more familiar with was avoided even more. My studies took a setback. I joined the college hostel and life was difficult there. Being the only student who could not speak in Assamese, I was an outsider from day one. Living in the city was a struggle. Soon, I started learning Assamese talking to auto drivers, hostel cooks, vegetable sellers, Govt. office employees. I studied and lived in Guwahati for the next 13 years. I could never master the Assamese language. But I tried. In the process, today I have completely forgotten how to speak in Mizo. My Dimasa is very weak and even though I can understand most of it, I have lost the confidence to speak fluently. During my stay in Guwahati my English usage was confined to mostly the Internet and social media interactions with online friends. So I was writing in English online more than I was using it for conversing in my real life. My English speaking capability could never improve much as a result. All this while Haflong Hindi remained with me. Friends and family were always connected via Haflong Hindi.
I soon became an independent artist and started writing songs. I realised my English was too weak to ever reach the level of professional songwriters in the language from western countries. Worse, I realised my country was not too welcoming for songwriters who wrote in English. My countrymen like the rest of the world expected Indian songwriters to write beautiful poetry in Hindi & Urdu.
Today I write songs in Haflong Hindi. Haflong Hindi I would like to define is a mixture of Hindi, English, Urdu, Sufi, Bengali, Assamese, Nepali, Manipuri, Punjabi, Bihari and with few words from different tribes like Zeme, Dimasa, Hmar, Kuki, Biate, Hrangkol, Jaintia and maybe even more which I am not aware of.
So I ask myself. Why did I spend so much of my 33 years of existence in just trying to cope with different languages when I could have concentrated all this time to developing one great skill using just one language understood by all universally? Yes, I know there are multi lingual people and it’s not impossible to learn many languages. But I certainly was not meant to be one. I was lucky to survive this ordeal. Many might not have. Most I know are struggling as I write this.
So today, I write in English and I speak in Haflong Hindi.
Language – Keeping human beings confused since forever.
Very nicely written. Haflong was very nice. I had spent my childhood there.