Learning Sindhi...A Nuisance in my Childhood, A Connection in My Future
My parents are both 100% Sindhi, a region in India that no longer exists. My mom was born in Singapore and raised in Hong Kong where she learned Hindi and Sindhi at home, and she learned English in school. My dad was born and raised in Bombay, where he learned Sindhi and Hindi. He learned English during his time in the United States. When I was younger, I heard my parents speak three languages at home…English, Hindi, and Sindhi. I was raised speaking English and I studied Spanish throughout school. My father always used to lecture me, “Just because Sindh does not exist anymore, does not mean you do not need to learn the language. It is important that we as Sindhis keep our culture alive.” My dad would speak to me in Sindhi but I would usually respond in English. Every once in a while my dad would tell me that there would be a day where I needed to respond in Sindhi, otherwise he would not respond to me. I never really took him seriously because up until then, my father would always respond to my English no matter what. My mom would occasionally whisper a few sindhi words to me so I knew how to respond to my dad.
One day, when my dad came home from work, I opened the door to him and he greeted me in his usually manner, “Bhagwanie, minji rani”. He asked me the typical questions about my day in Sindhi and I was responding in English. He did warn me saying “Bhagwanie, Sindhi mai gal. Suti hai.”, telling me to speak Sindhi because it was good for me. I began to zone out as soon as my dad went on his typical “It’s important to speak Sindhi lecture”. My father would go into a whole long-winded speech about how Sindhi is a lost culture and it’s important that we all preserve Sindhi culture so we could teach it to our kids. I let him talk to me all about Sindhi while I did some homework and then I went inside to watch some TV.
After about an hour of TV watching, I started to get hungry so I went outside to ask my parents what we would be eating for dinner that night. I went into the living room to find my dad sitting on the couch…my mom was not there because she was doing her evening prayers. I sat down next to my dad and told him, “Dad, I am very hungry. What’s for dinner tonight?” My dad was just looking at some paperwork but he was not answering my question. So I repeated again ,”Dad, I am hungry. What are we eating for dinner?” I knew I could not disturb my mom because she was praying, but my dad was still not answering. I then proceeded to ask him a lot of questions. “Dad, has mom made dinner? Do you know what you want to eat? Are we ordering in? Can you hear me?” By the last question, my dad’s only response was to look at me and say “Bhagwanie, minji rani, Sindhi mai gal. Mukhe English na kabar hai.” He was pretending not to hear me because I was not speaking Sindhi. I was so frustrated and I could not believe that he was testing me, especially when I was hungry.
I got over the fact that my dad was clearly ignoring me and figured now was my chance to show my dad my Sindhi speaking skills, I was trying to think about all the words in my head before I put together a sentence. I thought I had figured it out all the words, but when I tried to put together a sentence, instead of using just Sindhi, I used a mix of Sindhi, English, and Spanish. I said to my dad, “I tengo hambre. Mukhe comida cape.” My dad could not help but laugh at my sentence and I could not hold in my laughter either. He said to me, “Bhagwanie, that was the best sentence I have ever heard. Mama already made dinner and she is going to warm it up for us in a few minutes.” Smiling, I looked at my dad and said, “Daddy, how come you responded to me? I did not even use Sindhi properly to describe what I wanted.” He turned and looked at me and said “Bhagwan, it’s not always about getting it right. It’s about putting in the effort that matters to me most.”
Looking back on this day, I am still completely embarrassed that I thought I had the perfect sentence figured out, but I still admire the courage that I had to speak that sentence to my dad. Before that day, I had always questioned why my dad was so adamant about my speaking Sindhi but after my multilingual outburst of hunger I understood my dad’s desire for me to speak Sindhi. My father came to America at the age of 19, with very little knowledge of the English language. Instead of being afraid to come to America, my dad came and spent time around English speakers, learning key words and phrases that were part of the English language. He obviously never knew if what he was saying was grammatically correct, but he still used his broken language to make his way around New York. He put himself out there and through his many attempts to learn the language, he can now speak English fairly well. My dad taught me a big lesson that day…we will never be able to learn if we are afraid to fail. It is important that we put ourselves out there
I always wondered why my dad wanted to teach me Sindhi, the language of a very mall group, rather than teach me Hindi, the language of all of India. To me, it always felt as though identifying, as Sindhi, was just another separation from being Indian. However, my dad said that because the culture is dying, we should pass it on throughout our lineage so that generations know where they came from. He wasn’t trying to separate me from India, but he was trying to get me to immerse in my culture. Out of all things, as a child, I never understood why language was the way he wanted me to connect. I always used to tell my dad that I could just watch some movies or listen to Sindhi songs. He then asked me what I would get out of that if I did not understand what was being said. He said, “Bhagwan, sometimes the only thing you share with a group of people is the language you speak. However, language is a bridge to making other connections between all of the group.” My dad taught me was that our roots and our cultures is something that we can hold onto our whole lives, no matter how much we are surrounded by a different community. It is not that we have to choose one culture or the other, but we can always mix the two up together. I will never be able to define my identity as just Indian, or just American. When I was younger and my dad was explaining Sindhi culture to me, I wanted him to just speak English and not enforce that I learn Sindhi. His enforcing made me think of my dad and me as separates, me being a typical American child and him being from India, living in America but always Indian at heart. I didn’t think that I had any claims to being Indian because I did not look like an Indian, I did not speak the language, and I was not born there nor did I live there for any part of my life. My dad taught me that we are a mix. Since we are Indians living in America, it is important that we try and understand American culture but that does not mean we have to forget our Indian culture.
- Bhagwanie- pet name
- Minji rani- My queen
- Sindhi mai gal.- Speak Sindhi.
- Suti hai.- It is good.
- Mukhe English na kabar hai.- I do not know English.
- Tengo hambre- I am hungry.