The Nishani of Language
By Jasmeen Bassi
Eh duniya vich both kush dekh na penda
Par haske, kadeke dekho
Faree duniya dekh ho jandi ah
(There is so much to endure and see in this world.
But, endure the world with a smile and a laugh.
And only then this world is tolerable.)
My father does not like it when I walk barefoot in his garden, he tells me that I am naarm, soft. To him, if I walk barefoot in the garden, I will collect unwanted debt. Pain that cannot be wiped from my memory in just one lifetime. Of all places, his garden is where I want to leave my nishani --the souvenir of my presence. In Punjabi, “Nishani” means souvenir or keepsake. To me, to us, it means keeping something inside of your body from the places you go, the people you keep, and the languages you claim.
There are roses in his garden that cling to a chain link fence. This fence partitions my father from my mother’s manipulation and my brother’s short temper for a few hours a day. He tells me, the roses are your nishani. Teri nishani ah. A year from now, I will be living with my partner and his parents. There is no garden there. A year from now, my father says he will look at the roses, think of me, see me, and feel me there next to him. Wherever I have gone, I have taken the souvenir of his presence with me.