At a certain point I lost track of Punjabi. I needed her, I should have held onto her. But, English perfected me into Punjabi’s perfect enemy. In American schools, I became unforgivable. At the back of my throat, Punjabi words scratched into me. Punjabi wrestled inside of me, and I still became the enemy. I am the enemy.
The means of reviving a language is where I began to see the nishani of things, and this is the result of what happens when languages cross borders. My parents crossed into America with Punjabi tucked under their tongues. Because of the crossing, my parents put me up for adoption to English. English became my mother, my stepmother. I did not have the luxury of being born to Punjab, but to my parents —I am a luxury. I am their Amerika vali baby. I am the American daughter of Punjabi immigrants. For me, it is hard to say it —-I am the American daughter. I am not authentically Punjabi, I never can be or will be.
And yet, my voice began in Punjabi, I formed my voice with her. I learned how to train my tongue into a multitude of positions. I learned how to bend and curve my tongue perfectly for Punjabi. I remained ready for her. I learned the pronunciation of multiple G sounds, D sounds, J sounds, T sounds, B sounds, K sounds, and all of the Punjabi letters. Each Punjabi letter has a sibling or a few. The majority of Punjabi sentences are short and to the point. To the point of which you’re easily swallowed into them. A sentence in Punjabi will convince you -- there is something above us. And I am the one that lost track of all of this. I stopped bending and curving for Punjabi in American schools for the sake of being pimped by a system, that will never see me. A system that does not try to see me. I bent over for nothing in a system that wanted to wash me clean of Punjabi. In this separation, English made sure that Punjabi could not see me. Yet, Punjabi refused to leave me. Punjabi remained inside of me, but I was not aware of this. I could not feel or sense the essence of Punjabi within me because I was busy devoting myself to English. English had my allegiance.
In the middle of the day if my mother hears police sirens, she is quick to call me. She is quick to tell me that she can feel my nishani in her stomach, my presence. Ah ma da dhid ah, this is just how a mother’s stomach is, what a mother’s love is like. When my mother describes this feeling to me, I also begin to feel something. She describes this feeling as if something is tapping from the inside —-something is asking to be felt. My mother’s biggest fear is that the police sirens in the middle of the day are for her children. In these moments of fear, she can conjure up images of her children under heavy metal. She can conjure up the image of a bullet leaving its nishani in bodies she carried. For me, my mother’s fears seemed absurd, until now. I understand. For the first time, I understood this completely when I felt Punjabi tap me from the inside.
The unsettling task of facing the nishani of language moved me, moved oceans inside of me that I did not feel were there before. When I started reviving Punjabi within me,