Flumes Vol. 5: Issue 1, Summer 2020 - Page 51

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, I did not know who to turn to, what to turn to or where to turn to. I did not know the strange, terrifying yet vital things I would find, in me and others around me. I was under the influence of English for so long that I could not see how my parent’s Punjabi was being erased by English. I could not see how terrifying it is to leave one’s country, and to leave the luxury of speaking in your first language with ease, behind. I thought I was alone in all of this heaviness.

English not only stole my mother away from me, but it stole my parent’s right to exist. Through American eyes, my parents are terrorists. Through American ears, Punjabi and all eastern languages sound as if the poetic words that are being spoken are forming and plotting the separation of mothers from their children. Growing up, I did not take a moment to see this strangeness inside of my parents. I regret this now. This strangeness made me feel unprivileged and deprived of being a true Punjabi woman. I saw my parents as being the privileged ones. In my American eyes, my parents were privileged for being born to Punjab. I envied their loyalty to their homeland. But, I was wrong about their privilege. I am the privileged one with two languages, two mothers.

Over the years, I have taken the dirty looks from white faces, the grunting sounds from white lips, and the impatience from English speakers with me. I make sure to take these faces with me. I tuck them inside of me. Yet, the devastating, panicked, shameful, and lost faces of my parents have left a nishani inside of me —the nishani of language. My parent’s lost faces have become keepsakes. Because of their faces, I take Punjabi with me everywhere. These strange, terrifying yet vital things kept shoving themselves inside of me, and into my belly until I was forced to give them a name. I call these things, Nishanies. And what terrifies me the most is that mein ta huni shuru hoyi ah, I have only begun naming the nishanies. I have only begun letting myself feel them.

I think of the nishanies as bodies sitting on altars in my mind. These bodies wait. They wait to be felt. I am convinced there are many altars within us, with heavy bodies sitting on them, and these bodies do not move once they form an altar inside of you. In my absence, Punjabi formed an altar inside of me. At the “certain point” that I lost Punjabi, an altar was formed. I was convinced that I lost Punjabi. I was convinced that Punjabi was not inside of me. I thought that I was separated and permanently severed from Punjabi when I chose to speak in English. And the only time that I had any contact with Punjabi was through my parents.

In truth, at the “certain point” that I lost Punjabi, I started to hate going out in public with my mother. I hated having to translate our existence to every white face. I saw my mother’s Punjabiness as a threat. In my American eyes, my mother’s punjabiness was a loaded gun, waiting to be used against her by white faces. But, I used my mother’s punjabiness against her. In my shame, I too became one of the white faces that she feared. The faces that I feared. I pulled the trigger on my mother more than once, because I lost track of Punjabi. I, the American child forced my mother to swallow her words so that my words became her voice.