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BANGALORE, India—Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble. The trick to the game is not impressing your mother with words like ‘kelpies’—it’s frustrating her with words like ‘zek.’ Thanks for the triple word! But there’s a creeping discomfort that comes with living in English in a country with so many languages.
When I help out at a local bookstore, I walk up and down the rows of English science fiction and fantasy novels, tracing their spines, but I duck past the Kannada section. I can read and write Hindi (the country’s most widely-spoken language) and Kannada (the language of my mother’s ancestors), but I’ve done my thinking in English all my life. I can just about understand enough Telugu—my father’s native language—to follow a conversation. I used to watch Kannada TV dramas as a two-year-old; now, I am just fluent enough.
If the English language was the last parasite of the British Raj, then it has struck my mind first. English comes easy to me, whether it’s to write teen angst poetry or to construct fantastical, imaginary worlds. How complicit am I in my own colonization? I might concentrate in English at Harvard. I want to write books someday, in English. This language saps the beauty from the countless tongues of my country, decade by decade, but it lends shape to the workings of my mind.
Maybe there are parallel universes where I dream in Indian languages. For now, those other girls are lost to me.
Stuti R. Telidevara ’20 is a Crimson Blog Comp Director in Cabot House.
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