‘Embracing My Roots, Soon I’ll Write a Letter in Odia, My Bol’
(This piece was first published on 8 August 2017 and is being republished in light of recent calls for ‘One Nation, One Language’.)
So began my journey to stay connected to my ‘culture’. I began with learning to speak in my mother tongue, and acknowledging my roots.
Raised in a family with a defence background, we never had a permanent address. Shifting from one government house to another, ‘home’ was wherever all four of us lived, and it was very tough for me to recognise my roots.
I could never relate to my Odia identity. That’s because I didn’t know how to be one. My language was urbanised. It wasn’t like that of my cousins who lived in the state. There, I was often the outsider, the ‘unfit’ Odiya.
I also went through a phase where I hated my surname. Abhipsha Mahapatro. MAHAPATRO. A surname most people got wrong. Back then, I wished to be a Sharma, a Verma or a Gupta. A Malhotra too, maybe. But Abhipsha Malhotra didn’t have the same ring to it, you know?
My sister’s name would become ‘Akankhya’ from ‘Akanksha’ because ‘ksha’ doesn’t exist in Odiya. Neither does ‘sh’ – so my mom would sometimes call a shoe, a ‘sue’, pushing me further away from the language. I mean who calls shoe sue?! I so did not want to be a part of this.
Over the years, I perfected the answer to ‘Where are you from?’
‘I’m from Odisha. But, I’ve lived all over the country. I live in Delhi now.”
For most of my teenage years, my dad was posted in Delhi. And when you live in Delhi, you automatically become a Delhiite. It’s pretty natural! And when you are in college you are introduced to ‘group culture’. Suddenly, you are divided on the basis of language, region, smokers, non-smoker, etc. And unfortunately, I didn’t fit in any group.
I did, however, find two people in my batch who were Odia. And guess what? Both of them went on to become my closest friends through college. Finally, I found people, who just like me, struggled with their mother tongue. There were others like me, who failed to relate to their culture.
Suddenly, the ‘know your Odia’ process became fun. We would crack jokes in our half-learnt bhasha. We would flaunt our Odia bol in front of our parents.
It’s amazing, how all I needed were other, friendlier Odias (aka my two besties) around me to acknowledge my bhasha.
At 18, eight years after I first questioned my roots, I began to acknowledge it. I am no expert in the language, but at least I’m making an effort to know more about it.
A few weeks ago, I requested my mom to teach me how to write in Odiya. I’ve only managed to memorise the alphabet. Unfortunately, my bad handwriting does not do justice to the ‘lipi’, which is so beautiful.
But you know what? Soon, I’ll be sending out letters to my grandparents written in Odia. I hope they can understand my bhasha!