Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Small Talk

I wrote a comment for Usha’s introspective post about how the generation today uses extreme adjectives and adverbs to describe everyday emotions. The post reminded me of a conversation I had with my father when I was about 10. We had moved from Mumbai to a smaller town and I had started a new school – a convent school. The atmosphere was fascinating -the nuns very strict, and I had so many questions, like did they sleep in their habit- completely exotic to my Maharashtrian Brahmin upbringing. So the first term, I felt a little lost and tagged along with the most garrulous, outgoing girl in class- Sunanda. Sunanda was a Bengali – I had never met one before and she had such a way with words. She was always famished before the recess, I was merely hungry. He mother made the most awesome peanut butter sandwiches, mine well, just packed me a tiffin. She hated history, well, I didn’t exactly like it. She loved English and yes, so did I.

Soon though, my words started loosing their luster to her over-the-top descriptions and before I knew it, I was trying to be like her. I went home one day and declared I was absolutely starving. Later I was doing my massive amount of homework and it was history and I hated it. I was devastated when the local stray dog was bit by a snake and died. Unknown to me, this had started to grate on my Dad’s nerves. A quiet man, who spent most of his time reading, he called me aside one day. I seemed to be doing massive amounts of homework everyday, he said, was I lagging behind, or had the teachers changed? The homework was the same. Also, why did I simply love or hate things these days, what happened to the whole spectrum of emotions in between? Didn’t I find things interesting, amusing, droll, poignant, colorless, cheerless, insipid, bland, peculiar, strange, touching, and unusual? Why was I confining myself to think so narrowly, he asked. After all the words one used shaped one’s thoughts (he always speaks in third person, like the Queen). So, I had to come up with different words to express my thoughts. Love and hate had been placed in an indefinite moratorium.

Until of course I came to the US. Where people talk a lot. And use words like massive, huge, humongous, stink all the time. They rave about stuff. Having the Brit sensibility hammered into me for two decades, I just could not understand the need to talk with so much volume, quantity and amplification. Until a patient classmate explained it to me. With the hodgepodge of new immigrants, he said, in the early years at least, if you didn’t talk, didn’t make a conscious effort to reach out, you were seen with a suspicion. What were you hiding? Why weren’t you assimilating? It became a question of survival in very mixed neighborhoods. That’s why. And over the years I have been guilty on more than one occasion to have been using exaggerated words and over dramatizing when my Dad’s words come back to me. On such occasions BigGeek smiles fondly and says, “Hey, that’s what makes an awesome storyteller!”


Usha said...

Love this - really! Now that explains a lot too.

Moppet's Mom said...

A very interesting thought... but surely there's more to it than that? It's not just language in the US - everything is amplified, larger than life - it's a way of life.

DotMom said...

Moppet's Mom: True. I know I am going out on a limb here but communication can and does exceed beyond the verbal realm. Economic prosperity ofcourse helps. Internationally speaking, the US is extremely uncomforatble of countries that keep to themselves and don't reach out.