Mind your language

“Okay,” Angie cracked her knuckles. “I got this. I’ve done this every year, and I’ll do it this time as well.” Her nimble fingers were poised over the keyboard, ready to strike as soon as an idea presented itself. 

Indira walked over to the workstation. She was a bit older than Angie, but they both seemed to be the same age; not just in appearance, but, as Angie liked to say, in their heart and soul as well. She thought ‘heart and soul’ sounded cool. Indira huffed. Anything was cool when Angie said it. 

It wasn’t that they hated each other— far from it. They were practically siblings. It was either ‘hey I’ll help you bury the body’ or ‘yours is the body I’ll be burying.’ There was no in-between.

The second was what Indira was feeling today. Since the past few years it’d always been Angie, Angie, Angie. At best, she was riding shotgun. At worst, she was forgotten in a corner of the house. It wasn’t fair at all— she was a grown woman, she had been the first one here, she was the one who opened every single door and window. She loved Angie, true, but not at her own cost. Today presented a perfect opportunity for confrontation.

“Can’t think of anything?” she slurped her fennel-cardamom chai loudly.

“I- I don’t know, it’s just—“

“Sabe que tu corazon conmigo tu hace bom bom, sabe que sa bebe esta—” Espina was skipping around the house singing— no, shouting —the rap part of Despacito for the third time. In an hour.

“Maybe I could if someone would stop screaming lyrics they don’t even know the meaning of!” The walls felt Angie’s frustration, but the little girl, barely three, didn’t seem to take a hint. She continued rapping at the top of her babyish voice.  

“Tsk-tsk. She’s just a child, Ang dear, who you enabled.” Indira sat down on the empty chair, crossing her legs. “You seem tired. Maybe you should let me take the lead today?” she tried not to let her desperation show.

“No, I—” Angie put her fingers through the handle of her coffee mug. “I’ve gotta do this. It’s my job. I can’t let Her down. Not today.”

“Oh, please. You’re overworked as is. Besides, you do this all the time, and today’s a special day. If you do it, it won’t be anything… different. It’ll be just as usual. Take a break. Let me help you, Angie.” Indira seriously hoped she wasn’t sounding like one of those thinly-veiled Bollywood femme fatales.

“No, no, no. You don’t get it, Indu. You haven’t done this in, like, forever. You’ve done this, what, a couple of times in the last six, seven years? I do this at least every couple of months or so. I’m meant to do this. Besides, even if you do it, we both know what’ll happen. She will get tired, She will think it seems too…” Angie paused. She didn’t want to trigger the woman sitting in front of her. “…unlike Her. You’re best at the more sociable part. Why don’t you do that?” She smiled, hoping that’d clear any hints of an insult. Nobody wanted a pissed-off Indira.

The smile did not help.

Indira thumped the table and got up so suddenly she almost knocked over her chair. “Unlike Her? Who do you think you are, foreigner?”

Oh shit. She said ‘foreigner’. Everything was about to go so sideways it might as well’ve done a full 180.

“I was the first one. The one who set every single gear in motion. The one who showed Her the world. The one who was the medium of her first thought. And I’m ‘unlike Her’?”

Angie knew she should’ve said something conciliatory. But what came out was “It’s… just… true.”

“Don’t forget, फ़िरंगी, that I’m the one who brought you into this house. I’m the one who brought everyone into this house.” She looked at Espina, who’d now stopped rapping, and nine-year-old Eleni who’d now abandoned her favourite pastime of labelling everything in the house with a post-it and was standing stock-still near the fridge she’d just finished labelling ‘ψύγειο’. “And what ‘sociable part’, huh? Even there I’m tainted by you. Even in silence, I’m tainted by you. You’re like cheap craft glitter, you—” she cursed in Hindi. “You’re spread all through this house. None of us can go anywhere without getting some of you on us. You can’t get a thing done by yourself either. Not Speaking, not teaching Eleni, not babysitting Espina. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And still, it’s always Angie, Angie, Angie. Angie’s the cool one. Angie’s the pretty one. Angie’s got every single talent in the entire world.”

“That’s just it, isn’t it?” she knew she should shut up but she didn’t want to. “You still see me as an outsider. After years of being here together, after years of being independent of each other, after years of coexisting as mediums, you still think I’m a trespasser on your property. When will you learn to let go, Indira? This house isn’t just yours. We share it equally.”

Indira snorted. “Equally. Please. What’s that expression you just learned? Yeah, miss me with that bullshit. You’re in the driver’s seat all the time. You’re the one who’s showered with flowers. I just… exist here, peeking out the windows and teaching Eleni because you’re not up to the job, even though you’re the one who started it.”

Indira hadn’t intended for Eleni to hear that, but she had sharp ears. Very sharp indeed— she caught the words she knew at once when she was listening to music. The tween came over and tugged at her sleeve.

“You teach better, Indu didi,” she said. “But if you don’t want to do it any more, we can leave it.”

“Eleni, no—”

“No, εντάξι είναι. It is okay. I will look at the world and learn, like you did.” The little girl, strangely mature for her years, smiled. “Then I will be as fluent as you are.”

“No, Eleni,” she crouched down. “I’ll never stop teaching you. You can look at the world and learn, but that’s not enough. That works only once, for the first one to enter this house. I love teaching you, and I know you’ll leave my hand someday and grow up fast, like Angie did, but we both know only the second ones are… ah, what the hell, I know you remember that word.”

“Αλήτες,” Eleni giggled.

“That’s right,” Indira got up. “So you, αλήτα, are going to stand down today and remind Her that I still exist.”

There was a lot that Angie wanted to say. But she backed off this time. “Fine, go ahead. Let’s see what you can drum up.”


Four hours. That’s how long Indira had persevered at the laptop’s still blank screen.

Angie jumped up and seated herself on the table, smiling smugly. “What’s wrong, Indu dear?” she said. “Cat got your… brain?”

“I am thinking. Let me think,” she said through gritted teeth.

“At least let me see what you’ve written until now,” she leaned forward.

“You won’t understand it,” she pulled the laptop towards herself.

“Of course I will. Show, show,” she put on her annoying-little-sister voice and pretended to snatch the laptop.

“I’m much deeper than you are, Dead Sea,” Indira hissed. “It takes time to fish out treasure from the depths of the ocean.”

“Well, you’ve exhausted your boat’s rent time then,” Angie shrugged.

“Ha ha. Very funny. You think you’re so smart don’t you, Narcissus?”

“Well that, now, is the first accurate statement you’ve made all day.”

“It’s a question, not a statement.”

“Aww, look at you. Trying to be more like me.”

“Look at you. All pompous and tooting your horn like a politician.”

“Indira, you still don’t get it, do you?” Angie closed the laptop’s lid.

“Hey! I had a—”

“Blank screen over there, I know.”

Indira huffed and crossed her arms.

“You don’t understand. I’m not… replacing you. I never can. No one can. Even She can’t, even if She tries. You’ve been here since She was born. Just because you don’t write doesn’t mean you’re not valued. The biggest example is Eleni. She ultimately needed you to teach her, not me. You will forever be the medium of Her emotion, even if She uses me to think and feel those. You are what’s ingrained. You are the foundation, Indira. Yes, She uses both of us so interchangeably that neither of us can exist in isolation, that we complement each other, so much so that the lines are blurred, but you’re still the first language. She won’t even be Herself without you.”

Indira let out a deep sigh. “Did you write that down before narrating it here?”

Angie clicked her tongue. “As you say, bhavnaon ko samjho. Pay attention to the feelings.”

“Don’t you dare ruin my beautiful language with your shitty American accent.”

Angie laughed. “I have an idea for a post, you grandmother. Speaking of grandmother…”

“अहम् अपि अत्र अस्मि!” an old shout echoed from the back door.

She instantly drew her feet off the table. “Is that… mom?”

Angie smiled knowingly. “You better go and get her. She’s very frail, you know, barely speaks now. That was a loud shout.”

Indira rushed off to her mother. Angie opened up the laptop and smiled. It’d been a good idea to bring Sanskrit here today.

I know I’m writing this just before the clock strikes midnight, but hey, Happy 4th Anniversary to Charlie and the Cerebration Factory!

I have to admit, I remember my blogversary every year and think of something 2-3 days before the D-day because I still have enough integrity left to adhere to this tradition, but this year, I completely forgot. The nice WordPress notification you see above reminded me when I took the trouble of checking my blog today. So at first, I was completely blank and was actually mulling skipping it this year, but then ended up writing this.

It’s not like my other short stories, and in case you didn’t get it, this was me personifying my skills in different languages.

Angie = English

Indira = Hindi

Eleni = Greek

Espina = Spanish

Sanskrit = well, er, Sanskrit

The age and personality of the characters in this story was meant to represent my fluency— so, English and Hindi were about the same age, Greek was a little girl who was still learning (using Hindi as the base language for learning Greek works better a lot of the time for me, hence the whole part about Indira being a better teacher), Spanish was a toddler who sings but doesn’t understand what she’s saying (because I know the entire original Spanish version of Despacito by heart and the choruses of a bunch of other Spanish songs but I don’t understand a single word of it), and Sanskrit was an old woman who rarely speaks because I know it but hardly ever use that language, and it felt wrong to represent one of the most ancient of languages as a little girl.

The reason I thought it was special enough to be an anniversary post was that, language is what we use to communicate, to think, even to feel. It is through language that we give structure to and express ourselves, whether it’s written, spoken, sung, or branded on a murder victim.

So I thought, why not tip my hat to the very thing that has enabled me to write, that has enabled me to express myself on this blog for four years now? And of course, it was a lot of fun exploring the dynamics between anthropomorphised languages.

So, I had fun writing this, I churned out something different from what I usually write, at least in my opinion, and I’m posting this at the stroke of midnight. Hmm. Not a bad party at all.

4 thoughts on “Mind your language

  1. I loved this story. And the post note made it even better. Your thoughtfulness is enviable. I am grateful for that 14 year old anisha who sat down and made a blog. It is the reason people like me got to read your mind for free all these years. I can’t wait to see what this year brings for you and this blog, what ways your content will grow. But after all is said and done, I’d like to raise an imaginary glass to the past 4 fantastic years. And cheers to the many many more to come. Congratulations, this is a big deal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, cheers to fourteen-year-old me. Sometimes I wish we could write letters to our past selves as well.
      And thank you for being the one person who has been reading my stuff for all of those four years. People who actually read what I write are a big part of what’s kept the Factory going.

      Liked by 1 person

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