Lost In Translation

By: Sakura Koner

Edited by: Emilia MacDonald

I am a first-year Ph.D. student in ophthalmology and neuroimmunology, working in Botterell Hall. I walk the streets of Kingston to the lab every morning, surrounded by people who would not understand the lyrics playing over my headphones. I wonder if these are the last vestiges of my “Indian-ness”! 

I often speak to myself in my mother tongue, unbeknownst to others. Even in my mind, the language I have spoken for 24 years of my life becomes more foreign while the accent I strive to adopt rings clearer everyday–not simply to those around me but to me as well. I do not regret it, I understand it is a part of my evolution as I begin to settle into my life in a country miles away from India. I realize that I will lose some of myself: I don’t drink my coffee the same way anymore, I don’t wear my ethnic Indian clothes anymore, my silver jewelry sits untouched on my dresser, my collection of books includes none in my vernacular, parts of my daily diet for the last 24 years have disappeared and English seems to dominate my conversations with my parents and friends. I come from Kolkata, the eastern-most coastal part of India, where every meal would have an array of fish preparations. This was common practice in our household, nonetheless, these meals were absolute cultural delicacies. I often feel like I have forgotten the taste of these delicacies, and that I will not recognize them again. I dream of them often but I cannot remember the ingredients completely. 

One is inclined to wonder whether living away from home for just over one year can change a person so deeply! I was not forced into conformity, nor was I asked to change my ways, my food habits, the movies I watch, or the media I consume. But sometimes, with the lack of people to share our views or ideas, we tend to change our habits just so we can share the experience with the people around us. So yes, maybe I watched less Bollywood because I lacked someone to talk about how ridiculous it is, who would understand the ludicrous songs, the irrelevance of a costume change, who would understand the joke in Hindi which cannot quite be translated! Maybe I would not have realized the comments I had hidden, the jokes I hadn’t cracked, the music I hadn’t danced to, the movies I hadn’t cried to, the food I hadn’t experienced if I hadn’t met a friend who gave me a chance to revitalize all that I had buried away. 

My friend, who I met recently and is now my labmate, grew up in India until he was 9 years old before moving to Canada while in elementary school. It is astonishing how much of me he understands and responds to, even when I fail to fully express myself. There is a certain freedom in our conversations where I am not conscious of my Indian accent slipping through–in fact, part of me enjoys letting it make an appearance every now and then. Some days he teaches me words in his vernacular, Gujarati, and I teach him some words in mine, Bengali. We rehearse them like we would remember these words the next day and it feels like a fresh breath of air, refreshing life into my dormant Indian-ness. We speak of foods with which we are both familiar, discussing spices and their qualities. I play Bollywood music loud and it does not seem weird, we can discuss the cricket World Cup and mourn India’s loss this year. Every recognition and acknowledgement of our culture, makes me feel more comfortable and at ease. 

So this year, I learned that I will find a community, not because I miss India or my family but because I have to keep the Indian in me alive!  I have to feed my soul a healthy dose of Bengali conversations, celebrate Indian festivals, dance to Bollywood music; actually invite everyone to dance with me just to feel the beats, read a Hindi news article, maybe surprise my friends with some ethnic fashion, and every time there is a henna booth anywhere on campus, find it and get henna tattoos! Ultimately, it is my responsibility to introduce my friends to my culture, welcome everyone to enjoy the festivities with me, and make it accessible to others on campus so we can build an integrative environment together. I don’t need to suppress parts of me for others to evolve and that is a lesson for everyone out there struggling to be themselves while trying to fit in. 

Image Source

Verma, A. (2019) Cultural diversity in india – engelsk (SF) – NDLA, ndla.no. https://ndla.no/subject:1:4ad7fe49-b14a-4caf-8e19-ad402d1e2ce6/topic:1:b9b98bf8-787d-4d25-a0c6-37c725050502/topic:1:3ed08ea9-7fc8-4349-84e2-e407c1b01e30/resource:1:6531