Easy as Do Re Mi

Barbican Young Poet Megha Harish on growing up in a home of four languages.

by Megha Harish


(note – अ आ इ ई ए ऐ are the Hindi/Devnagri letters that start the alphabet, vowel sounds a, aa, i, ee, ae, ai, respectively)

अ आ इ ई is not as easy as a, b, c, d or do, re, mi.

अ is for the years in the time before I remember
it is when I grew up in a home of four languages
and television in just as many
it is the three year old who loves Popeye and Shaktimaan equally
who is so good at understanding
that her parents need to start clandestinely spelling out ‘c-h-o-c’
when they want to have some Dairy Milk after dinner
because if they say ‘chocolate’ she will want some too

आ is for the years that followed
when I wouldn’t stop asking for a pet
and when they wouldn’t get me a puppy
I settled for a budgerigar and named him ‘Sydney’
after the city that was now home
where I learned to count to eight in mandarin
yī èr sān sì wû liù qī bā
and forgot everything else

इ is for the years of coming back to India
that Hindi entrance exam in school
where I didn’t understand the questions or the answers
so just wrote May-gha on the top right corner like my father had taught me to
and left in tears.
I repeated first grade for this.

ई is for the years in Singapore
failing another Hindi entrance exam
but persevering
learning instead to weave song lyrics into answers
find joy in the projects, pictures, craft
irrespective of how bad the exams were

ए is for the re-return to home
now struggling with Sanskrit instead
I had become ‘hoshyaar’ in Hindi
but school needed a third language as well
with the tables the memorisation the forced prayers in class
I could not
It became the years of French, of liberté
of rolling rs and un lapin s’appelle câlin

ऐ is for the years at university
suddenly I find myself speaking English
in the French oral exam because I do not know how to say how passionate I am
about education for girls and women in politics
Lapsing not just into my ‘mother tongue’
but into whatever this is new voice of mine is
For when I go home and my friends ask me to put on my ‘British accent’
but I can’t because
I don’t know how to turn on turn off my voice my languages
it is about the audience

अ आ इ ई is not as easy as a, b, c, d or do, re, mi.
But it should be.

It should not be one voice for family, one voice for home friends, one voice for
uni friends, one voice for classrooms, one voice for poetry performances and so
many voices that there is no space to remember those lost languages.

Megha Harish | @megha_harish

Megha is a final year undergraduate on the BA Liberal Arts program at King’s College London. She was one of the Barbican Young Poets 2015–16 and can be found on Twitter @megha_harish, walking around Bloomsbury on the phone to her mother in India, or drinking breakfast chai at Dishoom.