‘Raji doesn’t talk to me anymore and ignores me at social gatherings.’ Sheena was miffed.
‘Why?’ I was curios.
Sheena had become a good friend as we had just shifted to Seattle for an assignment that my husband was working on. Her husband and mine were friends. She was an Indian who had migrated to the U.S while she was still in school so she was curried in the American way and spoke in an American accent. Most of her close family was in the States. So they rarely visited India.
‘I have no idea. In fact I was helping her out.’
‘Well, once she and her husband had come over to my place for dinner a few months back. Dinesh her husband requested to me if I could help Raji polish her English-speaking skills. Raji was happy with the idea as it would help her communicate and get around. Practising with someone would accelerate her learning so I agreed.’
Sheena was helpful and kind. She had help me set up my place as I was new to the area. So, I could genuinely imagine her pitching in with enthusiasm to help Raji.
But would someone stop talking to someone who was helping them out? Didn’t seem logical.
‘And?’ I stressed.
‘We would meet at my place or hers and I would help her with the English practice. We became good friends. I got a new job sometime later. So, we couldn’t meet as often. But I helped her and corrected her mistakes whenever we met.’
‘When would that be?’ I was curious.
‘We would meet up in malls or social gatherings. So, if she slipped while speaking, I would point it out.’
‘Ohh!’ I cringed. I couldn’t imagine someone correcting my English that too in public with my friends or acquaintances around. My confidence would be crushed. How mortifying!!! The whole mystery was suddenly very clear to me.
I had met Raji at the Gym, in our apartment complex. She was jolly and good-natured.
‘So, you corrected her English with others around?’
‘Yes! I was helping her, wasn’t I?’ Sheena asked innocently.
Light dawned inside me. Sheena didn’t know what she had done..
Is English just a language for us? I don’t think so. Because in India speaking English is a pride and a big deal. I explained to Sheena that English was not just a language in India, it meant many more things like. Pride. Knowledge. Education. Sophistication and the list can go on.
‘So, it must have hurt poor Raji when she was pointed to in the midst of a gathering.’
‘No wonder…!’ understanding dawned on Sheena.
‘Thanks!’ She smiled contritely.