Learning To Overcome The Embarrassment Of My Mother’s Odia (Indian) Accent

Learning To Overcome The Embarrassment Of My Mother’s Odia (Indian) Accent

Here is my truth.

Growing up, I was embarrassed of my ma’s Oriya/Bengali accent and her ability to not speak English fluently. Despite being armed with a bachelor’s degree, being part of the NCC, and busting the balls of any boy/man who was disrespectful to the women around her; her abilities did not matter, but her ability to speak English fluently did. She was constantly mocked and derided by my father’s friends’ wives and sometimes by my father himself. Her initial years of being married, she would keep quiet in public with the fear of humiliation (and for those who know my mother keeping quiet is an impossible feat).

When she put me into a catholic girl’s boarding school run by British nuns at a young age of 8, a friend’s wife said to her, “You can barely speak English, so now you feel the need to send your daughter to such a school. An apple doesn’t fall far from a tree.” And undoubtedly my mother wanted to protect me in a world wherein English equated to success and intelligence.

For those who don’t know me, I speak with an accent and deep enunciation, and I don’t think that it stems only from my influences of growing up in London and boarding school, but a proverbial chip that I needed to be unlike my mother. In rooms teeming with mothers and teachers who spoke English so effortlessly and perfectly accented, to my annoyance I did not understand why my mother couldn’t string words perfectly together and I would squirm and roll my eyes every-time she mispronounced a word.

I have grown up with a complex relationship with the English language as a marker of intelligence and class. But here is what I love about being older with its experiences and wisdom. You arrive at a beautiful place of acceptance and honesty. Today, I squirm when people take pride in saying that they cannot speak in Hindi. I have learnt my spoken Hindi from Bollywood films (which I deeply love) that I watched during my holidays, because Hindi at school was not permitted to step beyond the classrooms. And I am so glad that I can speak in Odia (not fluent) and a smattering of Bengali (I think) - I wear these as a badge of great pride.

And Ma, I am deeply sorry for being embarrassed growing up and I now know that your accent is my identity, my culture, and my roots. And it’s perfectly homegrown.

If any of you have similar stories, please write to us at editor@homegrown.co.in

About the writer: Varsha Patra is the CEO/Co-Founder of Homegrown. She loves chips, and is not as intimidating as people make her out to be. Follow her on instagram and linkedin.

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