Remona AlyTuesday 20 June 2023 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2
A Different Kind of Language
I have just begun learning a language online, but embarrassingly, it’s my mother tongue. My parents, who migrated to the UK from India, chose to speak to me in English instead of Urdu, so while I understood some of it from hearing them speak to each other, as well as picking it up from Bollywood films on occasion, I still find it a challenge to speak confidently. It feels as if Urdu is lodged in my heart but can’t quite reach my tongue.
As someone who has been pretty stoic most of my life, I can sometimes struggle with surfacing my deepest thoughts and emotions, which means people are left in the dark as to how I truly feel.
When a friend saved me from going into a hole when I went AWOL after a bad patch, I found it difficult to convey the depth of my gratitude.
There are times I want to tell my sister all the ways I cherish her, and admire her everyday feats of motherhood, but I can’t always say the words out loud.
Whatever the language, I feel like it fails me, just as I can fail it. But I reckon there are other ways to be understood. A touch, a look, the mere presence of a person has taught me the value of the unspoken.
When a neighbour barely said anything at my father’s funeral, but carried my grief in the touch of her hand upon mine, I felt the wordless speech of her compassion. When I was looking worried on London underground as a rowdy group of people got on my carriage, a man quietly moved to stand between me and them, just so I would feel safe.
I think language isn’t only in the words we speak, it’s in the silent gesture of care, it’s in the unsaid testament of love.
The American Muslim author and public speaker, Yasmin Mogahed, says: “There are some people who could hear you speak a thousand words, and still not understand you… And there are others who will understand – without you even speaking a word.”
I’ll hold onto this alternative bridge of communication, but for now, it’s back to the Urdu lessons. Wish me luck, or achi kismet.