14th September 2021 Mrs Kala Pohl
I painted this scene because it reminded me so much of my heritage – Kerala in South India. We spoke English at home – that is, my father, siblings and I. My mother spoke to us in Malayalam, our mother tongue. We responded in Malayalam, with a lot of English thrown in.
My mother tongue doesn’t come easy to me. Though I could probably communicate well enough not to get lost in South India. Growing up in a melting pot like Malaysia, it was easy to misplace one’s culture. Or even better, to entangle it with the other cultures. All of which was not bad actually. I had friends who were Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian. My Indian friends came from North and South India, where we had different mother tongues, even ate different foods. See, what I mean by a melting pot? The English language was our common ground.
I grew up with a “global” perspective. There weren’t any specific lessons about respecting other cultures, I just knew. Perhaps it was the subtle messages like public holidays for every ethnic group celebration. Or the food we shared with neighbors, educating us about respecting other’s choices. Moving thousands of miles away in my 20’s to live in another melting pot, San Francisco, was a piece of cake. I took to it like a duck to water.
Through it all though, like the Pied Piper, all it took was a small whiff of anything Indian to bring my radar up. To follow, as if in a trance, the sounds, smells, visuals of India. Perhaps that too evolved at a subtle level. Like the old Malayalam songs that my father used to sing, making me a fan of all types of Indian music (classical and Bollywood). The smell of incense that reminded me of the small alley way shops, incense that accompanies my meditation daily. The sight of a shawl with an ethnic pattern to it, which becomes a favorite accessory, a security blanket laced with comfort.
Notwithstanding my very western upbringing, there will always be a part of me that is so drawn to all things Indian. Every time I visit India, I try to bring some part of it back with me. Realizing that amidst all this westernization lies a true Indian at heart.