Native Languages and Communication – The Spiritual Need to Belong

During my very first unit of clinical training, we were taught about the spiritual needs that are part of being human. One of them is the need to belong – Of belonging to something, to someone, to a community, to a nation, to the Universe. And of course, the sense of belonging and what it looks or feels like is different for each individual.

As the clinical training is geared towards exposing oneself to one’s own self, I went through (at times voluntarily, most times involuntarily) the journey to explore my sense of belonging. What makes me feel that I belong?

I began to walk this path and began to pay attention to what made me feel comfortable. To do this, I had to think of what made me feel uncomfortable. How did I express myself? This led me to really realize for myself that I enjoy talking. A lot. Even though I talk to a lot of people on an everyday basis, I felt something amiss. 

When I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, he insisted that I explore this more. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of my feelings, here’s what I discovered for myself: 

The last two years have highlighted major personal losses for me. It’s been very hard to realize that two people I was very close will no longer be a part of my everyday life. It’s been very hard to realize that I can no longer pick up the phone and talk and share my love for the latest Hindi song or a beautiful piece of writing in Hindi or Gujarati or the most random thing that happened at work today. Of course, I continue to miss their presence in my life but, thanks to CPE (sigh!), I’ve had to explore this further.

I miss talking in my native languages (Gujarati and Hindi). I miss having friends my age with whom I could converse any time of the day about anything in my language. I miss sharing my emotions through Hindi songs and knowing that the person will understand. I still do this with my family but I do not have anyone outside my home that I can share my time with.

I realized how much I love my native languages. Someone shared this video by Patricia Ryan (a long time English teacher) titled ‘Don’t insist on English’ on Facebook. I was in tears as I watched this video because I realize the importance of being able to communicate in my own language. I also realize that everything that Patricia Ryan states in this video is very true. A quick example was when I talked about puya in my theological reflection paper. I realized that there is no English word for it. Puṇya is a concept that does not really have an exact word in English. The explanation turned into a paragraph. 

This is just one word. The thought about how many world languages currently exist and how many concepts cannot be translated in to English really boggles my mind.

Yes, I am very aware that I live in North America. Yes, I have friends who are not Indian and do not speak Indian languages and I do love them. But, as my supervisor insisted me to explore, I am finding out that this is a huge piece of my sense of being that I miss in my daily life. At times, I think it feels like limited living. How can I even translate the Hindi lyrics of a Gulzar song or a poem in Gujarati by Narsinh Mehta to English and still expect that its soul remains intact?

This realization helped me see that there are so many instances in my daily life that innately feel as if I do not belong. A reason why I just cannot relate to certain type of music or writing or conversation.

So, how does this translate to caregiving as a chaplain? 

  • A person’s native language is important. The language brings with it a sense of our-ness, a familiarity, and yes, a sense of belonging. This helps me understand the limited conversations with a patient whose first language is not English and the unlimited talks with a patient who speaks a mutual language.
  • It makes me aware that I need to find more language appropriate resources as I am able to ensure that my caregiving can be as rounded as possible.
  • It brings me to realization that I may not always come close to helping a person feel that they belong but at least I can relate to the person in knowing how it feels to not belong. 
  • It shows how much a language impacts perception. For example – the anger and rude behavior from some English speakers towards people conversing in their native language amongst themselves. The angry response is probably due to a heightened sense of not belonging, not knowing. And we know, not knowing is scary. Right?
  • It reminds me how important and vast the need is for native languages speakers, especially as it relates to the larger South Asian community who predominantly speak Hindu/Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and other major languages as spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another reminder that grieving is complex. Grief is complex.

Losing someone (in any way or form) has many layers of feelings and emotions attached to it. It is very painful. It is very hard. And most of all, it is very lonely. Being able to truly communicate all of those things is definitely the first step towards accepting this loss. 

My question to you : What does belonging look like for you? Let me know.

Until next time,


One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin; for, unlike clothes, one cannot get a new skin. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

Join us – A R Rahman Invitation

So anyone who knows me at all will know that I am a huge A R Rahman fan. It began with his music and the more he grew with music, the more I realized how certain things come together to guide us on our path. More on that later.

For now, I want to share my thoughts on his latest initiative: An invitation from A R Rahman. It’s amazing to me how much I can relate to this man. Going through this video, I kept saying: exactly! exactly! exactly! so many times in my mind.

And then the second part to this video here: Join hands with me.

I watched this video in awe as A R Rahman goes on to pose such big questions. Each one I feel so strongly about. I think everyone should feel strongly about it. These are the basic questions of survival, of defining humanity as a whole.

I will attempt to answer these questions. I may even end up posting a video response to one of the questions. Who knows? I definitely will be blogging my answers to each questions.

In the process of answering these questions, I hope to bring together my work, my personal life experiences, my voluntary initiative to grow and become a better person with every passing day. As a dear friend always tells me: One day at a time, my friend. One day at a time!

The journey has begun…

Sometimes I want to ask God why He allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world when He could do something about it, but I am afraid He might just ask me the same question ~ Author Unknown but Appreciated

Shaam se aankh mein nami si hai…

So I am listening to Marasim, a ghazal album with vocals by Jagjit Singh and lyrics by Gulzar. The very first time I heard about it was when the ghazal ‘Shaam se aankh mein nami si hai’ came out in 1999. Being brought up in a home where all genres of music are played, I’ve also developed a liking for ghazals and this one definitely caught my attention. We got out and bought the album and have been listening to it every now and then.

I just realized that its been a decade. And what a decade it has been!! Most people who know me know that I am not a big new year’s eve and new year’s person, so
I don’t normally do a glance-at-the-past-year blog post. Yes, I tag along with the celebrations and yes, I dress up for it but does it mean much to me? No. But then a decade is a decade. Not time-wise. Its more like an event-wise issue.

As I decided to sit down (literally!) to listen to it with a warm cup of tea, gazing out of the bedroom window at the snow-covered trees and rooftops, thoughts flooded my mind. Thoughts of events from the past decade, each with a line or two from the ghazal that was playing at the moment. Here are some snippets (mostly for the sake of my memory and rest for the sake of a life-story):

Aankhon Ke Ponchne Se Laga Aanch Ka Pata
Yoon Chehra Pher Lene Se Chupta Nahin Dhuaan

The moments of realization as to how much or how little something or someone means to oneself. In most cases, there is a pleasant surprise factor. And others, well, the least said the better.

Der Se Goonjte Hain Sannaate
Jaise Humko Pukaarta Hai Koi

The times when you know you are needed. No one tells you that, you just know. And how you actually go out of your way to make sure you are there. There is little, if any, expectation of appreciation from anyone but you still do it because you want to and doing so will let you be at peace with yourself.

Sirf Ik Safha Palat Kar Usne
Beeti Baaton Ki Safaayee Di Hai

Oh the innumerable times, you would expect (or even desperately desire) answers in word form and get ‘the look’. The look means different things to different people. And wanting answers not just from people but Life, God, The Universe (however you want to refer to It).

Khamoshi Ka Haasil Bhi Ik Lambi Si Khamoshi Hai

Unki Baat Suni Bhi Humne, Apni Baat Sunayi Bhi.
I can easily say these are the most difficult moments. Silence. So much said and done in it. It does not necessarily mean a negative thing. The silent knowing that some bonds exist without the need for an explanation is a high.

Shehed Jeene Ka Mila Karta Hai Thoda Thoda
Jaane Waalon Ke Liye Dil Nahin Thoda Karte

The people who walk out of your life irrespective of your tries to keep them. You try. You do the best you can in the situation to keep them. And it just falls short. Definitely times when you stop, gaze up to the stars and hope and pray that this better be a good part of the Divine Scheme.

Waqt Rehta Nahin Kahin Chupkar
Iski Aadat Bhi Aadmi Si Hai

The changes that one’s life-story goes through. The hard changes. The easy ones. Followed by the okay chalta-hai types. The I-swear-to-God-this-can’t-be-happenin’ types. Changes, the only permanent thing in life. (cliched, I know, but true!)

Ussi Ka Eemaan Badal Gaya Hai
Kabhi Jo Mera Khuda Raha Tha

This is the probably the least emotional one. The breaking of an idealistic image. Shocking but necessary.

Din Guzarta Nahin Hai Logon Mein
Raat Hothi Nahin Basar Tanha

The times when you think there’s no one who gets you. There’s just no one who understands what you’re trying to say, let alone understand why you’re saying what you’re saying. The feeling of melancholy that comes with it, the kind that lingers around and pushes for introspection.

Dil hai to phir dard hoga; Dard hai to dil bhi hoga… ~ Gulzar