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“Happy New Year 2009”

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on January 2, 2009 4 Comments

Happy new year, Didi!” the monkey-cap wearing kids yelled out as I stepped into the children’s study room in the basement of an orphanage. As I smiled at them, I felt the cold cement through the sheer nylon of my stockinged feet. The temperature in the room was little warmer than the 4°C outside, and it seemed as if the thick blanket of smog was wafting indoors through the open doors of the temple grounds. The tutor sitting at the desk nodded slightly in acknowledgment. I made myself comfortable, sitting Indian style on the floor, facing the children hunched over their work. There were a few newer children who hadn’t seen me before, and some furious whispering, pointing, and giggling began. The tutor glanced up sternly from the book he was reading, and, after a brief glare, went back to reading.

I sat closest to two children, one reading an English textbook, another a Hindi one. Both were sitting side by side, and consulting each other in a mishmash of Bengali, Hindi, and English. The child reading English was working on a reading comprehension piece, and he was reading out loud the printed questions and the penciled-in answers from a thin textbook. His small body rocked in a pendular motion to his words, uttered in what seemed like a 4-beat rhythm. The child holding the Hindi text was absorbed in a short story on Gandhi’s life, also reading out the text in a low whisper, his body undulating almost imperceptibly to the beat of his oration. Further back, a child was copying some Sanskrit श्लोक (shlokas), and slowly sounding out the words he wrote out. He was a little taken aback when I asked what he was doing: he blushed a deep shade of purple, then just nodded and didn’t say anything. His friend, after giggling at him and elbowing him, stepped in and explained that the temple priest assigns Sanskrit work every day, and that that’s what he was doing. Most of the remaining children were coloring in different images in their drawing books.

As I prepared to leave after an hour, I took in the sights and sounds one last time.

Bengali, Hindi, English, and the unlikely Sanskrit mingled casually in the rising whispers of the cold night. For a moment, it was all one chant. And maybe, just maybe, I thought, that’s all it ever really is….

I stood up to leave, and a child called out to me. “दीदी इसका पिक्चर लेना!” (Hindi: “Didi [Older Sister], take a picture of this!”). I capture a greeting that fills me with hope for a new year, and a new year of hope.

And a happy new year it is.

[picture removed]

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4 Responses to ““Happy New Year 2009””

  1. Youki on: 3 January 2009 at 12:53 am

    happy new year!

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 3 January 2009 at 1:42 am

    10Q~, Youki. 🙂

  3. daveski on: 3 January 2009 at 9:13 am

    Touching New Year’s greeting! What’s in the drawing on the lower right-hand side?

    It’s a very minor point, but when I saw you write “sitting Indian style” this made me reflect on this curious linguistic artifact in the English that I grew up with, a white boy in the Bay Area suburbs, with no knowledge of the Ohlone or other Native peoples closeby and certainly little conception of the India across the ocean. Where does “sitting Indian style” come from, and where does it go?

  4. Usree Bhattacharya on: 3 January 2009 at 9:28 am

    Thanks. It’s a faucet dripping water into what looks like a colored earthen jug.

    Ha…I always thought “sitting Indian style” came from how Indians (that is, people from India) sit on the floor, cross-legged…turns out yes, etymologically the phrase actually referred to Native Americans. Just goes to show.

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