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A history not my own

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on September 12, 2011 No Comment

It was a glorious Fall in the late ’80s, in a land filled with trees colored in autumnal brushstrokes. I remember with great vividness my first moments in an American classroom.  I was seated in the last row, in a corner, comfortingly next to the door (should I be overpowered by the need to escape). My family had moved to Rochester, NY from New Delhi, India, as a result of my father taking a sabbatical (in order to take up a visiting professorship at the University). Moments after the morning bell rang, the teacher stood by the blackboard, and everyone stood up, rested their right hands on their chests, and started mumbling something indecipherable in an alien language. Until that moment, I had thought I understood some English. It wasn’t until months later that I understood what the point of the Pledge of Allegiance was; and it was many more months before I finally understood what the words were.

That was the start of two years of experiencing life in America, two years in an American elementary school, where I not only “picked up” the culture, but most crucially, the language of its mediation, English, a language that seemed so alien to me despite the fact that I had studied it for several years as a child in India.

pledge-allegiance

Every class was a lesson in language, as much as it was a lesson in expectations of school-going children: especially the implicit expectation of a knowledge of shared history, a shared worldview. I particularly remember one history textbook we had, which focused heavily on the two World Wars. What I remember wondering about is the silence on the independence movements that were going on during that time, which Indian history textbooks always highlighted. I still have the textbook somewhere back home in India-I think I held on to it precisely because it made me feel so disconnected from the world I was inhabiting then.

This post is inspired by Jonathan‘s prompt about “History and Memory in Foreign Language Study.”

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