Pazham, Vaazha- trying my husband’s mother tongue

Pazham, Vaazha- trying my husband’s mother tongue
After more than two decades of marriage
You'll say there's no need-
To learn my husband's language
Its not like I didn't try in the beginning 
when I felt the need to explain,
or wanted to please,
or do more than smile
with his side of the family
but I stopped and it no longer mattered.

And found a common tongue
with words and eyes and hands and forehead.
But I'm no quitter,
So, I gave it another try the other day
I pointed to a dish at lunch
and asked my husband's mother
" What is this called in Malayalam?"
"Paḻaṁ" she said, and I repeated after her.
Making her shake her head vigorously

and say the word again, this time, slowly
like she had marbles in her mouth.
I strained my ear to hear
the phonetics; I heard a 'La'
and a 'R' and a sound like from a cave
"Pazham is how its spelt," she said
with patience, I had earned
And opened her mouth again 
and folded her tongue

like a slice of bread or a handkerchief.
in two. " Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth,
Like this." she said and I tried 
and spat the word out-
Like a fishbone in my throat, 
and looked at her for approval
Like I had done twenty-odd years ago
She turned to the children
who, thought it was a game- 

one their mom was no good at.
They tried, stuttering at first
then trying again and again
Until the word vaulted out 
of the hollow of their mouths
and made a perfect landing
It pleased her greatly 
and she said, "Very good!
"Now try saying 'Vazham' and 'Mazha'" 
And they did, making her beam.

And I think, 'It's in their genes,' and clear the table.

*Malayalam is a language spoken by people from Kerala. They have an alphabet which when translated to English is written as 'zha' but is pronounced as a 'ya' or a 'la' with a 'r' together. 
I haven't been able to learn the language or get the pronunciation of words with this alphabet right until date but this poem is in honor of me trying. 
'Pazham' means plantain, 'Vazham' means banana. All Rights Reserved.

8 responses to “Pazham, Vaazha- trying my husband’s mother tongue”

    • Hey, thanks Robbie. Its good to know there’s someone who understands my struggle. People find it strange when I say I’m bad at languages. They have a look which says, “What are you talking? You write!” I’ve given up explaining. I’m so glad you enjoyed this poem 🙂

      • I know exactly what you mean. Being able to write in English doesn’t make you good at other languages. I struggle with names too and have to learn them off by heart so that I get them right. I hate mispronouncing someone’s name.

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