Sabah Merchant
Ashoka University


I live in Karnataka not knowing Kannada.

I don’t know anything beyond

My letters, “What is your name?”,

And “I don’t know Kannada.”


I was not taught the language

In a way that would make me speak.

My lessons taught me

About the world outside my classroom,

Albeit in a way the teacher didn’t expect.


I memorized words and sentences

Just to pass an exam,

Because I didn’t know any better.

My tutor tried to make me learn more

But there’s only so much she could do.


We once had to state our marks aloud

After an exam where twenty-two girls failed.

I passed, and my voice did not shake:

“Thirty-three on fifty”,

Although only now I wonder if

I was angry then, rather than unafraid.

My friends failed.

Even nine years later,

I can hear their whispers

And feel their shame.


Perhaps it was then

That I learned to fear the language,

That I asked myself,

What the point of learning it now was

If thinking of the class scared me

And made my friends cry.


People mock me today:

I live in Karnataka, yet I don’t know Kannada.

Let them laugh until I learn.

They were not there

When we wanted to cry,

When we wanted to give up,

When we were failed by our teachers,

And the world we thought would guide us.


I’m afraid of Kannada.

Deal with it.