Creative Nonfiction: Language Acquisition by Eshani Surya

This is the story I ask my mother to repeat: how I, a wet-lipped babe in my grandmother’s Bihari home, forgot all the English words I’d collected for a few years in just a month.

This is the part I embellish a little: my uncle, bringing his—maybe handsome, like well-kempt goats—Kingfisher beer-scented, gold pendant Ganesh-wearing friends to the house to play carrom board into the night.

This is my mother’s punchline: my uncle wanted to show me off, this talented niece from America, and he asked me to say something, anything, in English, but I just chirruped kya bolu, kya bolu, hoping he’d give me something to parrot back, but he had nothing and I had nothing and still neither did he, except sending me to the mosquito-webbing swathed bed, both of us disappointed and laughing.

This is mine: back in America I was exotic too and a white boy at the church nursery school asked me to say something in Hindi over the fragmented playdough and I placed my sweaty hands on my cheeks and said what should I say and he said just one word, can’t you do that and the safest, most kindred phrase seemed to be dog, so I said it, flat and tremory—kuth-tha—and the white boy scoffed a little at that, as if he didn’t believe me, so I said it again, bark bark, on command.

Eshani Surya is a writer from Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in [PANK], Catapult, Paper Darts, Joyland, and Literary Hub, among others. Eshani is an Assistant Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Find her @__eshani or at

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