Thursday, 31 July 2014

Aamaa - the Word

My son, Bishrut used to call me "aamaa" when he began speaking. At the age of three we took him to Australia and he was suddenly placed in an English-speaking environment. As a result, he gradually stopped speaking Nepali; and the word 'aamaa' also gave way to 'mum.'

Bishrut had to learn Nepali again when we returned home after about two years in Australia. Actually he had not forgotten the language; it was in his subconsciousness and he only needed to bring it back to his conscious mind. Now he started to ask me to translate his English words into Nepali. In the language learning process he asked me, "Mum, how do you say 'mum' in Nepali?" "Aamaa," I replied. He shifted to aamaa from mum once more.

The same year we went to my hometown, Dhankuta to see our relatives. One day I went to my maternal uncle's house with Bishrut. To hear him addressing me aamaa, my uncle interrupted Bishrut, "Hey! What are you saying? You must call your mother maamu and your grandmother aamaa." This statement made my little boy perplexed; he rushed to me for clarification. He stared at me with suspicious eyes and asked, "Is he right?" I gave him a big hug and tried to console the tiny heart, "No. Not at all. Go tell him we must call our mother aamaa and grandmother hajuraamaa." He smiled at my maternal uncle triumphantly, however, he avoided calling me aamaa as long as we stayed there.

We returned to Kathmandu after spending some days in Dhankuta. As we were passing through the security check at the airport in Biratnagar, a policewoman, who was checking my hand bag, heard my son calling me aamaa. She promptly made her criticism: "Babu, yati ramro manchhele ta mummy po bhannupacchha! Aamaa bhaneko ta hajuri ho" (Such a cute boy must say mummy; aamaa means grandmother). This struck Bishrut once again. On the plane he asked me, "What does hajuri mean, mum? "Grandma," I answered. He asked me a number of questions regarding the word aamaa. I tried my best to satisfy his curiosity.

My eldest sister also faced this problem as my nieces call her aamaa. For instance, she once went to a social gathering with her two daughters. When one of her relatives heard my younger niece calling my sister, "Aamaa...," he sprang up with a great surprise. "Oh my God! Do your daughters call you aamaa? Don't you feel too be addressed by this word?", he tried to discourage my sister. Ha...ha...what a perspective he had!

I suspect, our so-called modern society seems to be devoid of sweetness, tenderness, beauty, love, respect and purity that the word 'aamaa' evokes. It is obvious that a hajuraamaa can also never be replaced by aamaa. People have misinterpreted the real meaning of aamaa. This indicates the eroding value of our cultural identity.

These days Bishrut does not call me aamaa, and I do not want to be coercive as he is too little to understand all these worldly intricacies. Nevertheless, I have been waiting for the day when he realizes and understands the glory of the word aamaa by himself, and starts calling me aamaa spontaneously, instead of mummy.

(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Monday, October 4, 2004)

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