Friday, February 24, 2017

Notes from JLF : Rohini Vij

For the sixth year in a row, we partnered with the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival and Teamwork Arts to manage to outreach component of the festival. In its sixth year, the Outreach from January 16-25th, 2017 was hosted in 100 schools in and around Jaipur. Here are some stories from the people who added all the magic to the events :

Rohini Vij says...

‘I am a storyteller. I have an imaginary bag on my shoulder and I travel from one place to another telling stories to children like you. All my stories are inside this bag and whenever I have to tell a story I just dig into my bag and pull it out.’

This is what I told an eager group of children at Govt. P.S. Parvatpuri, Gunni school in Jaipur during my first session in JLF-Outreach 2017, organised by Pratham Books.

The thing that really melted my heart was that the children really believed every word I uttered. They waited patiently for me to dramatically dig out a story for them and once I was done telling the two stories that morning a girl with a very concerned expression walked up to me and said, 'Didi please put these two stories back in your bag for other children.’ For a moment I was speechless, I then smiled and clumsily pretended to put the stories back into my bag, much to the satisfaction of the girl.

This one line uttered by the girl has been playing in my head ever since. Picture this, here is a 5 or maybe 6 year old child far away from the amenities some of the children her age are fortunate to have access too. Attending school in old worn out clothes probably passed down to her by her siblings or neighbours, unwashed face, torn bag, oversized slippers, listening spellbound to stories that probably temporarily drifted her away from her world into another, yet so selfless that once she got her share of the stories she wanted to be sure other children like her don't remain deprived of them.

This and many such magical moments describe my experience at JLF-Outreach a fabulous initiative by Pratham Books. Each time I tell stories to children I go back feeling great about what I do. Those few minutes they make you feel like a celebrity. After the story they are bursting with energy and they all want a piece of you, literally! Their goodbyes are full of positivity, their appreciation is upfront, and they are hopeful that you will be back again. That magical rush is probably what makes me want to tell stories more and more. ‘It's almost addictive’, I told Yashdeep a young engineering student from Amity University who was a part of the volunteer team at the festival, when he asked me what I loved the most about my job.

There were some helpless moments too. When I was telling a story at Prayas Inclusive School, a 13 year old boy suffered an epileptic fit during the session. This happened in the middle of the second story I was telling. While the boy’s body shivered and his mouth began to froth I watched him suffer helplessly for what seemed like a lifetime. The children who was so cheerfully engaged till until a moment ago were absolutely silent during the attack - perhaps feeling as helpless as I was. The teachers of course rushed to the boy and tried their best to provide him comfort. He was unconscious for a while before he came around. He was then taken away to rest. I was then asked to resume the session. That was perhaps one of the most difficult experiences of my life. A group of children visibly disturbed after what had happened to their friend and also waiting to know what happened next in the story. For me to transition into my role as a storyteller at that difficult moment was indeed a challenge. Of course I told them the rest of story with as much gusto but the incident truly tested my skills as a performer who was herself experiencing a myriad of emotions.

As I traveled back from Jaipur to Kanpur I felt a sense of calm and joy. I was exhausted yet bubbling with energy. Storied had spilled their magic, yet again. I looked out of the window, it was dark outside yet after every few seconds I saw a glimmer of light.

Pratham Books is Hiring : Research Manager

Pratham Books is a not-for-profit children's book publisher that was set up in 2004 to publish good quality, affordable books in many Indian languages. Our mission is to see ‘a book in every child’s hand’ and we have spread the joy of reading to millions of children in India.

In 13 years, we have published over 3000 books and distributed over 14 million copies of our storybooks and 16 million story cards. Last year, Pratham Books' increased its footprint by going digital. As an industry leader, we were one of the first publishers in the country to open license our content. All this content is now available on StoryWeaver, our digital platform that hosts stories in 60 languages. The stories can be read, translated, versioned or downloaded for free.

Job Description 

At Pratham Books, we are shaping a new, innovative approach to multilingual publishing because we believe that every child needs good books to read in a language of their choice. We are looking for a Research Manager who can lead our efforts to evaluate our programs, analyse data and provide insights and information to guide strategy.

As a Research Manager, you will be responsible for developing and supporting research projects to meet defined goals. The projects will include both primary research and secondary data projects. You will need to work with internal and external stakeholders to understand the requirements, review the collected data, draw insights, author reports and make recommendations.

The candidate needs to have strong research and analytical skills as well as a deep understanding of web analytics. The successful candidate will be a self-starter, with strong attention to detail, excellent communication skills and willingness to travel.

Key Responsibilities:
  • Understand the research requirements for each program and selecting the most appropriate research methodology and techniques
  • Design qualitative and quantitative research plans
  • Design research questionnaires and moderator guides
  • Analyse and interpret data for the digital projects on an ongoing basis, writing reports, and making actionable recommendations
  • 7 to 10 years experience in research with an excellent understanding of web analytics.
  • Ability to interpret large amounts of data and manage multiple projects
  • Strong communication and presentation skills - should have experience in writing papers, reports and presentations.
  • Excellent knowledge of statistical analysis software ( e.g SPSS,Stata and R)
  • Familiarity with CRM programs
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking
Nice to have but not mandatory:
  • Experience working with nonprofits. 
Location: Position is based out of Bangalore

Salary: Will commensurate with experience. We are looking for a passionate individual who wants to be part of a team that is creating a new model in multilingual publishing to address the scarcity of books for children in need

Write to us: Email your resume with Research Manager in the subject line to careers(at)prathambooks(dot)org

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Tamil Journey

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Sandhiya. An avid reader whose hobbies include defying social norms, Sandiya is using her writing as her armament. For now. Follow her journey on instagram @sand1ya)

For most of my childhood, I wasn't proud of my mother tongue. Tamil was a language that was spoken by most ethnic Indians in Malaysia, and yet, I didn't think it was cool enough, not as cool as speaking English. You see, when you are brought up in a multi ethnic society, every sentence you spurt out would inevitably contain words of two or three different languages. We Malaysians take pride in this, especially when it comes to ordering or describing food (that's another blog post all together). What we say on a daily basis is an amalgamation of English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Having said that, Tamil had the least appeal to me growing up. I didn't have anyone to speak to, as my family conversed in English. My exposure was limited to the Sunday afternoon screening of Tamil movies on the television, which I enjoyed. It wasn't too surprising that I couldn't string a sentence in my mother tongue, I never even attempted.

As I ventured on into high school, I somehow took a keen interest in the language. I secretly attribute this to the Tamil movies I was getting addicted to. Dad and I would go on our dates to catch the latest Rajinikanth flick in the cinema. I had also made more Tamil speaking friends at this juncture. I decided to learn to read Tamil. Our study at home archived books which we had inherited from my late grandfather. There, I found a book entitled 'Learn Tamil through English in 30 days'. Surely, this title brings back memories to many reading this. Within a matter of weeks, I could read in my mother tongue, albeit slowly. I had to sound out each letter, and then figure out what the word meant, but still. I had done it, and my parents proudly announced this self-acquired achievement to our relatives. Why they didn't speak to me in Tamil, they never revealed, of course.

So there I was, in my late teens, trying to speak colloquial Tamil to my friends, only to be laughed at and ridiculed. I was told not to mutilate the language that is my mother tongue by speaking it. This didn't bother me, of course. As long as I understood what was being said, I was fine. Plus, I was a self-taught Tamil literate, how many of my friends could say that about themselves? None.

And then it was time to further my education. Lo and behold, where did that take me? To Chennai, the Tamil capital of the world, the city that is bursting at its seams with people, culture and tradition. To say that I was overwhelmed by the madness of the city would be an understatement. The organized chaos took some time to get used to. I was expecting Chennai to be like in the movies, miles of beach, students dressed in crop tops going to university, and roads so clear you could walk on the pavement and have your own Tamil song playing in the background. Boy, was I mistaken. The beach was, well miles of silly (and risky) fun fair activities, dotted with couples under umbrellas, patrolled by adolescents who couldn’t care less if they went to school or not. The only crop tops worn were saree blouses, and those were covered in 6 yards of cloth. As for the pavements, you had to choose between being assaulted by the stench of urine or cleverly avoiding puddles and potholes which somehow appear when you least expect it. And yet, I stayed on, completed my degree, and acquired a whole new lease on life.

Fast forward five years, I have returned home, and needless to say, my spoken and written Tamil is at its best now. My friends still gawk at me when I speak Tamil in front of them, and I covertly rejoice at this, kind of like an ‘in your face’ moment for them. My Tamil movie dates with dad have now included my entire family, and are not just limited to Rajinikanth. Both of which I am so thankful for.

I have recently began interpreting Tamil song lyrics. Once the drivel has been sifted out, Tamil poetry is charming, with words so beautifully threaded together, it engulfs the reader. Currently, I am working my way through the Thirukkural. I picked up the English transliteration a couple of years ago in Chennai, but the Tamil version is simply brilliant.

They say life is an ongoing lesson, and my journey just proves it. My life has been an ongoing Tamil lesson, a slow one, but a lesson nonetheless. There is plenty left to learn, my Tamil vocabulary has so much room for improvement. And yet, I am enjoying the motions of this lesson. Tamil is a delight to read. It is poetry in its own right, without even trying. Reading fills my heart with bliss, and as I flip the pages of my life, I am grateful to be bestowed this beautiful language as my mother tongue. Steeped in a culture so rich, Tamil will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter how uncool it seems.

Savour the Flavour of Kumaon

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Vibha Lohani. "When I am not writing you will find my nose comfortable perched behind a book!" Please don’t believe the previous statement. I am a Mother. But my little chatterbox is my inspiration too. Many of the stories I write came out from my conversations with my little one. Some found their way onto StoryWeaver and others are on my blog. I was otherwise a Recruiter by profession and a Writer by passion. After completing a course in Creative Writing I ventured into writing fulltime. A combination of tea and books are my addiction. I also do some Story Telling with local community kids to encourage them to read more and get some serious homework in return to write some more.)

No, this is not a write-up about food!

This is about Kumaoni – a musical language from the hills of Uttarakhand.

A language that is slowly losing its identity due to migration of locals and very less written content available (even though the language is based on the Devanagari script).

Folk tales in Kumaoni are entwined with folk songs related to various customs and have been passed on for generations through word of mouth. Sadly I can barely speak Kumaoni as a language (though I understand it) but the stories I heard from my grandmother and parents remain as memories.

Most of the Kumaoni folk tales are interwoven around various festivities – a famous one being the festival of Makar Sankranti which in the local language is called as Kaale Kauva (Black Crow) or Ghugutia. Sweets made from jaggery and flour are strung into a garland and offered to the crows. The ladies of the house make the sweets in various shaped like swords, dumroo, and rhombus and make a garland of sweets, peanuts and oranges which the children carry outdoors and offer to the crows while singing a rhyme.

'काले कौवा आ ले, घुघुती माला खा ले
बड़ तू लीजा, घर मैं कै दी जा;
पूरी तू लीजा, छुरी मैं कै दी जा;
ले कौवा लगड़, मैं कै दीजा सुनु का सगड़’

Surprised! Why do we name a major festival after the Black Crow? Well, there is a story behind it!

The folktale has some varied versions across Kumaon. I will briefly narrate the one I heard from my grandmother:

Once there was a King named Ghughut Singh. His court astrologer gave a prophecy saying the King will be killed by a crow on the day of Makar Sankranti. This upset the king very much. He first thought of killing every crow in the land but he knew it was not the right way to deal with the problem. His court advisors gave him an idea. They worked out a scheme to keep the crows busy on Sankranti.

Soon a Royal Announcement was made in the Kingdom. People were asked to prepare sweets with Gud (jaggery) and flour in large numbers. On the day fateful day, people had to offer the sweets in large numbers to the crows flying across the kingdom. 

The people did as commanded. On Makar Sankranti all the crows got busy eating the delicious sweets that none ventured near the royal palace. Thus King Ghuguti was saved and every year on Sankranti it became a tradition to offer sweets to the Black Crow.

I heard this story many times from my grandmother. But while hearing the story was fun, I never wanted to share the sweets with the crow! Now days with the crows hardly visible in big cities, most of the sweets are devoured by squirrels and the abundant Myna. My father, a man of science, explained the scientific connotation behind the story of Kaale Kauva.

Sankranti marks the onset of change in season. The migratory birds start returning to the hills – crow being the first one. The offering during this festival is a mark of welcoming the migratory birds back. Secondly during peak winters, after snow fall in the hills hardly any food is available in the forests for birds. Through such customs people are encouraged to offer food to the birds.

My childhood was filled with stories. There is another interesting story I heard from my grandmother. It is the story behind our surname – Lohani.

Lohani is a modified version of the term Lohumi which in Kumaoni means Loh (Iron) + Hom/ Havan (holy fire). Lohumi means one who can do Hom/Havan using iron.

The story behind the surname is as follows:

Once a group of Purohits (Brahmins conducting prayer rituals) traveled to the hills. They wanted to meet the King who was known for his wisdom and generosity and ask him for a piece of land and wood to perform their prayers peacefully. Alas, the guards at the kingdom gates were not so wise. Instead of helping the needy they made fun of the Purohits.

The guards challenged the Purohits that if they were so knowledgeable and wise then why do they need wood for havan, they might as well use the soldier’s swords. Saying this, the soldiers threw their swords towards the visitors. The Purohits collected the swords and much to the surprise of the guards; lit the holy fire using iron swords instead of wood. When the King heard of the incident he invited the purohits apologized and offered them a piece of land in his kingdom. This particular group of Brahmins and their kin were bestowed with the title of Lohumi – One who can light fire from iron.

I do not have a scientific explanation for the story but I do tell it once in a while as an ego booster. 

There are many other stories hidden in the heart of the hill region. If you ever visit to the lush green hills of Kumaon and hear a folksong, do stop by and ask its meaning. You might just end up hearing an interesting tale about a brave queen or a soldier returning home.

Clocks, Mice and Paniyaram

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Menaka Raman. Menaka Raman is helping Pratham Books build an online community for StoryWeaver. She is an amateur runner, amateur writer and amateur mother.)

டக்கு டக்கு கடிகாரம்
தட்டு நிறைய பணியாரம்

When I was growing up, there were a series of ditties that my mother and grandmother sing to my sister and I. The above, is one that paati would sing when she was making the kozhakattai’s for Pulaiyar or Ganesh Chaturhti. My sister and I were the sundelis (little mice) and she was the poonai (cat!)

And on Saturday morning, as either pati or amma oiled my hair, they would softly sing a song about the little lice that might be hiding in the folds of my braid (a bane back in the day, when there were 70 of us in a class, four to a bench. Coming home scratching our heads was commonplace.)

But these rhymes, they were a part of my growing up years, and when I had children of my own, I found myself singing these songs to them. 

Like many other parents who are a part of the Indian diaspora living abroad, I too wanted my children to learn to speak Tamil. And for the first year or so we did. But then we became lazy. My husband and I speak to each other in English (unless we don't want someone to understand what we're saying. Then we switch to Tamil). And soon, after a year of only speaking to our son in Tamil, we lazily slipped into English. And it's been that way ever since. 9 years and 2 kids later we all speak, think and dream in English. My boys might now look at me blankly if I speak a long sentence in Tamil to them, but if I start singing any one of these songs, they join in immediately. 

Last year, our building hosted a celebration for Onam and residents were invited to sing and dance as part of the festivities. A friend offered to teach some of the children Malayalam folk songs to sing on stage. I ruefully shook my head and said I doubted my children would be able to learn the pronunciations. 

But I was pleasantly proven wrong. In a week, both the boys (even the younger one who just tagged along of practice) had learned two songs. I still remember how emotional my father got when he heard his grandsons sing for him over the phone. 

I have many failings as a mother, but perhaps the one I feel the most, is that my children don't speak their mother tongue as fluently as I would like them to. 

Yesterday on Mother Language Day, after our bedtime story, we lay cuddling in the dark, and I asked if they would like a song. They nodded enthusiastically. 

I started singing and they joined in; tentatively at first and then with more gusto. 

Songs and rhymes are such a lovely way to teach our children a language. The rhythm, word play and use of sounds make them irresistible I suppose. 

The year is young, and I’ve made a late new year resolution to talk, sing and dream aloud with my children more in my mother tongue! Will you too?

D for Dhokla

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Dharmaraj Solanki. Dharmaraj EATS, tweets and retweets (in that order). You may also finding him running around town (probably in search for his next snack) and if you see someone with a placard on his backpack - that is definitely him. He tweets as @ngowallah.)

Language is important. It is probably one of the things that makes us more human - it has contributed to our civilization, helped build (and destroyed) communities, it is the fine linkage between the then and now and the future. It is the spirit in which stories flow, a tunnel through time, a skeleton for all our words, dreams and interactions, a fine thin thread holding us together.

As a kid, I started making sense of languages a little later than usual. Because, I was surrounded by friends and families who belonged to different ethnic groups, and hence had their own mother tongues. Before I could understand what Dhokla means (D for dhokla is how a Gujarati kid learns the first letters) I had Idli, Rasgulla, Puranpoli and Jalebi thrown my way.

Illustration by Niloufer Wadia
While I never (and still don't) complain about food being sent my way, to use a fitting metaphor, it created a khichdi (or bhel, if you love chat) in my head. Being a social kid, I would go to their homes to play, watch TV and share meals. Even though outside of the family lines, your language lines are often blurred, most of us have a delicate place for our mother tongues and it is in the comfort of our homes that we, in some ways, preserve it. 

I was exposed to so many of them at once and I was barely a year or two old then, that it was fun and challenging to make sense of what rice was called in 5 languages. Upon reflecting on it, I think what I experienced was a beautiful example of urbanization and globalization. 

Even today, it is very difficult for me to draw lines over language and mother tongue. Originally from Gujarat (as you might have guessed), I have spent all my life in Bombay. From learning Marathi to be comfortable in a local context to Hindi as a flexible bridge between most communities to English which is language of this generation, while going back to Gujarati at home, because F for Fafda, to my desire to learn Urdu for they have the most pure, beautiful words. 

I believe one of the factors what makes urban spaces an incredible phenomenon is languages and their blurred lines - including mother tongues. Everyone brings their own to the table and while we hold our own very close to our hearts, it's the process of giving a bit of it away in return for something else - just like a potluck! 

It's fascinating how we have evolved from one language to speaking a language of the world - wherever that may be for you (just like the veg, non veg, Jain, Chinese menu at a wedding buffet). While mother tongues are very personal, we live in an age where they are an integral part of what keeps the world together. 

I would like to end with an incident that I encountered the other day. At an extremely busy suburban railway station in Bombay, I saw a girl and a boy speaking to each other in sign language. It was a beautiful sight of them finding their comfort in the chaos (of all languages) around them, in their own language, while going back to become one with everyone else's. L is for LOVE (that they signaled to each other ...or maybe laddoo) - and for the love languages and mother tongues'

સલામ ગુજરાતી

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This poem was sent to us by Anil Rohit. Anil works with Pratham Gujarat and leads a district in a government partnership program. His strengths are to inspire and take people along. He is committed and passionate about his work : to see children enjoy their education.)

Salaam Gujarati : A poem where Anil equates his mother language with 'mother'

હોઠ ખુલે ત્યાં માં બોલાય છે,
મારી ભાષાને માં કહેવાય છે.

ભાષા એક ને બોલી અનેક,
ગામે ગામ લહેકાથી ગવાય છે,

કોઈ પૂછે – કેમ છો? ત્યારે ....
‘મજામાં’ આખું વિશ્વ સમાય છે.

‘કાઈપો છે’ ની બુમ પડાય,
ત્યાં સંબંધો રંગબેરંગી સ્થપાય છે.

બાળકની કાલીઘેલી ભાષાનું રુદન,
ને માતાની મમતાનું હાલરડું ગવાય છે.

ત્યાં માતૃભાષાને હજારો વંદન થાય છે,
મારી ભાષાને માં કહેવાય છે.

Thiruvananthpuram-kari (A Woman from Thiruvananthpuram)

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Lata Sunil. Lata Sunil is a Techie, reader, blogger and aspiring writer. She tweets at @lsunil)

Malayalam is my mother tongue and I consider myself almost fluent in it. Unlike the generation today in Kerala, where Malayalam is mixed with English and called as Manglish, I can speak better. All thanks to the two and half months we stayed in Kerala during every summer vacation. I even taught myself to read Malayalam with some help from aunts and cousins. I was proud of my language skills till I got married almost 19 years ago to my husband from Central Kerala, Kottayam.

Little did I know how ignorant I was about Kerala. I had heard the Thrissur dialect earlier and was familiar with it as it is distinctly different. But Kottayam was a different ballgame. Kottayam is the house of major publications like Malayala Manorama, Mangalam, Mathrubhumi and many printing presses like DC Books. The Malayalam written language is closest to Kottayam dialect. Further research informed me that though there are 3 dominant dialects in Kerala, it can be further divided into 12 more familiar ones. Within them, there are further religious and cultural divisions. Well, I’ll keep history aside and tell you what happened when I landed at my matrimonial home.

I realized the pace and accent of dialogue delivery between Kottayam and my place were different. I could not understand what the husband was saying. And it was worse to understand his relatives who had come from Kerala with an uncorrupted language. They (as in Kottayam-kaars) use complete words with clear pronunciation. Unlike them, we (Thiruvananthpuram-kaars) loved to elongate our words and give it a lilt. For example, they will say ‘de kando’ which means ‘see’ with no fuss. But we will say it as ‘Diey KandO..oo’. For saying ‘What’ they use ‘Enna’ whereas we say ‘Endha’ or ‘Endhera’. In Kollam they say ‘Endhuva’. But Kollam is another dialect which I noticed only after my encounter with Kottayam.

I was aghast when I realised ‘crap’ is called as ‘Appi’ whereas we call a baby as ‘Appi’. Imagine the smirks given by my husband when visiting my hometown and someone asks my baby’s name. Followed by how many ‘Pullara’ I have? They call children as ‘Pillere’.

He never stops teasing me for saying ‘Donday’ which means ‘Look there’ just because they say ‘Dendey’. We also have a tendency to use the plural instead of singular for everything. Like someone from my region would enquire about my job as ‘Jwollikal’ instead of saying ‘Joli’ as in Angelina Jolie. This dialogue was even used by Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express when he meets a Mallu truck driver. For ‘wages’, we say ‘Koolikal’ instead of plain boring ‘Kooli’.

Once, the husband asked me to get ‘Kadala’ from the kitchen and I told him that there is no ‘Kadala’ at home. When he got the ground nuts out I understood that we used a different name for the same thing. They call ground nuts as ‘Kadala’ while we call it as ‘Kappalandi’. He promptly informed me that is what they call cashew nuts. Are you nuts? I asked. We call them ‘Kashu-andi’ which is a corrupted version of Cashew nuts. I asked him what do they then call ‘Kadala’ which in our language meant ‘Grams’. They call it also as ‘Kadala’.

I seized the chance and give him a session on how come they could not come up with two different words for different items. We are closer to the home of cashew nuts and therefore, our word is the correct one. That is an unresolved one and I refuse to change the words I use. Over the years, I learnt to understand the Kottayam dialect and I could notice the nuances now. I prided myself on upgrading my Malayalam skills. I could use their dialect comfortably when I am in Kottayam. Or so I thought.

A few years back when I had landed at Kottayam, I was talking to my then 10 year old niece. She promptly went to her mom asking, ‘Why is mami speaking like this? She talks different.’ That’s when I heard my sister-in- law telling her, ‘Mami is a Thiruvananthpuram-kari. So, she speaks with that accent.’ And I realized, I should just be myself and use the language which I belong to. After all, it is my identity, isn’t it?

Further sources -

Word Bricks of Our World

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Sherein Bansal. Sherein lights up when she stumbles upon good music. She becomes grumpy in the absence of travel. She loves food and can talk about it till others have finished their meals and left the room.)

Brick by brick, of one word and then the next, heard from here and there, we build up our lives. We grow flowers of memories from the languages we are exposed to since we were born. Languages we grow old with are the most intimate and sacred part of us. They are our assurances, our cries, our boasts and our mirrors.

As kids.. Heck as toddlers, we don't stop to think that the 'papita' we are munching down on is somebody else's papaya. Or someone else's 'parangi hanu'! We only learn eye rolls and snap judgement for anything other than an 'English fruit' as we 'mature'.

There's no denying that English plays the role of that nice uncle or aunty in our family. That well-liked relative due to whom we all can get together with our divergent tongues and spend some time with each other more or less on the same page. Even if we go back to grumbling about each other in the words and the combination of languages we're most comfortable in, English did its work and unified us for some time. And that's how it should be. English should unify and bridge. Not isolate, shame or mock.

Our mother tongue and our local languages have spoken for us all our lives and I feel it's our turn to speak up for them nowadays. I can almost see them wandering speechless in the dark spaces around the popular language limelight in the hopes of being acknowledged and called upon. Let's treat them well, and be proud to use them in our routine. Let's not be aghast and defensive when someone asks Priyanka Chopra if Indians know how to speak English, when in reality we know so many more. Our insecurities are showing. Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese, Manipuri, Punjabi.. Whatever you speak, show it off. They all have beautiful textures and essence. They have nurtured our minds and lives in crucial ways. And that's not something to hide. That's something to marvel at.

I leave you with a short video of Denice Frohman who performs her poetry on Accents. Our languages and our accents guide us home.

Rediscovering Love

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Tanmoy Goswami. Tanmoy is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. He also teaches a course on reading nonfiction and storytelling at the Vedica Scholars Programme for Women. He tweets at @toymango and you can follow him on LinkedIn)

Early last year YourStory organised Bhasha, a unique festival to celebrate non-English Indian languages in the digital age, in New Delhi yesterday. The idea was to bring to the centre concerns about the well-being of India's many languages at a time when the Internet continues to be dominated by English, and the State's language policy continues to be dominated by Hindi.

Some of the key questions raised at the event: Will our languages be able to withstand the onslaught of a thoroughly Anglicised Web? (Answer: The chips are loaded against non-English tongues, but technology and the Web also give them the best chance of survival.) Are we doing enough to create content in non-English scripts, and help users easily discover that content? (Answer: Content producers say there's a already a lot of content out there, and it is mainly a problem of discovery. Tech companies understand more needs to be done to help discovery, but they seem to believe the language content available out there is still minuscule.) Are startups working on these problems generating traction fast enough? (Answer: Yes.) Are advertisers signing cheques in enough numbers to make language content viable? (Answer: No.)

These are not new questions, but by bringing together language activists, academics, and policymakers with tech behemoths like Google, Xiaomi, and Micromax, Bhasha made a strong bid at making these questions relevant to the digital native -- India's massive millennial population that can compel content creators, tech players, and advertisers to prioritise non-English languages by the sheer force of their collective user behaviour.

For me, the event held several lessons, not all related to technology. The most powerful story came from Kaushal Inamdar, a well-known Marathi musician. Inamdar told us the incredible tale of how a leading private FM station in Mumbai would refuse to play Marathi songs as its "official policy" till as late as February 2010, because Marathi was considered "downmarket". In response, Inamdar went on to compose and produce the "biggest Marathi song ever", featuring 450 singers (including Suresh Wadkar, Shankar Mahadevan, and Hariharan) and recorded using the best technology. The song created enough buzz that the station simply could not ignore it. And that's how in late February 2010, the Marathi Abhiman Geet became the first Marathi song to hit the private FM airwaves in Mumbai.

Inamdar's story reminded me of something that I had long forgotten: Language is a deeply emotional subject for me (as I suspect it is for many of you, though you too may have forgotten that). When I was in school in a small West Bengal town, I couldn't think or properly communicate in any language except Bangla. Although I went to an "English-medium" school, the teachers taught everything, including English, in Bangla. I had a home full of Bangla books and Bangla music. I wrote juvenile poetry in Bangla. Bangla was the language in which I loved and loathed my parents. It was the language in which I rebelled, manipulated elders, apologised, made barter deals with covetous friends who envied my collection of Bangla teen magazines. I had an intense love for Bangla, the like of which I have never experienced for any other abstract entity in my life.

I wanted to study Bangla in college -- but my lower middle-class family convinced me that would mean a lifetime of penury in the Communist-run wasteland that was West Bengal. Hence I defected to English, and Delhi. In fact I came to a college that was known as the Cambridge of India, and my entry there was seen as salvation for my parents and relatives -- who thought, rightly as it turned out, that English is the only portal to "success". My drift farfaraway from my beloved Bangla had begun.

But I didn't realise this in the early days of college. In school I had done enough to convince myself that my commitment to Bangla was everlasting. You see when I was 14, I had joined my uncle -- a Bangla poet and the most liberal person in my family -- in the Bangla Bhasha Chetana Samiti, which fought to reverse Bangla's rapid slide in its own state. It was affiliated to a larger body led by the famous Bangla author Sunil Ganguly. One of the Samiti's major wins was convincing the government to make Bangla an accepted language for vehicle number plates, and make it mandatory for street signs etc. to have Bangla lines. I was part of many a public demonstration, and the Samiti would often put me up on stage, my voice still unbroken, during rallies to attract attention. Local television channels would cover my speeches, making me a minor celebrity. I don't know how much of the politics of it all I understood, but it was heady, being part of such an adult endeavour, and doing something for the one thing in the world I loved the most -- my mother language.

I remember being ecstatic when UNESCO declared February 21 the International Mother Language Day, to commemorate the police killings of two University of Dhaka students in 1952. The students were demanding that Bangla be recognised as an official language of the erstwhile East Pakistan. The Antorjatik Maatri Bhasha Dibas became the year's biggest festival for us. We sang songs, read poetry, and placed bouquets at a memorial we had constructed to honour the martyrs from Dhaka. It was 1999. I was 16.

Then college happened. Within months, my militant love for Bangla landed me in trouble. Some seniors got wind that I was loudly proclaiming that Hindi was not really the "national language" as per our Constitution. It is just another official language, like Bangla or Tamil. They were deeply uneasy that I was also organising fellow Bangla lovers to revive the college's ancient Bengali Literary Society, which had apocryphal connections with Tagore and had been dormant for years. I wanted to digitise the large Bangla section of the library, where rare books were rotting simply because they were not catalogued properly. The seniors cornered me in the main corridor of the college after dinner one evening and ragged me for hours. The leader was a star member of the college's Debating Society, and he kept abusing me for not knowing my facts. As punishment, they made me introduce myself to a dog, in Bangla. They were all Bengalis themselves.

I later realised that they took it upon themselves to make sure the college's large Bengali community -- which had assimilated beautifully with the Cambridge ethos and the hegemony of Hindi, as we Bengalis tend to do in spite of our image of being incorrigible Bangla speakers -- wouldn't attract unwanted attention on account of this sudden provincial outburst by a country bumpkin. They were protecting their reputation of being first-class, tradition-abiding citizens of this hallowed Commonwealth where we were to get a first-class education.

I decided to temper my ways somewhat. I thought if they are worried I am going to create communal disharmony in college, let me show them that I respect everyone's right to love and be proud of their own language. So I started a Regional Languages Awareness Cell and recruited a Tamilian History Hons. student as secretary. We signed up a few dozen members from multiple linguistic backgrounds, hosted a few talks by notable Indian language playwrights. We had no money because the Cell wasn't formally recognised. We somehow scraped through on donations. I thought now people would start seeing my real motive -- not Bangla jingoism but the right to celebrate and be comfortable with one's own language.

We needed a notice board to put up our agenda and upcoming events, but the college's walls were already occupied save a little sliver next to the Dean's office. The estate officer, a Bengali gentleman, donated a notice board to us, and there we were -- etched on the college's real estate, legit, and raring to change the world. I remember feeling giddy with excitement the night we painted "Bengali Literary Society" and "Regional Languages Awareness Cell" on the notice board in white paint. It was my first startup, if you will.

Next morning, I woke up to discover that the board had been vandalised -- never mind that it was right next to the office of one of the College's most powerful functionaries. Someone had changed "Bengali Literary Society" to "Bengali Illiteracy Society".

When I came back to my room in the hostel after classes, I found that it had been flooded with dirty water. There were a few pamphlets floating in the water which said "Go Swami! Go Swami!", riffing on my surname.

I was broken. They won. I gave up.

Now, years later, as an English-language professional working for an American magazine, I get regular compliments on my English skills. I anchor events where I engage in effortless banter in posh English with the top business leaders in the country, which are aired on an English channel, which my parents religiously tune in to, beaming with satisfaction though they understand little. I am writing a book in English. I watch English shows on Netflix, sometimes even without subtitles. When I mispronounce a word in a public gathering, I feel guilty and beat myself up over it. My accent, I am told, has no trace of my once-thick Bangla drawl.

Along the way, my love of Bangla never died. I still find time to watch Bangla movies on YouTube. I love it that my wife, a Kannadiga, has made the effort to learn Bangla so that my parents can have the satisfaction of talking to her in their language. I still buy the odd Bangla magazine.

But the pride, the pride died long ago.

And then, when the organisers of Bhasha requested me to say a few lines in Bangla in front of the camera, I realised to my horror that my ability to say sophisticated things in Bangla has also died.

I now speak Bangla with an English accent. I need to think before every word. I cannot complete a sentence without using at least five English words.

And I am deeply ashamed of it.

But that thing technology -- it is giving me a chance to reclaim what I have lost. I bought my father a smartphone, and he has become addicted to WhatsApp. He often sends me long messages in Bangla, Bangla motivational quotes, music clips. He is making it impossible for me to use the excuse of inaccessibility to shun Bangla. At 33, I am learning my language from my father all over again.

My uncle from the Samiti recently quit his day job as a senior postal services executive to focus on his poetry. Next year on February 21 I want to be with him again, maybe read a few lines from his works. And I want to act on Kaushal Inamdar's words: "The thing about power is, it gets depleted if you use it too much. But the thing about language is, you need to use it more and more to keep it alive."

मेरी अपनी सी

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Amna Singh. Amna is a communications grad (MICA 2000), ex FCB-Ulka and Epigram, now a part of the Content Team at StoryWeaver AND a mother of two. Yeah, well, the last one kind of nails it in!)

My languages are all muddled up. English is my 'writing' language. Punjabi is asked to be formally seated behind the 'mother language' placard. But it is Hindi I turn to, in my most honest and also, my most distressed moments. हिंदी मेरे 'घर में बोली जाने वाली भाषा' है। और शायद इसी वजह से ये मेरे अंतर्मन की बोली भी है। मैंने अपने आप को कभी भी अंग्रेज़ी में सोचते हुए नहीं पाया। और जहाँ तक की स्वयं से संवाद का सवाल है, इस नग्न, भावुक और कभी-कभी नाज़ुक बातचीत का माध्यम और दायित्व तो केवल हिंदी ही उठा सकती है। तो हुई न हिंदी भी माँ जैसी।

ज़िन्दगी के कुछ चुनिंदा मोड़ों को सिर्फ़ माँ का ही आँचल पकड़ कर, या फिर उसकी चुन्नी ओढ़ कर आँखें मूँद लेने से ही पार किया जा सकता है।

ठीक उसी तरह, कई भावनाएं सिर्फ़ और सिर्फ़ हिंदी में ही बयान हो सकती हैं। कोई 'धत्त तेरी की' बोल के तो दिखाये ज़रा अंग्रेजी में... है कोई माई का लाल जो इस तूफानी नदी को अंग्रेज़ी पतवारों के बल पार कर सकता है?

अब आप ही बताएं कि pickle भी भला कभी अचार हुआ है? कहाँ अचार के चिकने मर्तबानों में छुपे खुबूओं के राज़ और कहाँ pickle की संभली-सिकरी सी बोतलों पर लगे सामग्री सूची के लेबल!

मुझे ये भी एहसास है की शायद मेरी यादें, जिन्हें मूलतर रूप से हिंदी में पिरोया गया है, वे अब भी ताज़ा हैं। बचपन में पढ़ी-सुनी हिंदी कवितायें, कहानियां, निबंध - मेरे ज़हन में नक्काशीदार आयतों की तरह अमिट सी हैं।
गोपालदास नीरज की...
स्वप्न झरे फूल से,
मीत चुभे शूल से ...
लुट गये सिंगार सभी,
आग के बबूल से ...
और हम खड़े-खड़े बहार देखते रहे...
कारवां गुज़ार गया, गुबार देखते रहे।

और कृष्णा सोबती की शाहनी को भला मै कैसे भुलाऊँ। She is my strength, my guiding light in moments of deep darkness.
उफ्फ़... this!
''शाहनी मन में मैल न लाना। कुछ कर सकते तो उठा न रखते! वकत ही ऐसा है। राज पलट गया है, सिक्का बदल गया है...''
रात को शाहनी जब कैंप में पहुंचकर जमीन पर पड़ी तो लेटे-लेटे आहत मन से सोचा 'राज पलट गया है...सिक्का क्या बदलेगा? वह तो मैं वहीं छोड़ आयी...'

वियोगी हरि जी का यह निबंध, मेरे बचपन में पढ़ा हुआ एक लेख ही नहीं, बल्कि एक परिपक्व सपना था। शायद सपना ही रह जायेगा।
यह विश्व-मंदिर होगा कैसा? एक अजीब-सा मकान होगा वह। देखते ही हर दर्शक की तबीयत हरी हो जाएगी। रुचि वैचित्र्य का पूरा ख्याल रखा जाएगा। भिन्नताओं में अभिन्नता दिखाने की चेष्टा की जाएगी। नक्शा कुछ ऐसा रहेगा, जो हर एक की आँखों में बस जाए। किसी एक खास धर्म-संप्रदाय का न होकर वह मंदिर सर्व धर्म संप्रदायों का समन्वय-मंदिर होगा। वह सबके लिए होगा, सबका होगा। वहाँ बैठकर सभी सबके मनोभावों की रक्षा कर सकेंगे, सभी-सबको सत्य, प्रेम और करुणा का भाग दे सकेंगे।

हिंदी मुझे जानती है। मेरे दबे आंसू, मेरी ख़ामोश हंसी, मेरे अंदरूनी खौफ़, मेरा जूनून - यह सब पहचानती है।

नहीं तो इतना आसान कहाँ था बाबुषा कोहली के लिए मुझे रुला देना...
... हुआ यह कि तमीज़ भूल गया एक बरगद
अपने बरगद होने की
छांव, हरियाली, ठौर कुछ भी नहीं मिलता
धूप धूप भटकता रहा प्रेम भूखे
कौर कौर दिल कुतरता रहा...

​​​વાંચીએ, વિચારીએ

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Ashok Solanki. Ashok works with Pratham's Read India team in Gujarat)

વાંચીએ, વિચારીએ, લખીએ, ગણીએ,
માતૃભાષામાં સૌ આગળ વધીએ,
સંજ્ઞા, સર્વનામ, વિશેષણ, ચિન્હોને,
રોજબરોજ વાપરીએ,
આવો, આપણે સૌ 'શુભ સંકલ્પ' કરીએ,

માતૃભાષાને ગૌરવ અપાવીએ

Translation :

Lets Read and Think ​

We read, we think, write and count,
We speak our mother language and all of us move ahead
The noun, pronoun, adjectives, punctuation
are used by us all every day!
Les take this pledge 
For retaining the pride of our mother language​

My Mother’s Diaries

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Sudeshna Shome Ghosh. Sudeshna is an editor who has worked in the publishing industry for twenty years. Her special area of interest is children’s publishing. When she is not being an editor, she is a reader and part-time librarian.)

Mothers, I think, are natural hoarders. Take mine, for instance. She has kept aside saris, pieces of jewellery, household articles for her two daughters since we were little children. This silver box that belonged to a great grandmother, and that sari that was once her mother’s, now appear in my almirah when I am rummaging around for something or the other. But among all these things, there is one object that I usually pause and look at a few times before putting it away carefully. It’s a medal that she won while in college. She won it at an all-India essay writing contest organized by Sulekha, the ink makers, where she was placed second nationally. Somehow, even among the little gold earrings and chains that the medal is kept with, the round silver disc shines brightly.

My mother hasn’t written a lot since. She is more an artist and our family home is adorned with various pieces of jaw-droppingly beautiful embroidery that she has created. And her table is always groaning with the best food, she being the kind of cook who can make you want to eat a whole meal with a simple chochchori . Yet, when she has written, now and then, always in Bengali, I have loved reading her clear yet beautiful style of writing. Her vocabulary and command over the language and her descriptions of places and people make her a delightful writer. 

Some years back, she went on a trip to the upper Himalayas with a group of friends. They travelled to Nainital, Mayavati and many other places there. After she came back, I saw her take up the pen, put aside the house and its cares for a few days and put down her experiences. She ended up writing about twenty-five pages filled with descriptions of her journey, her co-travelers, the winding roads they travelled on, and the astounding natural beauty that she saw. She has always been an avid reader of all kinds of travel writing. My default gift for her is usually a travelogue, as I have seen her read many and often. When I read her own account of her travel, I found a woman I didn’t know as well as I thought. Here was someone who thirsted for adventure, who wanted to walk into the unknown and encounter new people and places. Here was a woman who remained unfazed by landslides and car breakdowns, who could put up with nights of discomfort in wayside travel lodges and out of the way ashrams, all because each of these was a part of the journey as a whole. But mostly, what happened to me after reading the entire narrative was what I feel any good travelogue should do—it made me want to go there and see these forests and temples and rivers and flowers for myself. 

Here is the opening paragraph, translated by me: The wandering mind is always ready to travel the many hued paths. The hidden aesthete in me is forever looking to savour the beauty of the outdoors and hear the orchestra of the open road. Even in the stillness of everyday life and duties, I cannot stop hearing these sounds call out to me. If only the everyday world could give way to the forests, mountains, unending plains and seas that beckon me. In my heart, the ebb and flow of these feelings is as strong as all the waters the skies can hold… 

After she wrote this, I pestered her to write more. But she was too busy with matters of health and age and usually waved me away. A few times she said she was putting down incidents from her life, about us. If anyone can tell a good tale, it is her, so I hoped she would actually do it. And then, a week back, she called me to say she has written something new and personal. 

In just a few days, she and my father will complete fifty years of being married. The family is planning to gather in Kolkata to celebrate this, and the Whatsapp group comprising my parents and my sister has been buzzing with ideas for outings, meals and what we will do at home. Someone will sing, and someone will recite poetry. ‘I have written a little something about your father,’ Ma said to me on the phone. ‘I’d like to read it out when everyone is there. But both the sons-in- law will not understand the Bengali, so will you do an English version also?’ 

I was reading my emails as we talked and I stopped scrolling the screen up and down when she said this. ‘I can do it,’ I said. ‘But I hope your Bengali is not too tough.’ 

It wasn’t, she said, and sent the pages to me in a few hours. I read a few lines on the screen and slapped my head wondering how I would get across the pure emotions on the page truthfully. When I called her back, she said, ‘You can do it, do whatever with it, I will be okay. I just want the boys (her sons-in- law) and the grandchildren to understand.’ 

Reassured, I sat down to translate the two pages yesterday. It turned out to be not so difficult at all. Perhaps having been born of the author gives you some unusual rights and insights as a translator. The words came quickly and the sentences formed fast. I could picture my mother sitting in her balcony that is filled with plants and flowers, the crows cawing incessantly in the large trees on the road, the traffic of Jodhpur Park a constant background, as she wrote this small, sweet, heartfelt ode to the man she has been with and the life she has had for fifty years. I can already see her reading out the Bengali words to everyone. 

Will the English version measure up? As an editor, I would nitpick and fuss over it. I would say let’s move this para here and let’s end it more neatly. But of course I won’t, because this is mother, and she speaks the mother language of love. I am guessing the sons-in- law will do just fine in discerning the meaning!

મારી માતૃભાષા ની મીઠાશ

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This poem was sent to us by Vasant Makwana. Vasant works with Pratham and is the State Head of their Gujarat team.)

Image by Ashok Solanki

મારી માતૃભાષા ની મીઠાશ તો જુઓ,
ખારા નમક ને પણ મીઠુ કહીએ છીએ.

ગર્વ છે *ગુજરાતી* છું.. 

A translation :
Just see the sweetness of my mother language, 
It even calls salty Sodium (Salt), as sweet*!!
I am proud to be a Gujarati

*In Gujarat, salt is known as 'meetthun'

The Day A Tamil That's Not Tamizh Took Centre Stage

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Anusuya Suresh. Anusuya is a learner, teacher, writer, blogger and youth counsellor. Bhaaratiya. She tweets at @Ranga_anu)

It was a meeting arranged by the Vaishnava Sabha, Bangalore to felicitate high performing students belonging to the Srivaishnava community of Karnataka . As we were members of the community, it had been decided to felicitate me too for having secured the first rank in the M. Pharm course of Goa University. That I had been born, brought up and educated in a place other than Karnataka made no difference.

H. H. Sri Rangapriya Maha Desikan Swami ji was the guest of honor. Elderly, respected members of the community were present as were close and extended family. I couldn’t recognize many people because our interactions were restricted to the few days when we came to Bangalore or our native village – Ramanathapura – for the summer vacations. But there were many people who knew me as “Goa Ramanna’s daughter” or “Mani’s daughter” or “Hulikal Engineer’s granddaughter”. My father – Rama Iyengar, a geologist – was identified by the state to which he had migrated years ago after gaining employment in the Salgaocar mines. Mani was the name by which my mother – officially Seethalakshmi – was known; her father, who hailed from the village of Hulikal was the engineer who had got his degree in engineering during the ancient age of the 1920s and a revered (even if slightly feared and known-to- be-eccentric) figure.

After Swamiji’s aashirvachanam, it was time for the prizes to be distributed to the academic achievers. I think they started with the 10th Std students, then the 12th Std students and finally, the college-level students. I can’t really remember many things because I had no idea then that I’d be blogging about it someday, 18 years later. As the prizes were given away, the students receiving it were asked to say a few words and share the secret of their success.

I watched with a steadily increasing sense of dread as each and every one of those kids spoke in pure, chaste Kannada. I, who was the oldest of the group at 24 years, didn’t know the language well enough to converse without faltering, forget about giving an extempore thank-you speech. At home, we spoke a dialect that’s typical to Hassan Iyengars – it’s a mixture of words derived from Tamizh and Kannada, yet so remarkably modified that people speaking those languages would never understand a word of what is being said, even sounding sometimes like garbled Tulu. This language does not have a script, the people who speak it do all their formal, written communication in Kannada. The little Kannada I knew had been picked up from conversation with my Bangalore-based niece and nephew whenever they came to Goa for their vacations.

When it was my turn to speak, something prompted me to wing it. I began by saying “Namaskara” in Kannada and apologizing for not knowing it well.

Then, before the audience could blink, I switched over into the familiar patois of my mother tongue, holding forth on how I owed my success to the values sown by my parents, God’s blessings and the outcome of chanting God’s name constantly.

Even as I spoke, I noticed the gamut of emotions running through the audience – first they were stunned, then they laughed, and by the end of the speech they were beaming with joy. For, in speaking on a public platform in that language, I had given it a legitimacy that they themselves didn’t.

People of Karnataka class those of us who speak this dialect as Mysore Iyengars or Mandyam Iyengars. The Tamilians, of course, call us “Bread Iyengars” because this community is famous for the bakeries they establish and run even in the state of Tamil Nadu. But what people don’t realize is that there are nuances – dialects within the dialect, so to say – that cause differences in language between Hassan Iyengars, Mandyam Iyengars, Keelnaat Iyengars, Hebbar Iyengars, Melkote Iyengars, Kalkunte Iyengars etc.

Many marriages happen between these different sub-communities. So, perhaps to avoid the confusion caused by the different dialects, the community has got around to using Kannada for all interactions. Indeed, many people, even in their homes, have switched over to Kannada and the younger generations are not as familiar with the native dialect.

That audience was thrilled with my speaking in my mother tongue. In fact, many people came up to me later and said that despite living in Goa, my language was purer than that used by their kids living in Karnataka. For a few years after that, I was recognized not by virtue of my parents or grandfather’s identity, but by a label of my own making – “the girl who spoke OUR language.”

Illustration by Bindia Thapar

Lingua Matters

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Anuradha Srinivasan. Anuradha works at Pratham Books. She is a full time mother, and hopeful writer of bestsellers.)

As the speaker of an ancient Dravidian language, I am confused when people ask me what my mother tongue is. 

I am nominally Tamil. I speak the language, it is true. I even know the mandatory swear words in the language and can hold my own against auto drivers in Chennai. I have sat through hours of movies with heavily made-up heroes in green pants and yellow shirts, running around conveniently-placed trees with women half their age. In my defence, I was a child of the eighties, when there was one television set for every 3 homes, and the parent had absolute control of the remote, or in this case, the round knob on the Dyanora TV.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the movies, especially the mythologicals, with their garish costumes, good vs. evil narratives, and more importantly, Shivaji Ganesan spewing forth pages of chaste incomprehensible Tamil in take after take. 

When the poet Nakeerar stood up to a portly Ganesan as the vengeful Lord Shiva and bravely proclaimed that even when the third eye is open, a mistake is a mistake, I was thrilled to bits, and waited avidly for the inevitable death by burning third eye.

As a raging Kannagi demanded justice from the ruling Pandya King, in a pithy 3000 word monologue, I cheered from the galleys. 

I knew Tamil rhymes, and could recite without pause a lengthy song about a forgetful fly, an unhelpful village, and a horse that finally reminded him of his name. 

Age and Google brought me closer to Tamil, and I discovered beautiful anthologies by the Sangam poets, my favourite one being the oft-quoted poem on Red Earth and Pouring Rain. The fascinating stories of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas and their political games had me enthralled.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough to brand me as Tamil.

Linguistic pride dictates that one must be well-read and well-versed in all aspects of a language. Indeed, language chauvinism takes on a whole new meaning with Tamil. It is supposedly the oldest tongue in the world, the sole language to have a song deifying it as the Mother, and the only language with a unique alphabet 'zh', which flummoxes all non-Tamils, and a good number of Tamils. (I feel for you, Malayalam).

With so much going for and around it, the language has a reputation as a tough nut to crack, and all those who actually know to read and write Tamil acquire a faint halo. 

When pressed to admit to Einsteinien intelligence in mastering those strange squiggly marks that pass off as Tamil alphabets, I have to confess complete ignorance, and I rapidly acquire feet of clay. 

If I had to rank the reactions, “How can you not know to read and write your own mother tongue” is almost always the winner, followed by “Oh, Madrasi is such a tough language”. Neither of them makes me feel any better.

I do know to read, write and speak at least one language, is my usual feeble response. I am, I guiltily admit, far more fluent in that easy-going mongrel of languages, English. Never mind that it was left behind by depressingly well –meaning people with stiff upper lips, and not passed down to me through the ages. 

Like Krishna caught between Devaki and Yashodha on Mother’s day, I cannot decide which language is my mother tongue. Is it English, a language in which I think, write and speak? Or is it Tamil, a language I feel, emote and relate to? 

Why must I choose? I see both Tamil and English as my mothers, the one complementing the other in a playful jugalbandi, together colouring my world with richer hues. In a world of shrinking boundaries and vocabularies, I am happy to have a problem of plenty. More books to read, more words to speak, more wisdom to cherish! 

Red Earth and Pouring Rain, I affirm, smell just as sweet in English.

Freedom to Read

In August last year, the digital team started thinking of the different ways in which we could mark StoryWeaver's first birthday. Lots of ideas were tossed around, till we hit on an idea: a concerted effort to add stories in 15 new languages to the platform for children to read and enjoy.

Yesterday (February 21, 2017) on International Mother Language Day, our 'Freedom to Read' campaign has come to a close. And we are proud to say that through the campaign, we have helped community users, translators and NGOs add stories in 13 new languages to StoryWeaver. These languages represent the linguistic diversity of the world: from tribal languages to endangered languages to the mainstream.

Here are just some of the amazing community crusaders who have been a part of the journey.

Jèrriais a Norman language spoken in Jersey, off the coast of France has been in decline over the past century. Anthony Scott Warren, one of the few Jerriais teachers left in the region discovered StoryWeaver through the All Children Reading Website, and requested that we add this ‘threatened’ language to the platform. Read more about how he and his colleagues plan to use StoryWeaver to teach the next generation Jerriais here.

Muhamadreza Bahadur reached out to us to add Kurdish which is categorised as ‘an endangered language’ to StoryWeaver. Muhamadreza shared that he was keen to translate children’s stories to the language for two main purposes; promoting literacy in the languages among Kurdish children, and second, to help populate and enrich the corpus of literature in the language. Kurdish is available in both the Arabic and Latin script and 21 stories have been translated.

“Saurashtra is a language spoken by a group that migrated from Gujarat two centuries ago to cities like Madurai, Chennai and Tanjore. The script for this language is no longer in use and while it does follow the Devanagiri system, many native speakers cannot read Hindi. The only languages available to write Saurashtram are English and Tamil.” wrote Pavithra Solai Jowahar who asked us to add her mother language and has been busy translating stories and creating a book of rhymes in the languages. Read her story here.

Gnanaharsha Beligatamulla was searching the internet for stories to read to his child when he stumbled across StoryWeaver. “I really enjoyed reading the stories and the platform inspired me to want to translate stories to Sinhala for my daughter. If other parents can use the stories too that would be wonderful!”

Rebeka Gemeinder’s mother tongue is Swiss German (Alemannisch), a language spoken in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein. Unfortunately the language gets lost more and more everyday as she writes in a blog post for us. Read it here.

Amelia Bonea is a historian based at the University of Oxford. Originally from Romania, she has lived and worked in Japan, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. When not engaged in academic research, she likes to read and translate children’s literature, most recently on StoryWeaver. Read Amelia's lovely blog post, here.

Maharani Aulia has been one of our most prolific Indonesian translators. An author of children’s stories and non-fiction work, Maharani has written biographies and contributed to anthologies. She has also translated more than 110 children and young adult books from English into Indonesian.Her passion for children’s picture books, and dream of writing one lead her to Pratham Books StoryWeaver. “At first I just downloaded stories in English to learn. But my friend told me that we can also translate stories into our language. So, I translated one story and found I couldn’t stop because I wanted more stories on StoryWeaver to be read by Indonesians, especially children.” Maharani believes that India and Indonesia are similar. “The two countries are multicultural, have many interesting stories that should be spread and shared. So, I will still translate stories on your website. Maybe someday I will contribute with my original stories.”

Taking stories to children around the world

As all content on StoryWeaver is openly licensed, many organisations around the world have discovered, adapted, translated and used content from the platform. Little Thinking Minds has created the first ever online reading platform to advance Arabic literacy in schools. Read how they are using StoryWeaver, by clicking here.

The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program is selecting and adapting content from StoryWeaver’s collection of children’s books for local language e-book initiatives. Read more about their work here.

A big, big, thank you to the amazing StoryWeaver community across the world who have translated and created stories and shared them with children. If you'd like to translate stories in your mother tongue, and can't find it on StoryWeaver write to us at storyweaver(at)prathambooks(dot)org and we'll add it!