Today is International Mother Language Day and our blog is turning multilingual today. We are hosting a series of blog posts by different authors, illustrators, parents, educators and children - sharing their thoughts on languages 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. 2015 is the 15th anniversary of International Mother Language Day.
I live in Bangalore. A city swarmed with people from different states, with different tongues, like myself. Everytime I go out for a meal here, whether it’s a small breakfast joint selling Madurai Idlys or a posh place specializing in Vietnamese cuisine I see families, parent with young children, talking to children, in English.The talking is sometimes scolding for naughtiness or misbehavior, sometimes pleading to eat more food, sometimes distraction to fool the child into more food, but everything, in English. I cringe. Whatever happened to speaking to young children in mother tongues? A tongue, a language their very own. A language that will bind them with strangers later in life, or help share secrets in loud because nobody else will understand it, a language of conspiracy, but most importantly, a language of home. So why no Mother Tongue I ask?
And I have reasons to ask,and advices to give from my life. You see, I have had a very love-hate-don’t know-don’t care-like-love kind of relationship with my mother tongue.It is not a blockbuster, but still a story I feel like sharing today, on Mother Tongue day.
I am a Maharashtrian by lineage, so Marathi is my mother tongue. But like many children of that decade, I was born in a land many kilometers away from my home state because young couples had started moving across states and countries for opportunities. I was born in the dusty, bustling business town of Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh. The mother tongue of which was Hindi, so I grew up with a lot of Hindi around me. All friends, all foes,my teachers, my auto-uncle, the helps at home, our neighborhood aunty who made excellent gajar halwa, everybody spoke Hindi and so it became my first language too. The only Marathi I heard was when my parents spoke to each other or to their parents over long distance calls which had to be connected with the help of an operator.There were less than 100 Maharashtrian families spread across the big city that Kanpur is, and except the 10 days of GaneshUtsav,we didn't see each other much. Ofcourse our parents had imposed an ‘Only Marathi’ rule at home, but with the virtue of my sister been away in a hostel studying medicine, I didn't have anyone to practice my Marathi on. In school, tuition classes and neighborhood, I was the only Marathi speaking person, amongst all the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi speakers and I hated my minority status. I stopped caring for the language my parents spoke, concentrating on the language everybody around spoke.Years moved on, and I moved away from my mother tongue.
Then it was time for me to fly off to newer horizons to study and I landed in Pune. The seat of Marathi language. I felt odd, here I was, a Maharastrian, finally in Maharashtra who could not speak respectable Marathi. What am I do to? Slowly, but steadily and with a passion, Pune grew on me, and so did Marathi. I started polishing my Marathi by haggling with shopkeepers in Marathi (which awed my non-Maharashtrian friends), I started attending Marathi plays, watching Marathi movies, attending Marathi music concerts.I finally started connecting with my mother tongue, 21 years too late, but connecting nevertheless. Conversations with parents, strictly in Hindi up-till, had a big smattering of Marathi in them now.I was amazed by how beautiful it sounded, how I could have something in common with absolute strangers, something that was spoken by great warriors and ace writers and visionary thinkers and it belonged to them as much as it belonged to me.I had reached a point where I thought I could probably now attempt to read Marathi, all those wonderful works were waiting for me, and maybe I was ready?
But before I could do this, I moved to Bangalore and the Marathi ties sort of snapped. Another language started filling my ears. Like a jilted ex-lover, I started looking for Marathi everywhere. Surprisingly, I got it. Whether on a road trip to Bandipur, or a shopping trip to a mall, or while eating dosa roadside, I would always let a Marathi conversation find me. I started catching Marathi words in Kannada (and have being fascinated since then that there are so many common words!) I started reading the Marathi books in our office. I started to make that connection again. Because nothing makes me feel of home, like my mother tongue.
So Dear parents of Bangalore, scold, plead, distract your child, but do it in her mother tongue please. Many years later, she would speak a sentence of this language and fly right back home.
(As I write this, I look longingly at that Marathi book which sits on my bedside table waiting to be read. Maybe today is a good day J)