21st February was International Mother Language Day and our blog turned multilingual to celebrate. We hosted a series of blog posts by different authors, illustrators, parents, educators and children - sharing their thoughts on languages and more. You can read all the posts here. 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 was all of 4 years old going to a neighbourhood Montessori school in a Bombay (as I knew it then) suburb. The languages I was familiar with were Bangla, Tamil, Marathi, English and a little Hindi. So as you can see I was multilingual by the time I was 4 thanks to my parents – Bengali father and Tambram mother working in Mumbai whose medium of communication was English. My father and an aunt spoke to me in Bangla, Amma spoke to me in Tamil and I soaked in Marathi by constant conversation with the lady who helped look after me. And as far as I can remember I had made no efforts to learn any of these.
I knew fairly enough English to understand the words ‘mother tongue’. How simple! So when a friend’s mother asked me at school what my mother tongue was I knew exactly what to say – “Tamil” I said without a thought. My friend was Tamilian and her mother knew that I spoke Tamil. That was the end of the matter for me – or so I thought, till the lady landed up at my house the next evening.
My parents were both working and I had an aunt (my father’s sister) who lived with us. Well the friend’s mother started speaking to her in Tamil assuming that my aunt spoke Tamil too. Soon my aunt explained to her that she was Bengali and knew no Tamil at which the baffled lady wanted to know how I spoke Tamil. So my aunt had to explain and the lady left very relieved as she had been wondering how Mukherjee could be a Tamil last name.
Mumbai’s cosmopolitan ambience honed my language skills to the utmost, adding a few more to my repertoire and gave me ample opportunities to use them and I revel in the beauty of each one of the languages. I have travelled quite widely in India and have always felt at home everywhere
I was very sure of my mother tongue several decades ago but today I really can’t say what my mother tongue is.