21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a 2 day 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 Suzanne Singh. Suzanne is the Chairperson of Pratham Books. Apart from being the healthiest person at Pratham Books, she is busy befriending street dogs and trying to be a Google Analytics pro!)
I speak 4 languages. I am extremely comfortable in English, fluent in Hindi, somewhat conversational in my mother tongue, Punjabi, but Bangla is the language that transports me back to my childhood. I grew up in Kolkata, in a neighbourhood that was quite multi cultural, but a smattering of Bangla was always at play. We spoke a strange kind of ‘Banglish’, which was mostly English interspersed curiously with some Bangla words.
I remember being very confused with some of these words. At home ‘choti’ meant my long plait but when my friend couldn't find his ‘choti’ in the playground, it meant he couldn't find his blue and white Bata rubber chappals. Samosas were called ‘shinghara’. Any male who looked like a quasi adult was called ‘Dada’. But at home, Dadaji was my grandfather. ‘Chops’ was a big favourite among us kids. No, there was no violence involved here. Chops were small minced cutlets made with a range of things ranging from beetroot to potato or fish and chicken.
Language can be divisive but in Kolkata, Bangla is the language of unity. The vendors from Bihar who sell jhaal muri at the street corner speak it; the Marwari shopkeepers speak it, as do other North Indians. My father, a turban wearing Sikh, conducted a lot of conversations at his workplace in Bangla.
Why is it that non-Bengalis like me choose to converse in the language? I’m not sure I have a logical answer. Is it its inherent sweetness? Is it its gentle cadence? To me, Bangla feels like home. Even today when I visit Kolkata, I love to immerse myself in the language and the culture. I try and read the signs on the road. I find the script of the language artistic. It's a language that takes me back to a warm fuzzy place in my childhood.
Does it then, make it my mother tongue?