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 Arthi Anand Navaneeth. Arthi is a sales professional with a leading fragrance MNC. She is the voice of Art's Tales, a weekend story telling initiative. A mother of two girls, she is a culture and travel lover, a two time Tulika author and a foodie. She belongs in equal part to Bombay, Madras and Bangalore.)
I am a Tamilian, born in Tamil heartland - Dindigul. Raised for a few years in Thanjavur. My first words were in Tamil and soon English followed. I was clearly bilingual.
And then we moved to Andhra. Our neighbours spoke Telugu, I studied Telugu at school. The Tamil I used was limited - at times, at home with my parents and with my grand folks during vacation. There was no skype, TV or even a phone to use the language often. Though I read a lot, it was all in English. However, at school I learnt to read, write and speak Telugu fluently.
And we moved yet again. To Bombay. I had to catch up on mid level Marathi and a higher level of Hindi. So I began to speak in them with my parents, since I needed to improve my grades.
My grandma joined us. She knew only Tamil and would read aloud Tamil detective stories to me. Jayakanthan stories. Jokes. I was allowed and enjoyed Mani Ratnam movies and Tamil comedies with her. My Tamil vocabulary improved. I could pronounce the 'rzh' as in Tami'rzh.' I could distinguish between 'la' and 'lla'- no longer did a wild tiger turn into a tame tamarind.
Then AR Rahman happened. I loved the songs my cousin lovingly recorded on audio cassettes and sent me.
I began to seek Tamil versions of Rahman's songs that I knew in Hindi. I preferred them. I graduated in a college half full of Tamilians in Matunga , a Tamil suburb almost. My Tamil improved further.
I finished my Masters in Ahmedabad and landed a qualitative MR job. Meeting, speaking, connecting to folks in their language was what it entailed. Tamil Nadu was a hot destination for MR. I was Tamilian. I was sent to meet groups in nooks and corners of the state. I would have cue cards transliterated in English since I could not read Tamil. The same happened with ads and mood boards with lengthy lines in Tamil.
I married a Tamilian from Bangalore. I moved to Chennai. I had mostly Tamil colleagues and Tamil neighbours. My spoken Tamil could now be called good(Tamil purists can continue to debate on the quality of Chennai Tamil though).
My first published work ( a serial story for Chandamama) , Mister Muthu, was set in Yercaud.My first Tulika book was translated into Tamil by Jeeva Raghunath.
Today, I use Tamil when I tell stories and when I am with my kids, my folks & friends. I find it best to use Tamil to truly express my anger and my love and to sing a lullaby.
Can I say I am proficient in Tamil - the spoken version - yes!
The reading and writing will still take some work.