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 Payoshni Saraf, outreach manager, Pratham Books. When Payoshni isn't busy battling traffic demons on her way to work, she is busy dancing or tending to the needs of her lovely doggy, Elma. If you want to join her in an email detox program, tweet her at @payoshnis.)
For the most part of my life the word ‘Malayalam’ signified nothing else, except the distinction of being a long palindrome and the absolutely incomprehensible language that one of my neighbors’ son (who also happened to be my cricket buddy) spoke. At that point of life, I was struggling with an identity crisis myself, about my language; not understanding why Marathi should be my mother tongue when all I loved to speak was Hindi.
Years passed and I grew up to love and be loved by Marathi. At the same time I grew up to love and be loved by a man. Only, the man had another ‘M’ for me- Malayalam!
This palindrome was now a part of my life. I was officially a 1/4th Malyali. In all these years, I have learnt to love..
the Malayali food- each bite infused with a generous dose of coconut,
the Kerala culture- with multiple traditions and religions mixing together like a fragrant pot pourri,
the beautiful Kerala saree- simple, elegant, classy,
the green vivid landscape- a welcome sight every time you are about to land in Kochi,
the serpentine roads- sometimes with sea for company on the side, sometimes tea gardens.
But the only thing I haven’t been able to make peace with is the language – Malayalam. It is difficult, it is complex. It’s so different from Marathi that I cannot make connections. The few words I know and speak come out all jumbled up. More often than not, smiles have been passed all around every time I attempt Malayalam and that would have been fun if I was 10 but…
....yes, there is a yet here too. I watch many Malayalam movies, with eyes wide open to catch all the subtitles. I dance to Malayalam songs and sing along with lyrics on (in English of course). I listen intently when my in-laws speak in Malayalam and manage to extract the gist of the conversation. I smile when I hear someone speak Malayalam in the Mumbai local train or on a flight to Ahmedabad. And slowly and steadily the incomprehensible is making sense.
That is the beauty of languages. Like cooking, you learn a lot by observing (in this case listening). It grows on you. And exactly like cooking, even if you aren’t enthusiastic about jumping into it, there really is no escape :)
This is my ode to a language that comes bundled up with love.
म से... मलयालम!
म से.... ममूटी
Image Source : Shillika (via Wikimedia Commons)