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 Samyukta Lakshman. Samyukta is a professional nomad at Pratham, India's largest education NGO. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter under a Russian alias @slakshmanova.)
Till age eight, I could speak in three tongues – all of which I proudly considered as my mother tongue if we use the ‘native language’ definition of the term. At that age, I could speak Konkani (of the Manglorean variety), English, and as I like to call it, Mohanlal Malayalam. How I achieved fluency in each will be revealed in due course.
If we were to use the ‘ethnic’ definition or as Indians like to call it, ‘the what is your father’s language’ definition of the term, then I failed miserably.
For sanity’s sake, I will stick to the first definition.
My father speaks Malayalam while my mother speaks Konkani, characteristic of their respective linguistic backgrounds. They met, like so many people do, in that chaotic melting pot called Bombay.
After I was born, my mother insisted on speaking to me in her native Konkani reasoning that I would have never learned it otherwise. Her rationale was that I would pick up English in school.
My paternal grandparents, who brought me up and were great admirers of the British Monarchy, resisted and spoke to me in English. They had migrated to Bombay from a coastal town in Kerala in south India before Independence. I learnt very little Malayalam from them but a lot of it from the Malayalam movies I watched with them.
An unintended consequence of this viewership was that I ended up speaking like the actors in these movies -- delivering melodramatic monologues, cooing romantic dialogues and spewing comical abuses.
My classmates had their Pig Latin and ‘P’ language while I had Mohanlal Malayalam. I spoke like Mohanlal, Kerala’s biggest super star, at school and at home frustrating teachers and parents respectively. For my own good, the family decided to wean me off of the Malayalam movies once and for all.
Today, English is my first language while Konkani is my second one. Mohanlal Malayalam has faded to memory.