Sunday, February 21, 2016

First Stories

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 story was sent by Chryselle D'Silva Dias. Chryselle is a freelance journalist, library-haunter and avid bookcrosser currently based in Goa. When she's not reading or making books with her 7 year old apprentice, she writes about people, places and everything in between. Visit her at www.chryselle.net)

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The stories always came in that hour before dinner when we were exhausted from playing all day long in the summer sun. Summer vacations during our childhood meant being hauled to Mangalore to my grandmother’s home, where surrounded by acres of paddy fields, coconut and betel nut trees, mangoes and jackfruits, and of course cows and buffaloes, we spent two languorous months away from school.

My grandmother (‘Mai’) is a feisty woman (90 this year!) who singlehandedly brought up her four daughters and kept her farm, her children and her livestock safe from encroaching neighbours and random male relatives. She handled runaway buffaloes, thieving hawks and monsoon crabs with equal aplomb. With this kind of daredevil reputation, it was little wonder that we siblings waited to visit her, for the adventure she offered and for her stories.

So there we were all huddled on a red oxide floor in the bedroom while the last touches to dinner were being made in the kitchen. Mai knew a little English, but her stories were told in Konkani. By the time we were eight or nine we could understand most of it and ask questions. My mother or aunts were on hand to explain a difficult word or two, but for the most part we figured it out ourselves.

The stories were always of adventure, of boys and girls who got into heaps of trouble but eventually found their way out to a happy ending. Some of the stories were yucky, with liberal amounts of poop thrown in for theatrical effect. (Kids love poopy stories as I’m finding out recently!) Others were somewhat scary; especially when the protagonist was lost or in so much trouble that there didn’t seem a way out.

Over the years, the stories didn’t change much. As we grew older, we were able to predict the twists and turns, each new Konkani word making more sense to us. Those stories built up our understanding of a new language and gave us the confidence to speak it fluently.

Now several decades later, I’m looking forward to each summer vacation for a different reason. Come April, we will pack our bags and head to Mangalore where Mai can entertain another generation of English-speaking kids with Konkani stories that remain with them long after the summer is over.

My seven year old son loves his great-grandmother’s house for the cows and the chance to play with his cousins but maybe this year, Mai’s Konkani tales will be an important part of that adventure too.

Image Source : Eric Parker

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