Sunday, February 28, 2016

Celebrate National Science Day with StoryWeaver

Why do bees buzz? How far is the sun from the earth? How long does it take for a forest to grow? Do robots have feelings? Why do I look like my grandmother?
Exasperating, exhausting, invigorating - a child’s curiosity can be any of the above and all of the above. Pratham Books' StoryWeaver believes it's essential to nurture that innate curiosity in children.
February 28th is National Science Day in India and StoryWeaver is curating a week-long celebration of curiosity and learning with a collection of non-fiction books that touch upon Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to mark the occasion.


While there's plenty of great fiction being published for children in India today, there is still a dearth of simple, compelling non-fiction for young readers. Pratham Books' StoryWeaver has created 20 non-fiction, digital first books across 10 languages, equalling a total of 200 books.

While the aim of each book is to inform and educate, the idea is also to nurture the innate sense of wonder in children and in turn, encourage them to explore further. “Through these information books, we attempt to inspire curiosity in children about a range of non-fiction themes and help them engage with it in fun and memorable ways.” shares Yamini Vijayan, Content Manager, StoryWeaver.

To create these books, StoryWeaver brought in Guest Editors like popular children’s author Roopa Pai, environmental writer Bijal Vachharajani, renowned author Payal Dhar and editor Vidya Mani who is a founding member of Bangalore-based Bookalore. Their in-depth knowledge about certain themes and more importantly, passion for making the information appealing to young readers were an integral part of the process.

You can read more about the books and how you can take part in the celebrations on the StoryWeaver website, here.

Tune in to the StoryWeaver blog for fun activities to try with children and guest blog posts by editors, authors and illustrators! See you online!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

StoryWeaver Workshop in Namma Luru

30 bright minds. Educators. Librarians. Resource people working with several schools. Government representatives. Program Managers handling hundreds of students. Teacher Trainers.

From Bangalore, from Mysore, Madurai, Chennai, Pondicherry, from Coorg!
From Pratham Mysore and Tamil Nadu, from Agastya International Foundation, Communities-Rising, Helping Hand Welfare Society, from Akshara Foundation, Arivu Vidhya Samsthe and many others.

All of them together at one place, huddled in a room, listening intently, taking notes, sharing experiences, learning from others - Scenes from the StoryWeaver workshop held in Bangalore a few days ago.

After the success of our workshop in Mumbai, we were committed to doing many more across the country. Just before the exam fever grips the entire country, we decided to do one in Pratham Books' hometown - Bangalore. The date was fixed, invitations were sent out, people signed up and the day arrived soon enough.

On the third floor of our wonderful host- Ekstep's lovely office space in Koramangala, we all gathered. Multiple languages could be heard in the room - English, Kannada, Tamil, Hindi.. People introduced themselves in a language comfortable to them- Having a multilingual team meant that translations were promptly offered and everyone understood everyone. Also this workshop was a bilingual one- in English and Kannada which ensured everyone was at ease communicating.

As we delved into the session, many interesting discussions surfaced. The compelling power of stories to draw children's attention was established. Many educators in the room used Stories to open up imagination of children by leaving the story open-ended. Many use stories as a lead in to art in the classroom. Stories are also great ways to give a voice to children - when they make their own stories, they speak their heart. Also, how bilingual stories are such a great way to teach children a second language.

After a scrumptious lunch, the participants settled in to try their hands on StoryWeaver. Each one had a different to-do list. Read, Discover, Create. Translate, Re-level - each one got busy with their stories. Several questions emerged. All were answered- through a theory or by an on-spot demo of a particular tool. Several great suggestions also came in from the participants which we added in the queue for StoryWeaver 2.0 version.

Khusboo from Mantra4Change along with her work-partner Pushpa from TFI wrote a story of an adorable crocodile - Crocky and friends during the workshop time. David, from the Helping Hand Welfare Society told the endearing story of a vegetable curry being made. Many participants spoke about how they would use StoryWeaver back in their learning environments and appreciated opportunities that StoryWeaver offered them now. We closed with a vote of thanks, with a special mention to our hosts for the day - EkStep who provided us with the best wi-fi speed and the best filter kaapi possible in Bangalore!

Watch this space for our upcoming workshops.

Getting started!
The participants in actio
Shruthi talks about the translation process on StoryWeaver
StoryWeavers :)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Can Wikipedia Revive Dying Indian Languages?

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 Subhashish Panigrahi. Subhashish is an India-based educator, author, blogger, Wikimedian, language activist and free knowledge evangelist. Follow him at @subhapa on Twitter.)

*This post first appeared on The Hoot 
As the world gets ready to celebrate International Mother Language Day on Feb 21, it is important ask whether Wikipedia, the free, multi-lingual online encyclopaedia that turned 15 last month, can play a role in helping not just to save some Indian languages from irrelevance but to inject new energy into them. 
Indian languages that made an early entry to the Wiki-world back in 2002 - Assamese, Malayalam, Odia and Punjabi - are helping scale up the representation of Indian languages on the Internet. More languages started being added after these initial ones. Today, there are 23 South Asian language Wikipedia projects including the 20 languages listed in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India. 
But the Indian language Wikipedias have a long way to go as compared to many other world languages. There lies a huge gap in the access to knowledge on the Internet. Of 1.26 billion people, only about 15-18% are connected online and that too largely from mobile devices. 
Most Wikipedia projects in Indian languages are fairly small but are active and playing an important role. For example, the Tamil and Malayalam Wikipedia communities have played a central part in implementing Wikipedia basics learning in the state-run school syllabus along with many other free software and free knowledge projects to help students learn. 
Many Indian languages are in the pipeline to become active Wikipedia projects under the scope of Incubator Wikipedia. Maithili Wikipedia and Goan Konkani Wikipedia are two that have gone live in recent years. There are many more to come and it is certain they will help to ensure that languages do not fade or become irrelevant. 
According to UNESCO, 197 of a total of 1652 Indian languages are dying. Given that there is more and more encyclopedic content in Indian languages, Wikipedia will definitely save some from extinction by bringing more content in varied subject areas, bringing readers to Wikipedia, and attracting more contributors to bring information online in the respective language. 
Two other ways that it help keep them alive is, first, the fact that the media uses freely-licensed content from Wikipedia and refers to citations on Wikipedia and secondly, the fact that more Wikipedia content also means more digital activism. Often languages become extinct because of verbal-only usage. That’s where language digital activism can help to keep going. Hebrew, for instance, has risen like a phoenix for this reason.

What Is Your Mother Tongue's Personality?

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 Priya Muthukumar. Priya is a storyteller and runs Storipur. As a student counselor and educator, she enjoys all her interactions with kids. Writing, telling stories and simply being with Mother Nature are few of the many things she loves to do! Storipur intends to fill up the gaps, through the ancient art form, storytelling. Sharing stories about environment, countries, societies, cultures and about all ourselves: it's Storipur's humble attempt to build responsible communities.)

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"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. 
If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart’’. ~ Nelson Mandela.

Experienced this? I am not giving you examples, do a quiet rewind. You will realize how true the above words can be. So, what’s all the fuss about one’s own language or mother tongue?! Simple. Languages and emotions go hand in hand. One’s mother tongue language, that is the language first introduced when in childhood is an indicator of one’s cultural identity. Hence when spoken to or exposed to one’s mother tongue, very subconsciously, the feeling of being at ease, at home, and a sense of belonging are re- evoked.

So, coming from a culturally vibrant country like India which has few hundreds of native languages, how many of us, really use our mother tongue to communicate?

My mother tongue is Tamizh. I remember, all my friends calling their parents as Amma and Appa. But, fancy me, one fine day, I decided to call my parents as ‘Mummy' and ‘Daddy’. Initially, our neighbours in the colony, gave me those looks which said, ‘ooh.. she must be one modern girl!’. My mother tried to change the Mummy to Amma, but it never worked. I remember her, in a desperate attempt, yelling at me saying, “Even a cow which is born in England will say maaaa, look at you, you are born in Chennai and call me Mummy in English!” I found the example silly and irrational, then. Logic blinded the emotion associated with her nagging to call her Amma and not Mummy. Today, as a mother of an extremely preoccupied teen whose conversations are studded with words like cool, super, awesome, hot, s*** etc. the sentences begin with Maa and end with another Maa. There is a certain warmth that fills my heart. I do understand why my mother wanted to hear a maa from me and not a mummy.

At school, Tamizh was one of favourite subjects. Though considered to be difficult, I enjoyed everything about it. Ilakkanam (grammar) and illakiyam (literature). But, I was’nt able to immerse in the sheer beauty of the language. Because, I was in the race. I had to sustain my first place, right! ‘First rank’ ~ my elixir. Then came a time, I won the first prize for a story that I wrote in Tamizh. And the prize was a thin , unattractive book. A book of poems , by the then new-age poet Vairamuthu. Tamil poetry became my first love. Gradually, I began to see the hidden beauty in my mother tongue. Was it the language or my connect with the language which helped me appreciate it better? Well, I’ll never be able to answer that.

Today, when my husband who is all engrossed in English & Hindi and is forgetting ‘the reading and writing part’ of Tamizh, I take my sweet revenge! All my grocery lists, little romantic notes, reminders ...I make sure to write them in Tamizh. Though he might struggle to read them, I know, I am doing my bit for my mother tongue. His mother tongue.


Some of us, educators, while introducing a language generally, English in the pre-primary years, follow the mother tongue approach. Children are introduced to the language not through the reading, writing, the mundane ‘a for apple, b for ball’ way, but just like how a mother tongue is introduced at home. Through casual conversations, simple songs ~ have you observed the blissful interactions between a mother and her child...then you’ll understand what I mean. It’s not just the language, it’s the way the language is introduced which also makes one’s mother tongue even more special.

As a storyteller, I try to incorporate words, tongue twisters, simple rhymes, proverbs, riddles, poems etc. from different regional languages into my story. I never to fail to ask my audience what a particular word in the story would be in their mother tongue, for eg. what would a tree be called in their mother tongue ? Though I realize many blank faces may look back at me, I know, that the question would work as a trigger to go home and ask their parents or grandparents what a tree was called in their mother tongue. Also, I give simple reminders to take pride in developing literacy in our mother tongue languages.

One’s mother tongue carries a whole lot of unlabelled emotions. Alex Rawlings, a famous polyglot (a person who knows and is able to use many languages) said in one of his interviews, ‘Every language has a personality. There are languages that make you confident, there are ones that make you feel shy’. Well, I am not quite sure whether I believe in those words completely, but, I know, languages .. especially, mother tongue languages and emotions go hand in hand. So, here’s my question for you, what’s your mother tongue’s personality?

The Misfit Bangali

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 Rituparna Ghosh. Rituparna is a professional storyteller and Founder of Your Story Bag, a storytelling, training and consulting company. A writer, editor and storyteller practicing all three forms of storytelling – written, visual and oral, Rituparna is a compulsive storyteller. Always sniffing for a good story to tell, Rituparna feels that her past life as a journalist and television producer taught her the power of good stories. Rituparna believes that there is a storyteller in each one of us. Children and adults need stories and telling skills all their life, to make sense of the world and give shape to their ideas!)

*This post was first published on the Your Story Bag blog.

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“Hello?” I whispered.

“Rituparna, Santanil bolchi. Tumi ki aajge Bookaro eshecho?” 
 (Rituparna, Santanil here. Have you come to Bookaroo today?)


“Haan, aami eshechi cheleke niye. Aamra ekta session achchi,” I whisper 

 (Yes, I am here with my son. We are in a session now) 


“Aami na ekta problem e pore gechi. Pranab aasheni aar amaar session 5 minut e achche. Tumi ki amaar shaathe golpo ta bolbe?” Santanil Da was on the verge of panic.


You see, Santanil Da is a storyteller and theatre practitioner from Kolkata. With Bookaroo going regional, the festival’s focus was Bengali literature and so they had quite a few sessions in Bangla, my mother tongue. The day before I had seen a stupendous bi-lingual story session with Santanil Da and Pranab Da as they performed a story in tandem, matching each step in the story with the same pitch and scale as singers singing duets do. Today his partner in telling, his voice in English, hadn’t arrived and he was asking me to step in!

It had been a beautiful Sunday morning for us. I was watching my son attempt his first Nataraj pose, right there in the moment, trying to concentrate and balance. He darted his eyes towards me as I pulled out my camera when he tripped and started giggling! We were at the second day of Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival, the day I went purely as a parent. I have a very selfish approach with anything to do with storytelling. If there are two days to be had, then the first is for me while the second is for my story-addict of a son (so that we can hop around sessions that he would enjoy). So there we were soaking in the November misty-sun and enjoying a storytelling and yoga session, when suddenly my phone beeped.

“Kintu Santanil Da…ki golpo bolcho? Aami to jaanina…kono preparation nayi…aar amaar Bangla oto bhalo na!” By now Santanil Da had done the perfect job of transferring his panic to me!

I am a Bengali, born into a household of literature lovers, raised on a bouquet of Bengali children’s stories. I speak Bangla effortlessly, in which my fluency and vocabulary is limited to the colloquial use of the language in our everyday life. But I cannot read or write the language, therefore all the glorious works of the stalwarts of Bengali literature is as alien to me as let’s say Tamil, Oriya or Gujarati literature. So when Santanil Da asked me to translate a story live before an audience, I felt my throat dry up.

How well should you know a language to know it really well? Is it enough to speak it? Or do you need to master literacy skills in a language and be able to read and write it? Why do I consider my working knowledge in Bangla any less than my proficiency in English or adeptness in Hindi? On a scale of language know-how, I have always considered Bangla to be the struggling third. I can understand the language and speak it really well, but then if I was to live and work in a Bengali dominated environment I would be an outcast.  My English and Hindi don’t have the Bengali twang (something that really surprises my Delhi acquaintances) just like my Bengali diction is not colored by my English and Hindi accents. Despite that I consider myself a misfit Bangali in the traditional Bengali mindset. This was one of the reasons why I didn’t go to Kolkata for college (even though it was close to home). This is one of the reasons why I didn’t pick up work in the city. In my mind I am not Bangali enough…not because I don’t eat mishti, but because I am not literate in my mother tongue.

In my previous life, when I was a television producer my editor asked me to travel with him to Kolkata as he was moderating one of the city’s most prestigious debates. Why me, I asked? ‘You can handle the pesky Bengalis', he said to me. So there I was negotiating, ordering, directing, guest controlling - all in Bangla. My knowledge of the mother-tongue became my secret weapon when I chose to remain quiet as the organizers harangued about our set, using egoistic terms of how we were challenging their ‘prestige’ and ‘image’. Imagine their look when I replied to them in chaste Bangla!

When I chose the vocation of an oral storyteller, my mother lamented, “Won’t you tell Bangla stories? There is a sea of Bengali literature out there. We have so many works at home and pity, you can’t read anything!” My mother was distraught. And she had all the reasons to be after all my parents are responsible for me falling in love with stories. As a child I demanded duto golpo duto gaan (two stories, two songs) every night. Two each from each of my parents, and so after 4 stories and 4 songs when they’d creep out of the room I would only pretend to sleep. My grandmother and parents chose stories from Thakumaa’r Jhuli, Pagla Dashu, Sukumar Ray, Upendrakishore’s Tuntuni’r Boi, and legends and fables. With age the stories melted in my memory, some of them faded away. So when I walked down the storytelling path, I wanted to tell stories from my childhood. I wanted to share the same stories that made me fall in love with storytelling. I wanted to recreate the same fuzzy warmth that these stories gave me. But then I couldn’t read. I desperately gathered translated works but my father said, “You cannot translate the eccentricity of Pagla Dashu in English!” But gone are the days of classic old-world Bangla that my parents grew up with. Even I don’t understand them and if I ever have to make the stories my own I have to learn how to tell them in a language that I understand well. But it is the sceptics (like my father) that I fear!

For readers of regional literature, everyone will agree that there are intricacies, linguistic contraptions, colloquial nuances, colourful descriptions that are sometimes difficult to translate. These are always enjoyed in the native language. So when Santanil Da asked me to translate the story and tell in tandem I panicked. What if I didn’t understand the description? What if I didn’t understand the words? What if I didn’t understand the exchange between characters? What if I failed to translate the story in its truest sense? The impact would be lost! For the first time in my life, the fear of storytelling set in.

“Don’t worry, we will go slow Rituparna,” Santnail Da assured me. And true to his word, he broke up the story in small nuggets. The story was new to me, and like the audience listening to a story for the first time, I was part of the same experience. I translated the story in English because that’s what the listeners asked for and as I listened to the story with all my senses, I put in all my energies in telling the story in the same pitch, not translating word by word, but re-telling keeping the magic of the story intact. Somewhere in the middle of the story I told myself, ‘Don’t be scared…you are doing fine!’ and from thereon I began enjoying it. This was my first experience of tandem storytelling, telling a story that I had not read or choreographed. This was a story that I expressed just as I experienced it a minute before.


I use the word Golpo in my storytelling. A song that I sing before my session goes,

Mere paas aao, mere doston ek Golpo suno, 
 Kahani suno, Qissa suno, ek Story suno. 
Mere paas aao, mere doston ek Waarta suno, 
 Goshta suno, Kathav suno, Gaapo suno

Golpo – Kahani –Qissa – Waarta – Goshta – Kathav – Gaapo are all regional words for the English word 'Story'. A story, as I discovered after this session, is perhaps driven by the sheer power of our own mother-tongues and our first touch points for stories in our lives.

I discovered that I was scared of my mother-tongue, and just like some other fears in my life I overcame it with this telling. This story has given me the courage to resurrect the stories from my childhood, rediscover them and share them with my audience. The stories are mine, the mother-tongue is mine.

I am not a misfit Bangali after all!

When Snowy Was Kuttush

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 Sudeshna Shome Ghosh. Sudeshna is Editorial Director of Red Turtle, a children’s book imprint. She has worked in the publishing industry for nearly two decades and when she is not editing children’s books she is either reading or sleeping but pretending to read.)

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The other day, I was at an upscale clothes store and idly looking at a stack of tshirts for men. Suddenly, what caught my eye and made me examine a whole pile of them, was not their amazing design (really? In men’s tshirts? But let me not digress.) but the fact that they were all Phantom themed shirts. Yes, Phantom, ‘The Ghost Who Walks’. There he was, suddenly out of the pages of comic books and swaggering across chests, thulping villains with his deadly ringed fist.

The friend who was with me saw me looking through the tshirts and we got talking about comics from our childhood. ‘I read Phantom in Bangla too, you know,’ I told him. As a long suffering listener of my rambling stories about books, he waited for me to explain. So I did.

A childhood in the 1970s and 1980s meant no television, lots of time to play with friends and never a dearth of books to read. Or magazines. For children who read Bangla, there were some wonderful children’s magazines that we devoured. My favourite was Anandamela. Yes, there were Shuktara and Sandesh too, but we subscribed to Anandamela and gobbled down the stories and comic strips in it regularly.

One of the things that we looked forward to, and that I now find difficult to explain to others why exactly, was reading the serialized Tintin and Phantom comics that appeared here, translated into Bangla. Now, it wasn’t like we didn’t or couldn’t read the English originals. They were available at home and in neighborhood lending libraries. But alongside them, there were also these Bangla ones. And much as we laughed and delighted in ‘Billions of blue blistering barnacles’, or Snowy’s drunken antics, or Thomson and Thompson’s bunglings, we also laughed equally hard at joto shob gneri guglir jhaank (Billions of blue blistering barnacles in Bangla), or Kuttush as Snowy, or Ronson and Johnson in the place of the twin detectives.


The Bengali comics were not just straightforward iterations of the English text in another language. The words here carried unique Bengali nuances. Later, after the advent of Google, I learnt that they were translated by Nirendranath Chakraborty, a Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet. It delights me today that for someone like him Tintin was not just ‘children’s comics’. He translated the sense of adventure, the comic interludes, the oddball characters in such a way that they fit right into our own Bengali middle-class lives.

Just as an example, in The Castafiore Emerald, Captain Haddock is out on his wheelchair (he has sprained his ankle trying to flee Bianca Castafiore’s arrival but in vain) on the Marlinspike grounds. There he meets Professor Calculus and the two have a conversation where the slightly deaf professor talks mainly about a new kind of rose that he has grown. Hiding behind the bushes are paparazzi who are staking out the grounds for juicy gossip about the Milanese Nightingale who is visiting Marlinspike. Unfortunately, a hive of bees get after them and they have to flee. The captain, furious at this, sees them but is unable to give chase thanks to his bad foot. Instead, he yells after them, and then turns to the professor and asks: ‘Who were those ectoplasms, bolting like rabbits?’

In the Bengali version, this is all translated faithfully, but ‘ectoplasms’ becomes ‘bandor’ (monkey): Kintu bandor-gulo kaara, khorgosher moto dourey palalo? And thus, one of Haddock’s typical turns of phrase is transposed into Bengali without sounding forced or silly and retaining the humour.

I remember reading the Phantom comics too in Bangla, where he was called Aranyadev. These books carried one along with their sheer pace of action and adventure and I remember being captivated by the gorgeous Diana, Phantom’s wife and his twin children Kit and Heloise. That they were all speaking in Bengali despite their completely Caucasian looks didn’t strike me as odd at all. After all, having these stories available in another language meant simply that there were double the number of books to read!

Now, in a strange sort of reversal of that, I see many of our childhood Bengali comic strips and characters being made available in English. So Nante Fante, who are two naughty boys always getting up to mischief talk in slightly ungrammatical English. Even well-loved Bengali children’s classics like Chander Pahar, or popular stories like Gosain Baganer Bhoot are available as comics in English thanks to an intrepid Bengali publisher.

What does this say about the state of our children’s ability to read languages? I am a little worried that it shows there may be enough Bengali children out there who can’t read the Bangla originals and are making do with these translations which are not always of the highest quality. Yet, I see my own 13 year old devouring them happily and somewhere, I am a bit relieved that he is reading these silly, funny and harmless books from my childhood. At least now we can discuss how Nante and Fante outwitted Keltuda and laugh over those antics.

And so it goes on, this cycle of languages and books and ideas. If there are as many stories as there are people on this planet, there are billions more to listen and read, and we can only hope that our languages keep intersecting and breathing life into each other so that we are never out of a story on a lazy summer afternoon.

Konkani and Me

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 Tanvi Bambolkar. Tanvi works as an Assistant Professor of English at V.M.Salgaokar College of Law. Also, a casual newsreader and translator at All India Radio Panaji. Member and Secretary of social and cultural youth organization Antruz Ghudyo. Currently pursuing her Ph.d at the English Department of Goa University.)

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21st February is Mother Language day they told me and asked to write anything about my mother tongue. For many it may be an issue of mode of expression but for me it is little more than that. It is that sensitive issue that makes me sentimental, emotional and at the same time concerned! Concerned because I belong to a sweet language that has been struggling to assert its identity as a rich language from a very long time and it is none other than Konkani - the state language of Goa.

I grew up in a family that was a staunch supporter of this language. Father being an active theatre activist who has contributed immensely in Konkani theatre made me a natural addict of this language. Even when I did my primary education in neighbouring language Marathi, I would write poems in Konkani without anybody asking me to write in it.

Further I acted in one act plays in the same language and being the mother tongue it was so easy to pull off those roles easily. But...as I began to expand my horizons and left my rural school to study higher secondary, I realised this is not the language that is going to make me get noticed. But that love for my   language was getting stronger! I remember having fights with one of my classmates who would call my mother tongue, a fully independent language, just a dialect of another language. I have even had such fights on social media as a young angry teen to assert that my Konkani is not a dialect but a strong and rich language.

Since I was a staunch supporter of language, everyone thought I would do my graduation in Konkani itself . But something made me take up English literature as my B.A. specialisation and people rose their eyebrows! "I thought you were totally into Konkani", they would say and mock my decision but finally I came up with an answer, "English is a rich language and my Konkani is still a young language in comparison with English. I want to learn that language and literature to learn what needs to be done for my Konkani". I still have to use this answer when people are surprised that I teach English!

Inspite of being an English student, my love for my mother tongue never disappeared. Rather it made me realise how much we still need to do for my language. I happened to get into translation because of a part time job that I am doing at All India Radio as Casual Newsreader and Translator and did not lose touch from writing Konkani. Because I believe as much as speaking in the mother tongue is important, it is also important to retain its written form. The same reason made me also learn to type in Devanagari.

I pen down poems, articles in my language...rather I can express in it better than any other. I have published some of them in newspapers. One of the local dailies, Sunaparant (which unfortunately shut down a few months ago), provided me a platform to publish my write-ups in Konkani since a very young age. It actually made me get noticed in the Konkani circle. I am not recognised only as the daughter of an eminent personality but now also as someone who writes in Konkani, and that is a good feeling.

My language has many challenges in its basket right now. From no newspaper in it to the internal politics in the language movement. But, at the same time my optimist heart looks at it this way. It was Konkani that gave me a chance to translate Pratham Books' stories for children. Konkani is slowly making its way on digital world. And I am sure it will spread its wings more and more. I would like to be a little feather from those wings. More power to my language! More power to all the mother tongues around the world! :)

A Language That Feels Like Home

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!)

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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?

ದಿನಕ್ಕೊ೦ದು ಕಥೆ

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 to us by Vidya Bettada Chaudhuri. Vidya leads Resouce Mobilization at Pratham Books, is a social activist and is also our in-house Kannada guru!)

In this post Vidya talks about the first book gifted by her mom and how it introduced her to the world of stories.
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ನಾನು ದಿನ ಯಾವಾಗ ಕಳೆದು ಸಂಜೆ ಆಗುತ್ತೋ ಅ೦ತ ಕಾಯುತ್ತಾ ಇರುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ಅಮ್ಮ ಆಫೀಸಿನಿ೦ದ ಬರೋದೆ ತಡ, ಅವಳ ಹಿ೦ದೆ ಬೀಳ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ಕಥೆ ಹೇಳು ಅ೦ತ ಗೋಳು ಹೊಯ್ದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ಅಮ್ಮ ಸಮಾಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಕೂತು ಕಾಫಿ ಕುಡಿಯೋದ್ದಕ್ಕೆ ಕೂಡ ಅವಕಾಶ ನೀಡದೆ ಕಥೆ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಅವಳ ಮು೦ದೆ ಇಡುತಿದ್ದೆ. ಅಮ್ಮ ಕಥೆ ಓದಲು ಶುರು ಮಾಡಿದ೦ತೆಯೇ ದಿನಕ್ಕೊ೦ದು ಹೊಸ ಪ್ರಪಂಚ ನನ್ನ ಕಣ್ಮು೦ದೆ ತೆರೆದಿಟ್ಟ೦ತೆ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತಿತ್ತು.

ಸೋಮವಾರ “ಒoದು ಊರಲ್ಲಿ ಒಬ್ಬ ರಾಜ ಇದ್ದ. ಅವನಿಗೆ ಮೂರು ಜನ ರಾಣಿಯರು….” , ಮ೦ಗಳವಾರ ” ಒ೦ದು ದೊಡ್ಡ ಕಾಡಿತ್ತು. ಆ ಕಾಡಿನ ರಾಜ ಸಿ೦ಹ….”. ಬುಧವಾರ “ಅಕ್ಬರ್ ಚಕ್ರವರ್ತಿಯ ಆಸ್ಥಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಬೀರಬಲ್ ಎ೦ಬ ಮ೦ತ್ರಿಯಿದ್ದ…..” ಗುರುವಾರ “ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಇ೦ದ್ರಲೋಕದಲ್ಲಿ ದೇವತೆಗಳ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಕಲಹ ಹುಟ್ಟಿಕೊ೦ಡಿತು….” ಹೀಗೆ ಅನೇಕ ವರ್ಷ ಉರುಳಿದವು. ದೊಡ್ಡವಳಾದ೦ತೆಲ್ಲ ನಾನು ಬೇರೆ ಬೇರೆ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳನ್ನು ಓದುವ ಹವ್ಯಾಸ ಬೆಳೆಸಿಕೊ೦ಡೆ.ಇ೦ದು ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗಾಗಿ ಮಾತೃಭಾಷೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರಕಾಶಿಸುವ ಲಾಭ ರಹಿತ ಸ೦ಸ್ಥೆಯಾದ ಪ್ರಥಮ್ ಬುಕ್ಸ್ ನೊ೦ದಿಗೆ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದೇನೆ.

ಆದರೆ ಅಮ್ಮ ನನಗೆ ಬಳುವಳಿಯಾಗಿ ೧೯೭೫ ರಲ್ಲಿ ನೀಡಿದ " ದಿನಕ್ಕೊ೦ದು ಕಥೆ " ಪುಸ್ತಕವನ್ನು ಮರೆಯಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಿಲ್ಲ. ಎ೦ದಾದರೊಮ್ಮೆ ಈಗಲೂ ಸಹ ಆ ಹಳೆಯ ಪ್ರತಿಯನ್ನು ನಾಜೂಕಾಗಿ ಹಿಡಿದು ಪುಟ ತಿರುವುತ್ತೇನೆ.

ನನ್ನ ಮನಸ್ಸಿನ ಮೇಲೆ ನಾಲ್ಕು ದಶಕಗಳ ಹಿ೦ದೆ ಅಚ್ಚಳಿಯದ ಪ್ರಭಾವ ಬೀರಿದ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಈವತ್ತಿನ  ದಿನ ಕೂಡ ಪ್ರಸಕ್ತವಾಗಿದೆ.

मेरी मातृभाषाएँ

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 Abhaya Agarwal. Abhaya runs Pothi.com and InstaScribe.com, companies that make it easier to publish books while he constantly worries about the lack of time to read all the books he wants. He is actively working on worsening the situation by trying to learn more languages.)

*The English translation of the post is available below.

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मेरा जन्म एक हिंदी भाषी परिवार में हुआ। ऐसे तो हम लोग मूलतः लखनऊ के निवासी थे पर पिताजी की नौकरी के चलते मेरे शुरूआती साल पश्चिमी उत्तर प्रदेश के छोटे छोटे कस्बों और शहरों में बीते।

जहाँ लखनऊ अपनी अदबी तहज़ीब के लिए मशहूर है वहीं पश्चिमी उत्तर प्रदेश की भाषा है लट्ठमार। लखनऊ वाले अपने से छोटों को भी आप कह कर बुलाते हैं और पश्चिमी उत्तर प्रदेश के वाशिंदे अपने माता पिता को भी बुड्ढा बुढ़िया कहते मिल जाएंगे। 

तो हम साल भर तो प्यार से अपने दोस्तों के साथ तू तड़ाक करते और गर्मी की छुट्टियों में लखनऊ नानी के घर जाते। पर अब तू से आप पर जाते जाते वक्त को लग ही जाता है। उस बीच हम लोगों की बेहूदी भाषा पर सब लोग हँसते और हम लोग हफ्ता दो हफ्ता गुज़रते गुज़रते नवाबी अंदाज़ में बोलने लगते। जब दो महीने बाद वापस घर जाते तो थोड़े समय तक लोग हमे ऐसे देखते जैसे कोई रामलीला का किरदार पूरे costumes और मेकअप में सड़क पर आ गया हो। 

बाद में हम लोग लखनऊ में ही रहने लगे और ये समस्या पीछे छूट गयी। पर मेरे घर की और स्कूल की भाषा ना तो पश्चिमी उत्तर प्रदेश की लट्ठमार भाषा थी और ना ही लखनऊ की उर्दू जड़ी हुई ज़ुबान। वो तो एक बंधी सम्भली शहरी भाषा थी जिसे Modern Standard Hindi कहा जाता है। अंत में वही मेरी मातृभाषा कही जा सकती है।

हिंदी और उर्दू के बंटवारे से हुए नुकसान को महसूस करने के लिए लखनऊ एक सही जगह है। वैसे तो आप लखनऊ की मशहूर संस्कृति के उत्तराधिकारी हैं पर उर्दू आपको आती नहीं क्योंकि वो तो मुसलामानों की हो गयी। दूसरों के मुकाबले में तो किसी लखनऊ वाले का लहज़ा और बोली ज्यादा उर्दूनुमा मालूम पड़ेंगे पर दरअसल वो एक धुंधलाती हुई छाप की तरह ही है। मेरे पिताजी को ग़ज़ल और क़व्वाली का शौक था जो विरासत में मुझे भी मिला। उसी को सुनने पढ़ने की वजह से उर्दू से थोड़ी ज्यादा जान पहचान हुई। फिर एक बार उर्दू-अंग्रेजी मशीन ट्रांसलेशन पर काम करते करते उर्दू लिपि को पढ़ना भी सीखा जो अब तक तो फिर भूल गया हूँ। पर अगर हिंदी मेरी मातृभाषा है तो उर्दू को भी मैंने हमेशा अपने दिल के बहुत पास महसूस किया है। हिंदी और उर्दू ही ऐसी दो भाषाएँ हैं जिनमे मैं कविता, शेर, पोएट्री का मज़ा ले पाता हूँ। ऐसे तो अंग्रेजी के साथ भी अब काफी पुराना रिश्ता हो गया है पर एक दूरी है जिसका मिटना मुश्किल है। 

तो जहाँ हिंदी और उर्दू जन्म के संयोग से मिलीं, दो और भाषाओं से जिंदगी ने मिलवा दिया। जया की मातृभाषा मैथिली है। मानक हिंदी और उर्दू के उलट मैथिली एक मिट्टी से जुड़ी हुई और उसके रस में भीगी हुई भाषा है। विद्यापति का प्रसिद्द गीत गोविन्द मैथिली में ही लिखा गया है। 

और अंत में कन्नड़। उन लोगों की, उस जगह की भाषा जहाँ अब मैं अपने जीवन के १० साल बिता चुका हूँ। उन्हें उनके सन्दर्भ में अगर जानना समझना है तो वो उनकी भाषा के बिना संभव नहीं। क्योंकि मुझे पढ़ने में ज्यादा रूचि है, तो मैंने कन्नड़ लिपि को पढ़ना पहले सीखा। जहाँ बोल कर आप सिर्फ अपने आस पास के कुछ लोगों से बात कर सकते हैं, किताबें आपके लिए देशकाल के सारे दरवाजे खोल देती हैं। 

उर्दू, मैथिली और कन्नड़ के लिए कोई नाम नहीं है। उनके साथ अपने रिश्ते को मनाने के लिए कोई अलग दिन भी निर्धारित नहीं है। और ये भी सच है कि मैं इन सबको सिर्फ सरसरी तौर पर ही जानता हूँ। पर फिर भी मातृभाषा दिवस पर अगर मैं सिर्फ हिंदी की बात करूँ तो कुछ अधूरा सा लगता है।

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My Mother Languages

I was born in a Hindi speaking family. Originally from Lucknow, my initial years were spent in small cities and towns of western UP owing to the transferable job of my father.

While Lucknow's culture is famous for its politeness and respect, western UP revels in its 'latthmaar' language (language that feels like getting hit with a stick). A Lucknowite would address even people younger than him with respect, calling them 'aap' whereas in western UP, even parents can be referred to as 'buddha' and 'budhiya' (old man and old lady).

All year long, we'd call our friends 'tu' and 'tera' with great affection and then in summer vacations, head to the nani's place in Lucknow. In the time it would take us to adjust to the new register, everyone would make fun of us. But in couple of weeks, you wouldn't know us from a nawaab. And at the end of two months, the same process would repeat in reverse. Our friends back home would look at us as if a ramlila character had wandered out of his dressing room in full costumes and makeup.

In a few years, we moved permanently to Lucknow and the problem resolved itself. But the language spoken in my house was neither the latthmaar language of western UP, nor the high refined Urdu of Lucknow. It was a language called Modern Standard Hindi or Khadi Boli that got prominence along with the freedom struggle and was adopted as the primary register of Hindi over numerous other related languages like Awadhi, Brij bhasha, Budelkhandi etc. So neither Awadhi that is the language spoken the region around Lucknow and neither Urdu, Modern Standard Hindi is the language that can be called my mother tongue. 

The sense of loss at the division of Hindi and Urdu is felt quite acutely by people like me. Being a Lucknowite, you are an heir to an extremely refined literary culture but you can hardly stake a claim to it since you never learn Urdu - it being a Muslim language. It is true that the language of a Lucknowite would probably be more influenced in vocabulary and style by Urdu when compared to other Hindi speakers but it is more like a fading impression. 

I inherited the love of Ghazals and Qawwalis from my father and through those developed some familiarity with Urdu. Later while working on a Urdu-English Machine translation system during my grad school, I also learned to read the Urdu script, something that I've forgotten now. If Hindi is my mother language, I've always held Urdu also close to my heart. Hindi and Urdu are the only two languages in which I can enjoy poetry. Despite the long association and familiarity with English, there is still a emotional gap there that I find hard to cover. 

While Hindi and Urdu came to me via what we can call an accident of birth, life introduced me to two more languages. One of them is Maithili which is the mother tongue of my wife. MSH and Urdu both are primarily city languages. In comparison, Mathili is a language closer to soil, full of its sweetness. The famous Geet Govind of Vidyapati was written in Maithili. 

And finally Kannada. The language of the people, of the land where I have now spent 10 years of my life. If we want to understand people in their own frame of reference, it is only possible in their own language. Because I'm more interested in reading, I started by learning to read the script. While the horizon of people you can speak to is limited to people around you, reading opens up doors across space and time. And so I dream of reading Kannada writers in their own words one day. 

Now there is no name for my relationship with Urdu, Maithili and Kannada. There is no separate day to celebrate the closeness I feel for them. It is also true that my familiarity with all three languages is still cursory. But celebrating the mother language day without them would just feel incomplete.

अविरल बहती धारा में छुपा हूँ मैं भी कहीं

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 Rajesh Kher. Rajesh is an editor at Pratham Books. Through these years, he has not only edited and translated books but also coordinated lit fests like Bookaroo, JLF, Samanvay, New Delhi World Book Fairs and joined hands with organisations like Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, CBSE, NEOR by NCERT and a host of non-profits. He has been supervising books in many Northern & Eastern Indian languages and also had the opportunity to be a part of the Adikahaani Series and the Urdu programme. His interests are music, classical performing arts, casual writing, theater and film making. He loves spending time with children and young people and basically has a lot of fun in whatever he does.)

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"हा टॅंगो, नील टॅंगो, ताज फुटुरथम..." दादी ने न जाने कितनी बार यह कहानी सुनाई थी कि एक फ़क़ीर एक नाशपती के पेड़ के नीचे बैठा था और एक कौवा किसी टहनी पर बैठा था। एक नाशपती उसकी चोंच से चोट खाकर गिर गया और नीचे बैठे हुए फ़क़ीर के सर पर जा गिरा। इस चोट से बौखलाकर उस फ़क़ीर ने कौवे से शिकायत की कि उसका तो सर ही फूट जाता। मैं और मेरा छोटा भाई हँसते और इससे आगे के कौवे और फ़क़ीर के बीच के संवादों को सुनते। भला कौवे को फ़क़ीर की बात कैसे समझ में आई? कौवे भी कहीं बोलते हैं? लेकिन दादी हमारे प्रश्नों के उत्तर देने की हालत में नहीं होतीं क्योंकि हम दोनो से ज़्यादा तो हँस हँस कर वे दोहरी हुई जाती थीं! दादी की ख़ासियत थी कि जब वे कोई चुटकुला या व्यंग्य से भरी कहानी या फिर किसी पड़ोसिन का कोई मज़ेदार क़िस्सा सुनातीं तो सुनने वाले तो बाद में हँसते, दादी का शुरू के कुछ शब्दों के बाद ही हँसी से बुरा हाल हो जाता था। वो दोहरी हो जातीं हँसते हँसते और सुनने वाले की ज़िम्मेदारी थी कि वह किसी तरह से उस हँसी के वेगवान झरने के बहाव को सहते हुए पूरा चुटकुला दादी से कहलवा पाए। लगभग नामुमकिन काम।

ऐसी ही दादी के घर में उनके बड़े बेटे की बहु के रूप में जब १५ वर्षीया लड़की का प्रवेश हुआ तो दोनो कैसे एक दूसरे की बात समझते थे, यह तो वे ही बता सकते हैं क्योंकि दादी को मुश्किल से हिंदी, उर्दू के दो चार शब्द ही आते थे और उनकी बहु का भी बिलकुल यही आलम था। एक फ़र्राटे से कश्मीरी बोलतीं तो दूसरी के पास चुप रहने या असमिया बोलने के सिवा कोई रास्ता नहीं था!

कुछ ऐसा ही हुआ होगा जब दुनिया के अलग अलग भागों से खोजी नाविक, साहसी लोगों की टोलियाँ, सैनिकों के दस्ते भारत के विभिन्न भागों तक पहुँचे होंगे। कैसे बात की होगी उन्होंने पहली बार यहाँ के लोगों से, क्या बोला होगा वास्को डिगामा ने उन लोगों से जिन्होंने अचानक एक दिन एक जहाज़ में अनजाने विदेशियों को समुद्र तट पर उतरते देखा होगा? मुझे पता नहीं, लेकिन जब भी मैं दादी और उनकी बड़ी बहु के शुरुआती दौर के बारे में सोचता हूँ, ऐसे प्रश्न मेरे दिमाग़ में आते रहते हैं। जो भी हो, उन दोनो ने शीघ्र ही आपस में बात करना सीख लिया था और बहु ने तो इतने अच्छे से कश्मीरी सीख ली थी कि उनके पहले बच्चे ने भी स्वाभाविक रूप में कश्मीरी में तुतलाना शुरू किया। और मैं इस बात को अच्छी तरह जानता हूँ क्योंकि वह कश्मीरी में तुतलाने वाला पहला बच्चा मैं ही हूँ। इस तरह दादी की भाषा स्वतः ही मेरी मातृभाषा बन गई। 

मेरी दादी ने कभी मुझे या मेरे भाई को कहानियाँ सुनाई हों, ऐसा नहीं है। दादी तो एक जुझारू महिला थीं जिनका आधा जीवन बहुत कठिन परिस्थितियों में बीता था जिसने उन्हें काफ़ी हद तक एक कठोर महिला बना दिया था। दादी हँसती तो बहुत थीं, लेकिन और दादियों की तरह हमें कहानियाँ नहीं सुनातीं थीं। हाँ, अपने दौर की बातें कभी कभी बनाती थीं। शायद वे हमें अपनी जवानी के दुःख भरे दिनों की बातें नहीं सुनाना चाहती थीं या फिर हमें सुनाते हुए वे ख़ुद उन दिनों को दोबारा जीना नहीं चाहती थीं। पर कई बातें मज़े की होती थीं और मुझे आज भी उनको सोच सोच कर मज़ा आता है। छोटी बुआ तब शायद १०-१२ साल की रही होंगी जब एक दो साल लगातार कश्मीर में भूकम्प के झटके आते रहे थे। गर्मियों के दिनों में परिवार तीन मंज़िला मकान के ऊपरी हिस्से में रहता था। कश्मीर में ऐसा ही होता है, लोग सर्दियों में निचले हिस्से में और गर्मियों में ऊपर के हिस्से में रहते हैं। दादी कहती थीं कि ज्यों ही बुआ भात से भरा हुआ पतीला चूल्हे से उतार रही होतीं और भूकम्प आता था तो वह हड़बड़ाकर पतीला खिड़की से बाहर फैंक देती थी। भूकम्प थमता और फिर से चावलों का नया देग चूल्हे पर! दोनो माँ-बेटी भूकम्प से बहुत डरती थीं। 

दादी की छोटी बहन उनसे कुछ साल छोटी थीं और उन दिनों में छोटी उम्र से ही लड़कियों को घर के काम काज सीखने पड़ते थे। तो दादी जी जान से इस बहन को सिखाती कि बाद में ससुराल में उसे कोई समस्या न हो। एक दिन जब बार बार समझाने पर भी छोटी बहन को कढ़ाई का एक भाग सही से काढ़ना नहीं आया तो खीज कर दादी ने अपने सर पर रखी पानी की मटकी उसके हाथ पर दे मारी और फिर पूरी ज़िन्दगी छोटी बहन ने सभी को अपनी बाँये हाथ की तर्जनी दिखा दिखा कर सुनाया कि किस तरह उनकी अँगुली पर चोट लगी थी, किस तरह पानी गिरने से उनके कपड़े और फ़र्श पर बिछे हुए घास की चटाइयाँ ,वगु, गीले हो चुके थे और कैसे वह हक्की बक्की होकर रोना भी भूल गई थी। तर्जनी मेरे हाथ में देते हुए उन्होंने मुझे यह कहानी तब सुनाई थी जब मैं दसवीं में पढ़ता था और दादी की बहन शायद ८०-८२ साल की थीं ! दादी इतनी कड़क और हर चीज़ में बारीक़ी ढूँढने वाली थीं, यह मैं नहीं जानता था। दादी, उनकी बहन, बुआ, मेरे पिता के बचपन की ऐसी ही कई घटनाओं और मुझे, एक कड़ी जोड़ती है और वो है, पिछले लगभग सत्रह-अट्ठारह सौ सालों से बहती आ रही कश्मीरी भाषा की सरिता। जिसे मेरी दादी, उनकी दादी, उनकी परदादी और सदियों पहले के पूर्वजों ने मिलकर संवारा। इनमें लल द्यद् (द्यद् का मतलब है बूढ़ी दादी या नानी माँ) भी शामिल हैं जो कश्मीरी के सबसे पहले कवियों में से एक थीं। भाषा तो वह अमृत है जिसे पिए बिना आदमी रुपी बेल फल फूल नहीं सकती। ज़बान ही इन्सान की पहली पहचान होती है, शायद इसीलिए वह मातृभाषा कहलाती है।

Do My Words Reach Her Ears?

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 Kanchan Bannerjee. Kanchan Bannerjee is a Trustee of Pratham Books. She is a sociologist and is trained in communications and teaching children with learning disabilities. She is also the Manging Trustee of Akshara Foundation. She has been associated with the planning, design and execution of several of Akshara Foundation’s programmes since 2000. Under a UNICEF programme, she has created graded readers for entry level classes in Kannada and Hindi for Karnataka and Chattisgarh State Government syllabi. She writes books for early readers, especially bilinguals, designed to introduce a second language in a graphic and friendly manner. )

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It puzzled me when some people say, "I used to be able to speak in such-and-such language, but now I have forgotten it". How can one forget a language one has learnt, I wonder. Perhaps this is possible if the immersion at the time of learning has not been effortless and stress-free.

So I try to grab every opportunity to speak the languages I know - when I am in appropriate company, rather than speak in English which is now the 'universal' language - no questions asked. 

There are some quaint words in Konkani, which are increasingly being replaced by English words in conversation. (Konkani does not have a script of its own - it has adopted either the Devanagari or the Roman script). I like the way some of these words roll off the tongue. For example "kuler" meaning 'spoon' is being almost entirely replaced by the English word. Or the word "alli" which means that 'there is less salt in the food'. And I try to find the etymology of the word, the sister language that it might have come from into Konkani. and sometimes I find no answers.

I am trying to expose my almost-two-year old grand-daughter who lives in the USA to Konkani every time we have a Facetime session, which is twice or thrice a week. She is always flitting around, but I am sure my words reach her ears.

A Blip of the Tongue

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 Megha Vishwanath. Megha is a technophile and artist. She enjoys narrating and re-narrating from myth and classics. She sells her own compositions, designs for merchandise and illustrates for magazines and self-publishers. She serendipitous-ly gets commissioned work in conservation and wildlife often enough. She illustrates for her works by the MoonlitNook. Megha also consults for Design in User Experience. Her interest in public education, made her quit a corporate career spanning internet companies and an I-bank. She currently consults for the Karnataka Learning Partnership in Bangalore.)

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When it comes to mother tongues, let’s just say I was born with many options. If I were to go by what my mother spoke, I should have known just about 2 languages. And if there were such a thing as the father’s tongue, well, he knew 4! And then there is the neighbour’s tongue, the local grocer’s tongue, the aunt-who- visit’s tongue and so on.

Growing up was fun, but looking back at those years is funny. Often times my dad, who grew up in a Gujarati colony, would be spotted cheerfully guffawing over the phone with his family. Their whole conversation would be in top-quality Gujarati! He would only switch merrily to Kannada to tell my curious and slightly suspicious on-looking mom, without divulging details, that things were just fine back in Bombay.

And if language was not all, imagine the very southern moms of my paternal cousins proudly making Dhoklas, Khaandvis, Undhyus and Batata Pohas in the most authentic ways! And the farsan, that encroached the healthy Sambhar, Rice and Kosambri territory, were quite a riot even in those days.

But when the monthly visit of the Vadhyaar happened, there is a certain protocol of speaking Tamil as pure as the freshly made filter coffee. On both sides of my extended family, I would always find trolling relatives, who even while they appreciated my mom’s soulful rendition of ‘Naan oru vilayatu bommaiyya’, were appalled that I hadn’t received enough of a Tamil language coaching,


It was easier back then, to not mind what they said as compared to now, when the beau plays Raja songs and has to pedantically correct my diction on every second occasion. Well, it’s never too late to learn, is it?

When my married-to-a-Maharashtrian-and-well-adapted Athe / Athai / Bua / Dad’s sister came for a short visit to Bangalore in the summers (and you know how Bangalore was the summer respite to many coastal dwellers in the 80s and 90s still), the house would smell of Batata vadas with a tad bit of minced garlic served with peanut chutneys. Kokum Kadis would be a soother. Puran Polis would help the year’s bodily build up of sugars and protein. And the right kind of nylon Sabudhana would have been brought from miles away to get the consistency of the Vadas and Khichdi just right! With bubbly good looking food and ketchup, I enjoyed the commonplace Upvas item as being a rare delicacy!


I owe my entire Hindi language know-how to Lata-ji, Asha-ji, Kishore-da and Rafi-saheb. No, really! I didn’t learn an ounce of Hindi in school. It’s a different thing that I only now completely understand the songs we’d sing.
And if the whole family could sing ‘Brocheva revarura’ impeccably it is because of friends and neighbours who insisted that a movie made in Telugu should be seen in Telugu. So, we saw movies in many southern vernacular languages and the DD National TV’s Sunday afternoon selection of Bengali movies, Bhojpuri movies or some such.

Oh, and then there were my besties in college who spoke Malayalam. There were other dear friends who spoke a gamut of languages with me, without me, around me and about me. I would dress like them, share their festivities and be part of their family events. It’s a perk of living in the cities - the free lessons in a cross-cultural exchange (And don’t WE need that within borders?!).
With all this said, when I’m lost for words, I respond in English! That’s pretty dull, I agree. And I have in the past wished everybody spoke just one language. But now, I see there’s no excitement in that. Language is beyond just conversations. (It’s needed to talk about food! No, just kidding.) It is our means to feel a sense of belonging and what better way to belong to many places all at once, than to be in a country and a city with such rich diversity!

I mostly speak Kannada and think of it as my mother tongue. But quite honestly, I often say words that Kannada never owned, then I ignore the mix up and perpetuate a blip of the tongue!

Aai’s Second Journey Towards Marathi

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 Nalanda Tambe. Nalanda is a freelance journalist from Vadodara, Gujarat. She has penned a Book titled ‘Mediatized Realities of Crime Against Women: The Case of Delhi Gang Rape’. Her interest lies in covering Gender Issues, with a straight fine inclination towards Research.)

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Aai,

I hope this letter finds you in the best of conditions. I am writing this letter to you just to  make you feel special – of course, which you always have been but because today is the International Mother Language Day, I just can’t stop remembering the sacrifices you made to accept our, caste, culture and language. The journey of a girl growing up in a Gujarati family and then again starting a second, whole new journey in a Maharashtrian family after marriage is simply admirable. You often told me about the dejections you faced when you were just married – oppositions from family members, the tag of being ‘just a matriculate’, cultural shocks etc. and that unknowingly made you the hero of my life, Aai. This letter is all about it.

I always wonder how you felt about the decision of coming into a different family that had different opinions, views, and understanding. To be honest, if I had been in your place, I would have never even thought of switching onto an altogether different ethos. You not only accepted our family, but proved that education cannot teach everything. As a wife you devoted your time in learning the values of our family, as a mother you imparted the correct ‘Sanskaras’ on your children, as a daughter-in-law you treated your in-laws more than your own parents. At every stage of your life, you struggled, either with people or with culture Aai - This letter is all about it.

As a friend and guide, you always stood beside me throughout my life. Your life lessons were brilliant, I must say, because they made me a good person. I remember when I failed, got rejected and was just on the verge to succumb to disappointments, you did not let me do that. Our language definitely is Marathi but, the language of love that you used all the way in your second journey is incredible. That reminds me of your fight yo learn Marathi. I heard from dad about all the funny conversations in Marathi that you used to have initially. But here are you, standing with your head held high. To learn a new language is not that important but indulging in a different language definitely is – This letter is all about it.


I can’t say much, but this is what I feel Aai:

Individual, I was Born - Distinct, Discrete 
Explored, Experienced and Discovered. 
Travelled and Sightsaw Several Cultures and Faiths,
Violence Against Women, Feminism, Gender Issues, Covered Curiously. 
Films, Songs, Parties - Reconnoitered, 
Love, Rejections, Life-Lessons, all were Encountered.
‘Experiences make People Learn’, They Say – I LIVED.

All These Learning Started, Like a Plant Growing into A tree,
Teaching me Values and Principles, Marathi Just Evolved in Me.  
Praising my Abilities, People Actually Admired my Marathiness, 
Nevertheless this Realization Came at a very Later Stage.
I am Known to be A Maharashtrian, Sacrosanct and Religious,
Maharashtrians Cannot be Practical! This Understanding is Simply Dubious.       

I Adore the Ways, You have Molded Me Into, 
Without you Aai, I Cannot Even Count One to Two.
You Made me Learn English Without Criticizing Marathi,
This was Your Style of Showing Mother Language’s Empathy.     
It is because of You, I DO Not just Love Marathi,

I live MARATHI, I Live MARATHI, I Live MARATHI!

How Appopan Made A Dream Come True

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 Indu Harikumar. Indu says she will recycle anything especially love. She likes to turn everyday things into objects of art. She has written and illustrated books, designed toys and really enjoys working with children. You can find her work: http://www.facebook.com/induviduality)


Growing up in suburban Mumbai, I encountered, learned, loved and mixed various languages. Among the ones I was taught were English, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Sanskrit and Italian. And I picked up some Gujarati and Punjabi, a little Kutchi and Tamil. 

No, I don't claim to know any of them but yeah, I can converse in a few and eavesdrop in almost all of them. 

Malayalam is my mother tongue and my parents insisted we learn to read and write in Malayalam. So on Sundays, when the rest of the children watched Jungle Book, we would learn Malayalam. I disliked television and didn't mind missing Jungle Book but I hated Malayalam and wouldn't mind some television instead. Because my atheist and communist father had chosen Ramayan (in verse) to teach us the language. The words were so obscure, it was just fine print, there were no pictures and I didn't understand a word. I was sure that it was never going to help me read. 

Much later, while in school, we got cable tv at home and discovered the genius called Mohanlal. When his movies played, I wanted to understand the jokes, know the songs, and my interest in the language increased. I would try to read from newspapers and magazines at home. It was difficult initially but I learned with practice and reading with my parents. Big type and colourful pictures also helped. I told myself - I will write a book in Malayalam someday.

As an adult, I worked on the web and one of my web jobs took me to Chandamama, where I started drawing again. After Chandamama, I joined a children's publishing house in Delhi as assistant editor. Post that, in 2009, I was freelancing and back in Mumbai. 

One day, I found myself at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. It was the first day of the festival, the by-invite-only kind of day. No, we were not invited but my cousin who worked with a big news corporation in Delhi had picked up his boss' pass. We walked in signed where she had to and found ourselves in paradise. We pinched and nudged each other- look on the left, on your right, that poet, that actress, that writer. 

Such bliss!

The play was Tanvir Habib's Charandas Chor. 

During the interval, us star stuck kids went back to ogle and nudge and satisfy our star stuck minds. In 10 minutes we heard the bell. While we were rushing back, the cousin muttered something and a man in a mundu looked at us. I asked him what he had said. He said, "arey nothing." 

As we sat the man in the mundu walked in, looked at us and smiled and went and sat in the front row. Both of us wanted to disappear. 

"What did you say? Why was he looking at us like that?"

"Arey, I just said apoopan and I am sure he didn't hear that." 

The second half of the play started. I kept wondering where I had seen the man in the mundu. He was vaguely familiar but I couldn't place him. After the play, we decided to go look for the man in the mundu and apologise. Cousin decided to tell him," I am sorry but you remind me of my grandfather which its why I called you appopan." 

We spotted him and dashed towards him. He smiled and cousin began apologising. I suddenly remembered where I had seen him. On television. 

I sheepishly asked, "Saar, are ----- you ---- a ---- politician?" 

He smiled and said he was the education minister of Kerala.

" Children call me apoopan all the time. Are you students?"

We told him what we do. He then gave me his card and said, "Write to me. You should draw and write in Malayalam."

I did. Initially for Thaliru, a magazine run by the Kerala government and then illustrated Safdar Hashmi's poem - Gadbad Ghotala (Kundamandi Gulumal) in Malayalam. 

And that dream I had as a teenager came true.

What's In A Language?

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 Sushmita Ananth. After spending many years in the creative corners of the advertising world, Sushmita moved to Akshara Foundation. An immense interest in architecture and writing take her to remote little nooks and corners when she isn't confined to her desk.)

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As a child, one question always flummoxed me - 'Where are you from?'. Because when I'd answer with a rather proud 'Bangalore', it would always be followed by an 'Oh, so you are a Kannadiga?' 

First of all, how did it matter? I was a Bangalorean as far as I was concerned. Period. And secondly, where do I begin explaining to people those days that while amma was from Palakkad (but not a Malayali), dad was a 'local'. 

My mixed race answers have led to many lengthy discussions where people tried putting me into the bracket they thought apt. *rolling eyes

The home I come from, there were no brackets there. English, Kannada and Tamil were all spoken with fluency and given equal importance. I had teams set up for me...teams that were in charge of seeing to it that I mastered all three languages. 

Thatha and Thathi (my maternal grandparents formed my Tamil Team). Ajja and Ajji (my paternal doves) formed my Kannada Brigade and my parents conveniently stuck to whatever they felt in the mood for.


I know what you are thinking. Wow! I must have been a multilingual pro by the time I was 10. I am sadly, jack of all languages even to this date. 

Just as I began understanding these three, along came Hindi into my life. I was barely 5 when I had to choose a second language at school. I was good on the Kannada front as far as my folks were concerned; Hindi was the obvious choice. 

So here was a 5-6 year old lapping up the vowels and a-aa, e-eee, mixed with heavy doses of 'seemebadnekai' and 'pazham'. 

I was being exposed to a different language from every possible front. At every stage. 

Needless to say, in this mixed salad I now call my childhood, some things in life were known by one universal word for me, for convenience sake. Like tomato for instance, which I had 'learnt' to be the same in all three languages. So imagine my horror when my best friend Shruti's granny told me she had cooked 'takkali' that day! What was that and why hadn't thathi ever made it for me or taught it to me? 

Or my disappointment when Anjana, another groupie would say 'bonda amma, bonda' almost every day during play time, but no plate of fried goodness ever surfaced! 

Yes, seems like I was rather particular about words related to food. 

But jokes apart, to say the least, I soon started falling in love with languages. I remember I used to write down words I'd see on TV during the Kannada news and ask dad what they were. I thought I could ace it just by copying the squiggles exactly. The first such word I ever wrote was, believe it or not, Bangalore! 

Through the years, I learnt Malayalam (thanks to six roommates for two years), a bit of Coorgi (or Coorg as they prefer to call it), a wee bit more of Ladakhi and a dash of French. 

Those initial years of being exposed to many languages in a cosmopolitan city made me end up becoming Jack of all languages than a master of one. And to say the least, I love it like this! 

Thank you Thatha, Thathi, Ajja and Ajji for getting the ball rolling.