Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Conversations In-Between

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a 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 Salonee Pareekh. Salonee is a communications person who loves to write and take pictures. Follow her work at @AmapolasCo on Instagram )

For as long as I can remember, I know that words, among other things, have always fascinated me. A pair in particular, since the very first time I heard it: mother-tongue. 

Everyone spoke Hindi in my house. But each summer, mum and I would make a 2-2.5 day journey from Ahmedabad to Calcutta. I've been visiting that place since the time it was still Calcutta, and I experience some difficulty wrapping my head around the changes, but, I digress. At the Howrah station, my mother tongue changed from Hindi to Bangla quite effortlessly. She would buy local train tickets to Hind Motor, asking the 'dada' at the ticket counter to give the tickets 'ektu taḍataḍi'; she would negotiate the right fee with the coolie for carrying our bedding, a giant Aristocrat suitcase, and other sundry travel accessories; she would chat with her co-passengers in the local train, also in Bangla. But the moment we reached Nani's house, my mother tongue changed again, to a dialect of Rajasthani* which was slightly different from the dialect of Rajasthani that my father spoke. 

For me, the concept of mother tongue has been limiting, and liberating at the same time. At school, I grew from 'I will tell to teacher that you are eating only' to a less-frequent use of the present continuous. College had me considering the greatness of Shakespeare. English was my primary language now and I found myself thinking in it. Often translating my thoughts into Hindi or Gujarati. 

I live in Gujarat and I found myself a stranger to the language until very recently, when at work, my colleagues would teach me a word or phrase in a dialect vastly different from what's spoken in Ahmedabad. I use these words and phrases to pepper my thoughts and conversations. I do not attempt to translate them anymore. 

Photo by Salonee Parekh
A little more than a decade back, there came a time when I realised there was more to languages than just expression. A language taught me that I could learn it simply out of love and curiosity. That was how Urdu entered my life. I struggle with my vocabulary, asking my senior friends about words I can't read in Nastaliq, or I'm unsure to pronounce. I don't refer to a dictionary. I don't even Google them. I prefer to ask people. It leads to conversations. They teach me with examples. And I come away richer in my experience, and conversations. 

At 31, I find the most comfort in English, but when I feel what might be considered poetry (if you stretch your imagination a little to accommodate it) spouting, I slip into Hindi-Urdu, and I talk and laugh with my colleagues and neighbours in Gujarati, and with an uncannily high number of Bengali friends that I have made over the years, in my broken Bangla that they lovingly correct. 

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