March 19, 2010

Confessions of a Mumbai Tamilian at Chennai

I plead guilty. I do not know to read or write my mother tongue.
I can speak fluently and understand it well as a language, but I am not Tamil literate.

I know that Tamil- or should I say Tamizh- has a rich literature- forever closed to me? Maybe yes. Even if I was Tamil literate, I wonder if I would have been able to grasp the kind of non colloquial Tamil used in books.

My early childhood was in Andhra ( 4 years) and then in Mumbai. In school, I learnt Telugu ( which I mostly forgot once we moved) , Marathi and Hindi. Many attempts to learn written Tamil at home from my mother who is excellent at it , ended soon- only because it did not seem a necessity- it was irrelevant.

I always enjoyed reading and English had more than enough to offer for all ages- (though I would have enjoyed a Tulika or a Karadi tale even then). Sometimes I feel English with its vast array of published works killed all desire to learn any other language to broaden my perspectives or pick up other slices of life.

That leaves us with the need to learn other languages for sheer communication.
My grand fathers knew English. Mr grandma knew Hindi ( Prathmik- Madhyama etc of those days). Letter writing was done in either of those languages. In fact, to my grand ma, I wrote letters in Tamil using the Hindi Script.

I have not really got around to reading/writing Tamil, even after having lived here in Chennai for over 10 years. One needs to be able to communicate- a common language is an enabler. Not knowing to read- write Tamil was never a deterrent. Except maybe some government forms available in Tamil alone.

Navy can fluently read, write, speak - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, English and Hindi. And a bit of Gujarati as well!

Between Navy and I , we prefer using English and Hindi because we began as friends and that was what we spoke to each other back then. I cannot get myself to suddenly use "neenga" when I address him and calling him "nee" causes arched eyebrows : - )

I think purely in English and I cannot imagine untraining myself now.

When I do speak in Tamil among my Chennai Tamil friends, most of them term it " Brahminical" or " Bombay Tamil" ( which is dominated by Palghat Tamil I think). Due to the cosmopolitan crowd at work, I stick to English. Tamil therefore is used more with the service staff at work and home, and with my paati.

On to the next generation.

Navy and I insist on Anushka calling us Amma and Appa ( NO mummy and daddy) and paradoxically, the rest of the conversation is largely in English! But we do use some Tamil words.

Anushka manages to speak good Tamil more on account of my ma, my grandma and the maid and some of her peers who converse only in Tamil with her. I am glad she speaks her grandmother tongue. Am I am anxious that she must be Tamil literate? No. But I will be glad if she is.

Hindi she picks up from film songs and from the bilinguals from Tulika and CDs from Apple tree and so on. School will anyway ensure Hindi is learnt. Will I be anxious if she is not literate in Hindi? Yes. ( I am unable to pin down why though.)

We are hoping that living in the South, will help Anushka learn one or at least two regional languages thoroughly. I usually pick up Tulika bilinguals in English and Hindi and sometimes Tamil for the more Onomatopia filled ones. If in Hindi, I read it to her and if in Tamil, my mother reads it to her.

As for cooing to Aditi, I must say I use Tamil and Hindi as much as I use English. Terms of endearment are so many more in Tamil/ Hindi.

In the blog world, I enjoy those like howdoweknow, Blogeswari and Boo who express themselves beautifully in two languages. Will I ever be like them? No.

There have been many posts on this since Tulika opened this blogathon. I had to do the above post to help clarify to my own self where I stand on the matter.

20 comments:

starry eyed said...

Liked reading this. There's a sense of loss when we don't know our mother tongues through and through, isn't there? I'm thinking of posting on this...let's see if I can!

Shankari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shankari said...

I guess my earlier comment on this did not go through.

You have totally mirrored my thoughts Art on this topic. I was going to write on this topic yesterday, but I got busy with the puppets.
I guess I will write and maybe link back to your post also. Is that fine?

Subhashree said...

Now Anush'll have to learn Kannada :) And I'm guilty too. I can't speak decent Kannada, let alone read or write, though it is our mother tongue. So my agenda next is to learn Kannada along with the brat :D

ChoxBox said...

Smiling at the terms of endearment in Tam/Hindi :)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for some time and really enjoy it. However, I don't quite get your use of bold terms here and there. Sometimes this leaves me guessing if there is a point you are trying to make or is it just out of habit....am curious.

Shobana said...

Hmm...it is thought provoking. I am thinking, u may be anxious if Anush didn't know hindi is because u know the language and u use it on a daily basis. For me, if Naren did not speak Tamil, I would be anxious for the same reason.

Wow at Navy for knowing all those languages.

artnavy said...

starry- on the contrary- i feel no urge/ remorse

shankari- look forward to it

subha- yes kannada it will be

shobhna/chox- dont u agree

anon- bold is for highlighting key points - for readers who do not have the time/ patience to go thru fully.... and in case u r unaware for hyperlinks as well at times

Anu said...

very well written...... most of us brought up outside our hometown are the same.... your situation easily applies to me as well...... and every time i learn a foreign language I regret that i did not learn my own mother tongue....

Arundhati said...

Liked reading this. Effortless writing. Feeling anxious if your child didn't know Hindi - me too ! Being called amma and appa - same here, although I used daddy and mummy with my parents, ugh! Wonder y i didn't think of that when i posted mine...

Shankari said...

I have updated my post with a link to yours..

The Inquisitive Akka said...

Ade daan!Am a language orphan too :) I can speak fluent Tamizh (although I am told its tam-brahm Tamizh :))My parents insisted on being called Amma and Appa although I spoke to them in German most of the time (till I was about 9). Then I discovered the English language and there's been no looking back. I feel really guilty about that. I actually read the whole Ponniyan Selvan series in English- shame on me!
As for Kannada, I haven't progressed much beyond swalpa swalpa gothu, I can sort of understand though.
And I say nee to the beloved even if there are raised eyebrows :)

artnavy said...

Oh - I learnt German too and was good at it :-) ...also scored higher in Hindi and Marathi board exams than in English!LOL!

The posts from utbt and this series in response to Tulika is really turning out good

sandhya said...

Would like to speak to you in Marathi, Art.
My daughter A has also been encouraged to call us Aai and Baba (marathi for mom and dad!) She does it effortlessly, although she is becoming aware of raised eyebrows(???) in the cosmopolitan world of her friends, none of whom speak Marathi. I don't think it would make a major difference to her though.
Smiling at your use of Hindi/Tamil with the baby. I too, find that the only language in which I can coo to babies is in Marathi, regardless of the native language of said baby. Anything else seems unnatural to me.
BTW, thanks for stopping by at my post.

artnavy said...

Sandhya- malaa marathi kavita khoop aavadte

thanks all.

Momo's Ma said...

hey, a lot of my thots on not knowing the mother tongue, u have echoed so well. i just wrote this as a point in one of the tags i did recently.
btw, new here, n loved ur puppets. just ate some icecreams today and itstime for the ice cream puppets tom. thanks.

H said...

It was an interesting read Art :-)

"I wrote letters in Tamil using the Hindi Script". This reminded me of my mum writing to her sisters in Tamil using Malayalam script.

BTW, when r u moving to Blr? Love to Anush and Aditi.

artnavy said...

momo's mom- cool!

h- moving this month end

Sands said...

Born and raised in Chennai my whole life, I had to depend on my mom to teach me to read Tamil. Written Tamil is still a challenge to me. Can copy the script and that's as far as I can go :( But I can pretty much type emails to my mom and sisters in Tamil using the English script :)

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I am US born and raised and my parents' native language is malayalam. I learned and grasped malayalam on my own when I visited Kerala, and pretty much spoke alright in which they can understand. I cannot speak advanced though, pretty much the basics..and also was taught the the letters, can write really little, but not read. I don't know. I don't have any regrets, I feel I know enough and have a connection somewhat to the language and I know the culture fairly well through other aspects (food, customs, festivals). I don't speak the language at home, even though I'm spoken to in malayalam, but I never forget it and I tend to learn new words through my parent's conversations (can understand malayalam almost perfectly). I hear stories about people reading speaking and writing in their native tongue perfectly and it kind of annoys me. It's like saying if you don't know everything perfectly, you are a disgrace and shouldn't exist anymore. A boy in my prayer group who didn't like to speak mallu at first spoke complete malayalam at church the other day and started to refuse to speak in English..weird. I used to be bothered by this, but I feel it shouldn't be a big issue. I know my culture to an extent even though I don't speak the language. If you can know your culture through other things, you are fine..you are aware of your roots, the values and customs..language is not the only thing to help you learn the culture. I mean, no one here is perfect..are they? By the way, I have a huge interest to learn both Tamil and Hindi so bad because I love both Hindi and Tamil films..I can understand a bit Tamil since it's similar to Malaylam, but Hindi, I have very poor knoweledge as I don't even understand it, and sadly I love Hindi cinema like crazy and have been watching them for 8 years and after seeing 23904890238420 films, all I grasped was a few words haha. Anyway, I personally don't think you should feel ashamed to not know the language perfectly. It's good to know it, but I really don't think it's necessary to hound the language harshly on your kids KWIM? Yea, I'll teach my kids malayalam if they are ever curious about and have them get a feel of it...but I am not going to force them to speak, if they do, it would be great, if they don't, it's fine too, at least they would know something. I feel you should let kids speak whatever language they are comfortable in, and when they are in a situation where they need to use Tamil/Hindi..etc, coax them and help them through, it will make them more comfortable and good about it. I've seen many people say they are strict and force them to speak at home...and it ends up in chaos and many other problems. What matters though is that we have well behaved kids who are respectful to everyone..because that's being a huge problem nowadays..and if I have kids, that's my main focus, respect, care, support, don't judge, and most of all be a good human being. Language and all that to me is secondary, but will always offer them the opportunity if interested.