Languages & I – My love for languages

My mother tongue is Tamil and I was born and brought up in Bangalore (Karnataka, India). If you happen to meet me in person, I believe, I would be comfortable in conversing with you in Tamil and/or Kannada. But not many share this belief of mine. Though I tend to ignore those non-believers, at times they get to my nerves. And few of them have been getting at me for about 15 years.

Being born and brought in a Tamil family, the language came naturally to me. But the Tamil that I speak is a little different from what my parents speak, with some influences of Kannada. Colloquially what I speak is termed as ‘Bangalore Tamil’. All said I still am fluent in Tamil. My siblings and I were also taught to read and write Tamil by our parents and grandfather. I wear my identity as a Tamil speaking person on my sleeve and do not shy away from conversing in the language, except in the professional sorroundings.

Kannada was introduced to me long before school days. With the absence of satellite television channels at the time, we used to rely on the daily news telecast by the regional Doordarshan (DD-9/Chandana) for current affairs. Once admitted to school, with Kannada as the second language, I also was trained in reading and writing Kannada. Growing up with friends and moving in their circles increased my colloquial vocabulary exponentially. Not to appear as pleasing anyone, but Kannada became second only to my mother tongue since my childhood. But there are few who have always tried to (and still do) remind me of my Tamil origin. More about that later.

Like any kid from the Indian urban middle class family, I enjoyed schooling with English as the medium of instruction. But that was restricted to reading and writing in English for most parts, until I reached Engineering College. During my school days, the native language, Kannada, was the de-facto language used for communication among peers. We were also never forced to speak in English or cultivate any particular accent, unlike the convents of those times. As we had a fairly good knowledge of written English, it was not very difficult to start conversing in the language, the only downside being the neutral accent (which personally I prefer to a forced ‘fake’ accent). My knowledge of English grammar might still be in its infancy, but I can pull off writing/reading/speaking in the language with a fair amount of success.

When I was about 15 years old my father decided to endow us, his children, with Hindi education. This might have partly stemmed from his growing up in Kancheepuram and Chennai and unable to pursue the learning of Hindi beyond a certain point. He manages Hindi quite well, travelling the length and breadth of India without any help. He saw it important to give us some solid education in Hindi, an idea that I was initially opposed to. My siblings and I have completed the 9 course Hindi education in ‘Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha‘ which has its headquarters in Chennai. So I think I can claim that I do know ‘Hindi’! As I do not have enough day-to-day opportunities to put my Hindi knowledge into use, I am not entirely comfortable or eloquent in my conversations. But when it comes to singing, I can rattle off couple of dozens of Kishore Kumar songs, albeit out of rhythm. I have also had the audacity to try to dabble in poetry for some time. From being a kid who was almost in tears for being forced to join the Hindi course, I evolved into a poem writing (let’s give that child some consolation) Hindi aficionado. But if you were to ask me about Hindi being the ‘National Language of India’, I would strongly and vehemently oppose that claim.
But life, and the characters that are a part of it, have occasionally thrown me into unfavorable situations. Mainly,

1. Tamil Vs Kannada
2. South Indian Languages Vs Hindi

The latter is a topic on which I can easily take a stand. But the former one, which puts me in a situation where I am caught between my mother tongue and a tongue that I am used to since childhood, is trickier. And to be honest, I do not wish to take any stand in that issue. But most of the times, the situation is not borne out of some intelligent debate or discussion but more out of the sinister minds of my “friends” who like to pass me through the litmus test; a test that I do not wish to take and reveal either “blue” or “red”. And I have been enduring this ordeal of being put into such tests from high school.

I welcome any learning and when people point of any mistakes/errors in my language. But these sinister minds, relish in only pointing out my errors and conveniently forget to rectify it. It is actually quite evident that they do not wish to see it corrected as it would steal from them another opportunity to make fun of me and my knowledge of “their” language. I have always been pointed out by these people that the language is “theirs” and not “ours” as I am allegedly a Tamilian and cannot aspire to become someone who will have no problem with any other language. Any social gathering of friends becomes a platform for these sinister minds to take the stage and induce me into the trap of the litmus test. Especially one among these, who himself is married to a non-Kannadiga (who cannot speak the language like I do), has been a driving force in such gatherings. After years of crying invisible tears and suffering I have started to ignore these people and even started to accept the fact that I cannot possibly become a master of all languages. I secretly even wish to challenge these sinister minds to at least make an attempt to learn a couple of other languages and have a decent conversation like I do. But I know it would do not good to me or to the situation.

There is undeniably an undercurrent of friction that is shared between North Indians and South Indians. I don’t have the knowledge to dissect and try to find the origins of this resentment. As noted earlier, with all my respect and love for the Hindi language I can never come to terms with people trying to impose the language on others in the garb of “National Language”. This has occasionally resulted in some friction in the workplace, especially when the meeting is conducted in Hindi. Any opposition to such a practice is termed to be “anti-national” and we enter into a war of words. Sometime we let go, but at times we charge back with force. At the end, I sit pondering about the problem faced in a diversified society.

I know that in my lifetime I can never escape from such situations arising out of conflicts between languages. And I will be targeted because of who I am. I will be resented, respected, hated, judged, punished, and rewarded depending on the “other” person in the conflict. The sinister minds will stay on forever trying to make me pass through the litmus test at every step. People will try to impose a certain language on me (or the people around me). I will be seen as someone favoring a certain language. Or as someone who hates a certain language. I will be expected to take sides and fight for causes that people think I ought to. But none of these will stop me from speaking the languages that I know. None of these will stop me from trying to learn new languages; I have a long list of languages that I wish to learn – Telugu, Malayalam, German, French to name a few. None of these problems will falter my conviction or the respect that I have for languages.

I wish people wake up one day and realize languages are meant to be a channel among people. It is meant to bring people together. Languages should never become a reason for differentiation. It should never be used as a tool to spread hatred among people. Spread your language and make an attempt to learn and respect other languages. All languages are equal; none can be better or bigger than others.





~ by Jayanthan Ravi on October 30, 2013.

4 Responses to “Languages & I – My love for languages”

  1. Jai,

    Awesome Posting… am really like it and so happy to say i have friend like you.

    Regards, Makesh.

  2. Hi Jai,

    Excellent post, well put across. You’ve been very sincere in your thoughts!
    Just to let you know, I’ve also experienced the points you mentioned in your point (1) in your post. Have to say the similarities are shockingly similar.

    Some of my ‘closest’ friends have suspected my ‘allegiance’ to Kannada, knowing that my Mother tongue to be Tamil. And honestly like you I too don’t want to take a stand! For I love both in too different ways.

    I still don’t understand the psychology behind this hatred.

  3. Hi Aditya,

    I don’t think so we can escape from these people/situations. And we also should not let others’ prejudice influence our thoughts. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts 🙂

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