Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Mother Tongue Day!!

Today is being celebrated as Mother Tongue day. I have been reading about it in the papers for the last couple of days and it set me thinking. A lot has been said about how important it is for a child to use its own mother tongue. About how all indigenous languages, dialects, accents and flavors are in danger of being wiped out /overshadowed by the more commonly accepted and universal language - English. Some experts agreed and others did'nt. And I was thinking that there is a bit of hypocrisy about the whole thing.

True, educationists the world over have said that the better a child's grasp over his own mother tongue is, the more mastery they will have in learning other languages not their own. And still, despite all this, I find that schools in India stubbornly cling on to English. Hubby and I are both Tamilians and at home, we both speak to kuttan in Tamil. When I put kuttan in school at the age of 2 and a half, he could barely speak 2-3 word sentences. All in Tamil. But he could understand English and I was not too worried. I knew he'd pick up the language soon enough.

During his first PTA, his teacher told me he is a good kid. Bright, cheerful, friendly. But he has to improve his language skills, she said. When I asked her what she meant, she went on to elaborate. He is very comfortable in Tamil. But you should speak to him in English at home so that he can pick up English well too. Why? That's what I send him to school for.

Neither of my parents spoke English at home. In fact, my mom never does and appa, strictly in the deepest official tones. In spite of that, I did quite fine for myself, thank you. Considering that I grew up in Tamilnadu, I had plenty of opportunites to speak and constantly hone my Tamil skills outside my home. But, if I do not speak to my son in Tamil, how will he ever learn the language?

When I was in school, we had a choice of Hindi/Tamil for second language. Considering that my father worked in a bank and would get transferred every 3 years or so, Hindi was a more prudent choice. However amma made sure that I, at least, learnt to read and write Tamil. The basic, elementary education was polished over the years by reading magazines like Ananda Vikatan and Kalki.

When I was growing up, I always thought it was a little uncool to speak in Tamil. I never paid too much attention. Like an object of comfort that you rarely miss till it is gone, it was always there. Only well into my adulthood did I realise how much I had missed.

The rich literature, the poetry, the sheer beauty. The musical cadence of Sundara kandam. The sheer brilliance of Kalki's works. The wondrous works of Kannadasan. The fiery passion of the dravidian writers. The intellect shining through Sujatha's works and how he manages to bring the most difficult and profound scientific concepts to a layman's level. I had missed them all. Tamil is not an easy language to master. I tried reading Kalki's 'Ponniyin Selvan' but have still not managed to complete it. But I did read his compilation of short stories and marvelled over his way with words. A mastery no less, no profound than a Somerset Maugham or an O.Henry.

I despair the fact that I am passing on even less of this great language to my son. True, we have moved to Bangalore and want to integrate. True that I want him to learn Kannada. But is it too much to dream that one day, together, we will be able to explore the richness and beauty of this age-old language, which, after all, is his mother tongue?? Is it too much to expect this child to take on the additional burden of learning one more language which is not a part of his 'syllabus' and which will not affect his marks?

Today, I remember the immortal and hauntingly sweet lines by Kannadasan.

தமிழுக்கும் அமுதென்று பெயர்
இன்பதமிழ் அந்த தமிழ் எங்கள் உயிருக்கும் மேல்...உயிருக்கும் மேல்...

Happy Mother Tongue's day to all of you...

6 comments:

noon said...

Nice post...I feel the same way - it is so important to know your mother tongue...I just don't know how to make sure KB and KG learn Tamil well. Be really fluent in it...So many kids here just like Kuttan know only Tamil /Hindi when they go to school...but the moment they go to full time school they forget it and only speak English...Forget literature I am more worried that they should just be fluent enough to talk...
Sujatha, Kannadasan - all my favs too. Esp these two...
Hey - like the way you have spelled "Peyar" and "Mel" in tamizh! :) Konjam ultafied but cute! :)

Anu Russell said...

Gosh! your story sounds so much like mine...I am a golt who lived in T.Nadu all her life. My dad made me learn hindi at school but mom homeschooled Tamil...so that I wont get lost when I moved to Chennai...and I consider myself as much a Tamilian as Telugu...And I do agree my parents did not speak to me in english in our house and I did fare alright...wonder why schools think that it is cool for kids to speak english...but i also do blame many parents who think the same...i have heard so many of them say "En pulla nalla englipish la pesaran..." as if adhukku speciala cup kudukira maadhiri!

And now I am in a bigger quandry...vetula hubby and i speak hindi, i speak telugu with family and tamil with friends and my kid gets to hear all these languages including bits of my hubby's m.lingo=konkani...pulla ore the jugal bandhi dhan!

Sumana said...

You are tagged
http://www.expressthemind.blogspot.com/

Aryan said...

Happy mother tounge day to you to..
Aryan's mom

varali said...

Apologies for leaving a trail of comments all over your blog!

It is fantastic that you want your son to learn not only Tamil but also Kannada. Few people, if any, have this openness of mind - how many long time settlers in Bangalore from other parts of the country speak the language? I find it pathetic.

It is also well known that children who hear and learn multiple languages in childhood have far better abstraction skills than those who grow up with only one language. It may explain why Indians have had this reputation for being good with mathematics and science.

So there are many excellent reasons why you should continue in your endeavour to teach your son as many languages as possible. Even if it does nothing to his academic abilities, imagine the cultural and literary worlds that will open to him with each new language.

Deepti said...

hi BM..:)..u writing style is lovely..:)..i doiscovered ur blog tdy...and have not stopped reading it since afternoon....
i am wndering how cum you do not have a HUGE reader following....i mean pls dnt take it otherwise...but ur blog deserves to be read by many many more ppl....
Keep writing...and all the best for ur mommy endeavors..:))