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.)

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!

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