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 Indu Harikumar. Indu says she will recycle anything especially love. She likes to turn everyday things into objects of art. She has written and illustrated books, designed toys and really enjoys working with children. You can find her work: http://www.facebook.com/induviduality
Growing up in suburban Mumbai, I encountered, learned, loved and mixed various languages. Among the ones I was taught were English, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Sanskrit and Italian. And I picked up some Gujarati and Punjabi, a little Kutchi and Tamil.
No, I don’t claim to know any of them but yeah, I can converse in a few and eavesdrop in almost all of them.
Malayalam is my mother tongue and my parents insisted we learn to read and write in Malayalam. So on Sundays, when the rest of the children watched Jungle Book, we would learn Malayalam. I disliked television and didn’t mind missing Jungle Book but I hated Malayalam and wouldn’t mind some television instead. Because my atheist and communist father had chosen Ramayan (in verse) to teach us the language. The words were so obscure, it was just fine print, there were no pictures and I didn’t understand a word. I was sure that it was never going to help me read.
Much later, while in school, we got cable tv at home and discovered the genius called Mohanlal. When his movies played, I wanted to understand the jokes, know the songs, and my interest in the language increased. I would try to read from newspapers and magazines at home. It was difficult initially but I learned with practice and reading with my parents. Big type and colourful pictures also helped. I told myself – I will write a book in Malayalam someday.
As an adult, I worked on the web and one of my web jobs took me to Chandamama, where I started drawing again. After Chandamama, I joined a children’s publishing house in Delhi as assistant editor. Post that, in 2009, I was freelancing and back in Mumbai.
One day, I found myself at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. It was the first day of the festival, the by-invite-only kind of day. No, we were not invited but my cousin who worked with a big news corporation in Delhi had picked up his boss’ pass. We walked in signed where she had to and found ourselves in paradise. We pinched and nudged each other- look on the left, on your right, that poet, that actress, that writer.
The play was Tanvir Habib’s Charandas Chor.
During the interval, us star stuck kids went back to ogle and nudge and satisfy our star stuck minds. In 10 minutes we heard the bell. While we were rushing back, the cousin muttered something and a man in a mundu looked at us. I asked him what he had said. He said, “arey nothing.”
As we sat the man in the mundu walked in, looked at us and smiled and went and sat in the front row. Both of us wanted to disappear.
“What did you say? Why was he looking at us like that?”
“Arey, I just said apoopan and I am sure he didn’t hear that.”
The second half of the play started. I kept wondering where I had seen the man in the mundu. He was vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place him. After the play, we decided to go look for the man in the mundu and apologise. Cousin decided to tell him,” I am sorry but you remind me of my grandfather which its why I called you appopan.”
We spotted him and dashed towards him. He smiled and cousin began apologising. I suddenly remembered where I had seen him. On television.
I sheepishly asked, “Saar, are —– you —- a —- politician?”
He smiled and said he was the education minister of Kerala.
” Children call me apoopan all the time. Are you students?”
We told him what we do. He then gave me his card and said, “Write to me. You should draw and write in Malayalam.”
I did. Initially for Thaliru, a magazine run by the Kerala government and then illustrated Safdar Hashmi’s poem – Gadbad Ghotala (Kundamandi Gulumal) in Malayalam.
And that dream I had as a teenager came true.