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Marathi and Me

  • February 21, 2015
  • Payoshni Saraf
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Today is International Mother Language Day and our blog is turning multilingual today. We are hosting a series of blog posts by different authors, illustrators, parents, educators and children – sharing their thoughts on languages 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. 2015 is the 15th anniversary of International Mother Language Day.
I live in Bangalore. A city swarmed with people from
different states, with different tongues, like myself. Everytime I go out for a
meal here, whether it’s a small breakfast joint selling Madurai Idlys or a posh
place specializing in Vietnamese cuisine  I see families, parent with young children,
talking to children, in English.The talking is sometimes scolding for  naughtiness or misbehavior, sometimes pleading
to eat more food, sometimes distraction to fool the child into more food, but
everything, in English. I cringe. Whatever happened to speaking to young
children in mother tongues? A tongue, a language their very own. A language
that will bind them with strangers later in life, or help share secrets in loud
because nobody else will understand it, a language of conspiracy, but most importantly,
a language of home. So why no Mother Tongue I ask?
And  I have reasons to
ask,and advices to give from my life. You see, I have had a very love-hate-don’t
know-don’t care-like-love kind of relationship with my mother tongue.It is not
a blockbuster, but still a story I feel like sharing today, on Mother Tongue
day.
I am a Maharashtrian by lineage, so Marathi is my mother
tongue. But like many children of that decade, I was born in a land many
kilometers away from my home state because young couples had started moving
across states and countries for opportunities. I was born in the dusty,
bustling business town of Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh. The mother tongue of which was
Hindi, so I grew up with a lot of Hindi around me. All friends, all foes,my
teachers, my auto-uncle, the helps at home, our neighborhood aunty who made
excellent gajar halwa, everybody spoke Hindi and so it became my first language
too. The only  Marathi I heard was when my
parents spoke to each other or to their parents over long distance calls which
had to be connected with the help of an operator.There were less than 100
Maharashtrian families spread across the big city that Kanpur is, and except
the 10 days of GaneshUtsav,we didn’t see each other much. Ofcourse our parents
had imposed an ‘Only Marathi’ rule at home, but with the virtue of my sister
been away in a hostel studying medicine, I didn’t have anyone to practice my
Marathi on. In school, tuition classes and neighborhood, I was the only Marathi
speaking person, amongst all the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi speakers and I hated
my minority status. I stopped caring for the language my parents spoke,
concentrating on the language everybody around spoke.Years moved on, and I
moved away from my mother tongue.
Then it was time for me to fly off to newer horizons to
study and I landed in Pune. The seat of  Marathi language. I felt odd, here I was, a
Maharastrian, finally in Maharashtra who could not speak respectable Marathi. What
am I do to? Slowly,  but steadily and
with a passion, Pune grew on me, and so did Marathi. I started polishing my
Marathi by haggling with shopkeepers in Marathi (which awed my non-Maharashtrian
friends), I started attending Marathi plays, watching Marathi movies, attending
Marathi music concerts.I finally started connecting with my mother tongue, 21
years too late, but connecting nevertheless. Conversations with parents,
strictly in Hindi up-till, had a big smattering of Marathi in them now.I was
amazed by how beautiful it sounded, how I could have something in common with absolute
strangers, something that  was spoken by
great warriors and ace writers and visionary thinkers and it belonged to them
as much as it belonged to me.I had reached a point where I thought I could
probably now attempt to read Marathi, all those wonderful works were waiting
for me, and maybe I was ready?
But before I could do this, I moved to Bangalore and the Marathi
ties sort of snapped. Another language started filling my ears. Like a jilted
ex-lover, I started looking for Marathi everywhere. Surprisingly, I got it.
Whether on a road trip to Bandipur, or a shopping trip to a mall, or while
eating dosa roadside, I would always let a Marathi conversation find me. I
started catching Marathi words in Kannada (and have being fascinated since
then that there are so  many common words!) I started reading the Marathi books in our
office. I started to make that connection again. Because nothing makes me feel
of home, like my mother tongue.
My Marathi.
So Dear parents of Bangalore, scold, plead, distract your
child, but do it in her mother tongue please. Many years later, she would speak
a sentence of this language and fly right back home.
(As I write this, I look longingly at that Marathi book which
sits on my bedside table waiting to be read. Maybe today is a good day J)
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