English > Hindi > Malayalam

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.

Author and illustrator Indu Harikumar’s little love letter to languages.

When I was a child, we spoke Malayalam at home, Hindi on the playground and English in school. In school, we were told: “If you are found speaking in any other language other than English, you will be punished”. On the playground, if the mother came to call us and we spoke in Malayalam, we would be teased about speaking –AnduGunduThandaPaani
So with Hindi not being allowed in school and Malayalam only in the closed confines of the home, I knew English > Hindi > Malayalam. Also, all of us knew when to leave the Bambaiya of the playgrounds and speak the “acceptable” Hindi to adults. Language Hierarchy.
But this being suburban, middle-class Mumbai of the 80s, I learned many languages. Our neighbours were Gujarati and Punjabi, I could pretty much understand what they spoke and sometimes would learn to read headlines from the Gujarati newspaper. My mother taught tuition to a bunch of children who spoke Kutchi, so I would listen in and learn from them. In school, we were taught English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. A R Rahman got Tamil in our lives. (Even my Punjabi friends had tapes of Gentleman.) Later I dabbled in Italian (now limited to casa, pizza, Dante, Versace) and now some German. 
What I love about knowing whatever I know of these languages, it makes eavesdropping so easy. And as a person who loves personal histories, I love hiding behind a paper or book and hearing people talk away about their in-laws, teachers, politics, children, lovers, life and other maladies.
(This story was first shared on Indu’s Facebook page : Induviduality. Indu Harikumar is a children’s writer, illustrator and art teacher. She likes to turn everyday things into objects of art. She has been published by several different publishers, as well as non-profit, multi-national and government bodies. Indu enjoys spinning tales with children and conducts art and story workshops regularly.)

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