First Stories

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 story was sent by Chryselle D’Silva Dias. Chryselle is a freelance journalist, library-haunter and avid bookcrosser currently based in Goa. When she’s not reading or making books with her 7 year old apprentice, she writes about people, places and everything in between. Visit her at www.chryselle.net)

The stories always came in that hour before dinner when we were exhausted

from playing all day long in the summer sun. Summer vacations during our

childhood meant being hauled to Mangalore to my grandmother’s home,

where surrounded by acres of paddy fields, coconut and betel nut trees,

mangoes and jackfruits, and of course cows and buffaloes, we spent two

languorous months away from school.

My grandmother (‘Mai’) is a feisty woman (90 this year!) who singlehandedly

brought up her four daughters and kept her farm, her children and her

livestock safe from encroaching neighbours and random male relatives. She

handled runaway buffaloes, thieving hawks and monsoon crabs with equal

aplomb. With this kind of daredevil reputation, it was little wonder that we

siblings waited to visit her, for the adventure she offered and for her stories.

So there we were all huddled on a red oxide floor in the bedroom while the

last touches to dinner were being made in the kitchen. Mai knew a little

English, but her stories were told in Konkani. By the time we were eight or nine

we could understand most of it and ask questions. My mother or aunts were

on hand to explain a difficult word or two, but for the most part we figured it

out ourselves.

The stories were always of adventure, of boys and girls who got into heaps of

trouble but eventually found their way out to a happy ending. Some of the

stories were yucky, with liberal amounts of poop thrown in for theatrical

effect. (Kids love poopy stories as I’m finding out recently!) Others were

somewhat scary; especially when the protagonist was lost or in so much

trouble that there didn’t seem a way out.

Over the years, the stories didn’t change much. As we grew older, we were

able to predict the twists and turns, each new Konkani word making more

sense to us. Those stories built up our understanding of a new language and

gave us the confidence to speak it fluently.

Now several decades later, I’m looking forward to each summer vacation for a

different reason. Come April, we will pack our bags and head to Mangalore

where Mai can entertain another generation of English-speaking kids with

Konkani stories that remain with them long after the summer is over.

My seven year old son loves his great-grandmother’s house for the cows and

the chance to play with his cousins but maybe this year, Mai’s Konkani tales

will be an important part of that adventure too.

Image Source : Eric Parker

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