Many Lives, Many Languages

Aravind Adiga in one sentences captures the beauty of learning many languages in the Daily Beast.

Language becomes for me what German must be for those who have learnt it well enough: a new way of understanding the world.

As Adiga points out, most of us Indians grow up ‘in an archipelago of tongues.’ (What a beautiful phrase!) It’s only after I moved away from India that I understood the beauty in the mangle and deluge of languages that hit you from every corner here. It was also a time when I yearned to hear languages that sounded like home to my ears. A few words here and a snatch of a conversation and I’d be back in a happier place again.

In Mangalore, I wake up to Konkani caught in the tangle of a busy weekday morning. Someone’s rushing for work and someone’s late for school, someone else has forgotten lunch and someone has forgotten a morning kiss from Mommy(me!).

The dust settles, it’s quiet till the domestic helps start trickling in. Then it’s the mad clangor of Bagalkot Kannada(I think! I should find out from Iramma) and the local Kannada. Dishes are washed, clothes hung out to dry, gossip exchanged and soon the chaos of an alien Kannada and a familiar tongue vanish. It’s time for Leelamma the fisherwoman to do her round, you see.

'Daada, Leelamma? Yenchina und meen?’ Nothing sounds more cut-throat business like than Tulu. It’s brusque, even. Even if Babyakka the grandmotherly lady down the road is asking me 'Kodeh idjiya?’ I straighten up and pay attention.

Kannada and Tulu didn’t come easily to me. Tulu’s the language I learned by way of explaining to Muthakka the milk-lady that my shorts weren’t half as scandalous as her hitched up sari; it was also the only way I could convince Ajja, Grandpa’s friend, to part with the little stem from his betel leaf. 

Kannada was all my Grandma’s doing. A little outraged that I knew not a word she made it her mission to go the whole hog with Kannada - writing, reading and speaking. Udayavani, Udaya TV, god knows how many four-lined notebooks and many stifled snickers from strangers later I could finally confidently give directions to the rickshaw driver and buy groceries at the local shopkeeper’s.