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Mother, writer and daydreamer. Also chocoholic and chick-flick lover. But mainly mommy. To two boys, at that! When not escorting my Elder One (EO) to karate class, I'm trying to get in as many cuddles as possible from my Younger One (YO). And when not doing either, I'm hard-at-work trying to maintain a steady relationship with my laptop. And as for the Man I Married (MIM), well, let’s just put it this way – even though we share a bedroom, our most meaningful conversations are held over the cell-phone!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For the Love of Language

(This post was written for the Tulika blogathon.)

Let me first start by saying that I consider Bengali, or Bangla, to be my mother-tongue. Even though I think in English.

But the above is totally a result of my environment. Born in the States, I was exposed to two languages; English outside the house and Bangla, inside. My mother, so that I would be in touch with my mother-tongue and also so that I could write letters to my grandparents in Bangla, began to teach me the script at home...during weekends and holidays.

And then, during my pre-teen years, we moved to India. And not to West Bengal, but down south. Bangalore, to be exact. And I was exposed to two new languages...French and Hindi. Funnily enough, I never needed to learn Kannada. And so, Ma stopped teaching me how to read and write in Bangla. But, now I wanted to desperately that I could write letters to my Baba who was still working abroad.

Here's the thing, I can't help but wonder if my personality is a huge part of why I love Bangla so much... Can that have anything to do with your love for a language? Your willingness to learn it? After all, lookit my brother and me...

We were brough up in the same environment, but I am the totally arty type, whereas my brother is the sporty type. I love Bangla culture, music and movies. I feel bereft that my literate Bangla isn't so fluent, because a vast and rich source of literature is closed to me...and for a book-worm like moi, that's a huge loss. My conversational Bangla is pretty darned good, if I do say so myself; my brother's is passable, at best. But having said that, I can't exactly enter into a political debate in my mother-tongue either. Why? Because, as I said right in the beginning, I think in English.

English has been my primary language throughout my growing up years. I read books round the clock in it. I sang songs in it. I conversed in it, dreamed in it, fought in it, wrote poetry in it.

And yet, at home, the environment was typically Bengali and I enbraced that too. So much so, that I knew I wanted to marry a Bengali boy...and I did.

And look at me now. An American-Bangalorean-Bengali living in Kolkata and bring up two boys, aged six and three.

My Elder One has been learning Bangla for two years now. He is fluent in his mother-tongue, as well as English, because I spoke to him in both right from the moment we met, and Hindi, as a result of his environment. Now the younger one, well, up until a year ago, it was primarily Bangla for him since he was with an ayah a lot. And it used to worry me, whether he would ever be up to speed in English...and I balmed myself. But I needn't have worried. The English and Hindi have kicked in and he's as fluent in both as any three-year-old can possibly be.

Despite knowing how to read and write Bangla, I prefer my mother teaching the EO Bangla and helping him with his homework. After all, she knows the rules of grammer; she can answer the why's and the why-not's; demonstrate the how-to's and correct the how-not-to's with confidence and without thinking twice. Trying to teach my son Bangla only brought my turmoil and confusion to my mind about the why's and the how-come's.

For example, do we really need three letters to denote 'sh' in our language? We don't have a 's' sound, which is why most Bengalis wear "shoks on their feet". We don't have a 'z', and therefore we watch the 'newjj' and read 'newjjpapers', sometimes while sitting in the 'joo'. Many letters are redundant, and grammer is turning into a joke.

However, I really want my boys to learn the language. Just in case one of them turns out to be a book-lover like me, I would love for him to be able to pick up a Tagorean classic or a Sunil Gangopadhyay masterpiece or a Satyajit Ray "Feluda" mystery or an anthology of Jibanananda Das poetry or even a "Handa-Bhonda" comic.

The list is endless. And it's there. And I want my sons to know that and take advantage of it.


Piper .. said...

hey, i can so relate to this. Growing up in ranchi, I never learnt bangla in school. I picked up reading/writing bangla on my own, once I grew up. Which explains why I havent read anything of bangla literature, because one line takes 5 minutes to read!. Neither can I speak 'proper' bangla - only colloquial with a 'bihari' twang! And since I think in english too, it`s difficult to write as well.
All this makes me immensely sad at times.. And so I`m glad my sister insists on teaching her 21/2 year old bangla, even though he can hardly get a single line in english straight! :):)

How have you been M4? I have been meaning to write to you for a while now..

Passionate Goof said...

Language, what to use, and what not to, this is something I am still not very clear about. I can speak bangla well, and with great effort read some, and that is about it. Though to be honest, I never REALLY miss it, maybe because I have never really lived in West Bengal, so have not felt the pull to something everyone else knows, and neither have I ever ended up having primarily Bengali friends. But any language we are well versed in is an asset, I believe, even if one lives in maharashtra for a few years, and picks up Marathi, atleast speaking it, its a skill, and a good one. Unfortunately I am not one with an ear for languages, and have to make real efforts to learn one. :(

Sagarika said...

Shucks man I never felt to related to a post before... it someway transmorgified to the childhood me who was laughed at always when she visited her cousins in kolkata coz she spoke in a mixture of dogri-hindi-punjabi--bonglish (was born in jammu) and then later years while dadi ensured I could read bong, could never manage to script it... now after so many years amidst the marwar state.. kolkatans still laugh at my dialect and call me pseudo bong.. with no regard that I can quote back tagore n bankim chandra in a much better way than they can... why r we so judgmental when it comes to languages... why is it treated like a domain??? I know I'll never be able to pen down smooth scripts but then does that make me less a bong than the girl living next door who flaunts of the latest bornoporichoy pastime with a son to me as an activity i would perhaps never do?

Mama - Mia said...

my mother tongue is Marathi. i can read and write it tho i dont remember the last time i wrote!

being in a mixed marriage cub doesnt know Marathi. any of it. he is comfy with Hindi and Kannada and now English.

like you sometimes i wonder if he will pick up english, but am sure he will eventually.

i do hope that someday he will be able to learn marathi as well to enjoy its rich literature.



Indyeah said...

I love bangla MM..

I dont know how many times I have said that to anyone who would acre to listen:) and I dont have door door tak any bangla connection...maybe I was a bong in my previous birth:D

Had plans to marry a bengali guy just so I could hear bengali being spoken everyday and hopefully learn some of it too:)
fate had other plans:)

I think in a mixture of Hindi and English:) my mother tongue I can understand partially but have trouble speaking it:(

much love to EO and YO:)
((hugs))for you:)

Anonymous said...

I can so understand and relate to this!! I think we learn to think in the language we read and write... and even if one does know a language, unless it is used for reading and writing (along with speaking)the fluency is lost.

Keep plenty of reading material in Bangla available at home, so reading Bangla and reading English go side by side all their lives... one tends to drift towards English, because it more readily available, including on the internet.