(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 learn...so 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.