I don’t hate any language, it’s always been fun to learn and speak different languages. I also believe that languages should attract people rather than be forcefully imposed. But this essay isn’t just about an imposition. It is about how different languages come with their own sets of stigmas and privileges.
We were in Bhopal when I started school, I was always happy to go to school and would never cry, school was a fun place where I met my friends and learnt new things. Getting punished by my teachers was a daily routine.
I was studying in a defense school where most of our communication happened in Hindi. Even our teachers- educated wives of army officers would communicate in Hindi, so I eventually learnt it. English was a language that was used only by Officers or their kins who would to come to school for functions, or the Parent Teacher Meeting’s in which I used to be called “Buddhu” while the officer’s kids were called “dumb”.
Teachers were quite harsh with students and their parents. My parents were not even allowed inside the campus easily. They were allowed in only at a particular time, and had to wait out in the scorching sun and get a permission letter. The teachers used to yell at them for my ‘mistakes’ which used to be me fainting in the Morning Prayer, or because I used to take time to understand a few topics. They used to do a lot of comparing, where they made me feel so low. It felt horrible. The army officers were allowed in their fancy ambassadors at any time of the day and were even treated well by the authority. Their kids were exactly like us in class, but were treated differently because of their parents higher ranking in the army. We used to get hit on the knuckles most of the time and were given harsh punishments. I felt exactly like a soldier serving in the army. This was their way of instilling discipline. I still remember an incident where I had written my surname before my first name. The English teacher slapped me so hard that I lost my consciousness for a while and could hear my ears buzzing. To a fifth grader who was pretty lean, that was really hard.
Words like Buddhu, nalayak, besharam, badmaash were some of the slang words used by the teachers on us. This doesn’t mean that I was always scolded, I was also complimented with words like chathur, buddhimaan, smart (rarely) and hoshiyaar.
When I was in second grade, my father got his retirement and we came down to Bengaluru- the Silicon Valley, it had everything! From a lush green MG road to the wide CMH road, the lights in Brigade road and the Adarsha theatre in Ulsoor- everything was fancy about this place. It was always filled with colours and flowers. We rented a small place in Ulsoor and this area had people from all states of south India. People here spoke a different language called ‘Kannada’ which was the official language of Karnataka, but it also welcomed people who spoke in English, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I knew Hindi and I thought it would be enough to manage.
This city welcomed me with open arms and a lot of love. It felt as though I was finally back home. Though the city was different, the defense school here was nothing new. Hindi was still the preferred mode of communication among students. Our classes were inside barracks with pigeons shitting either on our books, or sometimes it would be our heads- which looked like well-oiled commodes for them from above. These were tall buildings, which made it hard to reach and shoo off those birds of havoc.
I used to travel with seven to eight other kids in an auto to school. We used to talk about the things happening in school, mostly in Hindi. Surprisingly, even the south Indians spoke Hindi which was very helpful to make new friends. I used to get taught numbers in Kannada by my auto driver. He used to say that Kannada is important and you will need it if you are here for a long time.
When I was in fifth grade, I was playing around the area telling stories, when a girl came up and told me I have a Butler English. I didn’t know what that meant and replied to her politely saying, “Thank you” and came back home. My mum being the smart lady of the family was furious when she heard this and confronted the girl saying it was wrong what she had said. Later, after realizing what she meant I felt weird not because she said “butler” but because I didn’t understand the language that she had said it in.
My mum had faced many hardships to get her education and complete her B.com. She was good with English, but would communicate in English only if it was a necessity. She would often say that we should never lose our roots, our language and our culture to a foreign language. For us Hindi wasn’t a foreign language as it was widely spoken by all of us. My dad being in service was always around Hindi. But when she heard the comment made at me, she too felt the importance of knowing and communicating in English. We had realised that Hindi would not be enough.
I was close to an aunt who would always listen to me and help me out in learning new things about this new place. She was a strong, bold lady with a Bengaluru attitude of enjoying and living a free life. She would call my family over for weekends and I would learn about people like Nadaprabhu Kempegowda, Kuvempu and Dr.Rajkumar; and also about places like Shivaji Nagar, KR market and a lot more. We would go to V.V Puram to taste some of Bengaluru’s finest chaat food and roam Jayanagar 3rd block at least once a month just for the fun of it. Walking around with her I had observed that nowhere did she talk to the people that we met in Hindi, which was odd as I had always thought that people love that language and it’s the easiest mode of communication.
My aunt was a big bookworm and had many books in various languages. She would always talk about how important it is to read newspapers and books. When she had heard about this English incident of mine she was furious too. I guess it’s that typical Coorgi feature where everyone gets furious pretty easily. She went in and came out with two books called ‘Tinkle.’ These were printed in simple English. They were easy to understand. I started reading them because they had interesting cartoons and funny stories like Shikari Shambu, Tantri the Mantri, Suppandi and few others. I started reading Tinkle comics and then shifted towards Readers digests, which had news and real life stories. It improved my learning and understanding skills, and also I started communicating to people in English.
I changed my school because my parents also began to see through the discrimination and biased behaviour of the authority towards its students, which had also begun affecting my grades. I dropped out and started going to a state syllabus board. There I saw how this school appreciated other languages and taught students without any discrimination of language. The new school taught us in English and helped us understand the language. They were friendly and approachable, they would punish us too, but it was not physical or mental.
I slowly started to understand myself. The school helped me become a better person and not judge myself or believe that I was just a “Buddhu kid.” I began participating in extracurricular activities and did well academically too. I also started the habit of going to the library. With the help of my mum I began learning Kannada during the summer vacations. The new school was going to begin in a month and half. We had to give our best in a short span of time. She taught me the basics- starting from the Varnamale to the numbers in Kannada. Learning something from the start is very exciting. I was very drawn to the language, it’s words and the style in which it was written. It was so beautiful! And to know that just 49 words can help me get along with the locals and make me feel welcome here, it was wonderful.
My mum started taking me to the market to buy vegetables and fruits where she would ask me to talk to the vendors. Since they didn’t know Hindi or English, I had to talk to them in Kannada and it slowly started to improve my communication skills. She would also make me read a paragraph from the newspaper daily to make me understand complex words that are not seen in the learning books and would also make me solve problems which used to come in the Kannada paper on Sundays. Now I am much improved communicating in Kannada.
Learning Kannada improved my communication in Kodava thakk, I used to stay away from talking to someone in Kodava thakk because I wasn’t that good at it. I used to mispronounce certain words and people listening used to laugh and correct me. That used to make me feel ashamed of not knowing my mother tongue well. Since Kannada scripts are used in Kodava newspapers, my dad started bringing two weekly Kodava papers- Poomale and Brahmagiri for me to read. He would also talk to me more in Kodava Thakk so that I could understand it better and not mix in any other language during conversations (which I often did.) After a while it became easier. I now use my own language more often than Hindi.
Currently, I speak Kannada, Kodava Thakk, English, Hindi. I am also able to understand and talk in Tamil as I have been around Tamil speaking people a lot. I am much more confident and open to people now. Learning the local language has made life a lot easier and much better. It helps me to get along with different people. I think that you feel closer to people who speak the same language than just knowing only one language that apparently is spoken by the whole of India.
As for English, words like their, there, ones, once, has, as and few others still confuse me and each time I have to google them to check if I am using the words the right way in a particular sentence. I still live by a fear that people would judge me for not communicating well or making grammatical errors. I am happy to be corrected and thankful for the people who help me to improve, but sometimes the judgmental eye still haunts me.
These are all just different languages, with importance that varies based on personal relationships. They are optional for an individual and it is definitely not something that needs to be imposed. It shouldn’t be the way it is now, where not knowing a particular language might make you feel low around people who would simply use that to shove you down.
Edited by Anika Eliz Baby