The Curious Case of the Mother Tongue

My mother tongue is konkani but being born and brought up in Pune, my first language somehow became marathi and konkani was sidelined. Marathi has become so integral that my sister and me converse in marathi while with my parents it is a blend of konkani and marathi, they speaking in konkani and we replying back in marathi. The kind of situation most of the NRI kids have, common term of communication being english.
27 years in Maharashtra and then suddenly I am sent off to Chennai and the language barrier almost killed me. I was always cribbing and complaining that Chennaites can’t speak english or hindi and are adamant that they will speak tamil only. But then I looked back at Maharashtra, what different are we doing? We are also hell bent that you speak marathi with us. Maybe the little brighter side was broken hindi can be used as a means of communication in Maharashtra. That was just a little respite. But the problem remained the same. I used to be pissed off that even in office meetings people used to converse in Tamil. But it was the same case in Pune, many meetings happened in marathi.

Then it dawned on me, an outsider will always feel that he/she is not treated fairly and that the localites have a upper hand as they know the local language, which is true even if a bengali goes to Chennai or a tamilian travels to Maharashtra. We are so self centred that we view our problems as huge without taking a holistic perspective of the situation.

After coming to the US, the rife between languages increased with same language speaking people geling more than as an entire Indian community. When we go to get togethers, all of us (mind you all of us and not just Telugu or Tamil folks as we keep on complaining all the time) make groups and start conversing. It is natural, we are comfortable in our mother tongue and but obvious will be more at ease in a similar group. This is fine when we have people from all languages in a gathering. But what happens when majority are of one language and just one person is an outsider? That is where the problem arises. The majority is happily yapping in their language while the outsider is pretending to surf the mobile, cursing himself/herself on why he/she is here.
Here is where we need to evolve. At least a few folks from the majority group should try and include the outsider in the conversation. All of us communicate in english outside our homes in the US, can’t we extend that courtesy to the person in the gathering? It shouldn’t be just the host’s responsibility to make sure everyone feels included irrespective of the majority. If someone in the group speaking your language is speaking in english with you,  try to take the hint and do not reply back in your mother tongue.
Languages were made for people to come together and communicate. But we are using language to make barriers and separate ourselves from the rest of the world. We are making small hollow pockets within our community and passing on the same culture to the next generation.

Language is so beautiful that even when you don’t have a common language to communicate – your expressions and gestures say a lot in this situation. To give an example, just a couple of days ago I attended a function in my community and a friend’s mom who doesn’t know english conveyed to one of our friends that the decoration she did for her daughter’s event was fantastic with a broad smile and like this  –

Wasn’t that easy?

I have learnt the hard way to include everyone in conversations because I was an outsider for a long time and I understand how it feels to be not included into conversations in a gathering. I still tend to slip into my mother tongue but mostly get back into my ‘include all mode’ 🙂

It is hard. But if we do not do it, we are losing out on the whole essence of languages!

So the next time you have a gathering, can we attempt to make it an all inclusive party? 🙂

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