Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tongue tied

This entry is a part of the contest at BlogAdda.com in association with imlee.com

We are a pretty confused family right now. Well, not that we weren't earlier, but now all the wierd questions from her vacation homework (what an oxymoron there!) has been contributing to the chaos.

Pray let me clarify. My daughter who likes to think she is eight already (but will turn eight only after a few months. Funny how we like to turn up the clock in the early years, only to want to smash up the clock in the later years) has come up with a fifteen page holiday homework for parents ooops! the kids, to do.

Of the many head-scratching questions, the one that took the whole answer seeking adventure to another level was this seemingly harmless question: "What is your mother tongue?"
You would think the answer to be a fairly simple one, wouldn't you? Well, surprise, surprise! We went all the way to hell and back making sense of this to a seven-year-old-wanting-to-be-eight girl. "It is Malayalam." I said wistfully.

"Waitaminute!" that was my Delhi-bred husband from under the shower. Another mystery in life is how people (primarily spouses) cannot hear stuff you shout into their ear, but they can catch a slight whisper, from behind closed doors, UNDER the shower, of the stuff you DON'T want them to hear! "How can her mother tongue be Malayalam? Its Hindi."

"Oh yeah? Over my dead body! Malayalam it is, and Malayalam it will be." That was me, with the intention of using my Dramatics training to win the decade-old fight over supremacy in the National-integration-household.

"Really? You promise?" Great! Mr.Smartypants was in the mood for humour.

"I am the mother and my language will be her mother tongue." Profound truth.
"Even if they have no clue if you are praising them or using beep words in that language?" Hubby dearest apparently had been preparing for this face off for a long time. Well, that is true. The kids knew around five words in their mother tongue (I insist on calling it that) - ALL of which are not really nice.

"Come to think of it, do you really think YOU speak Malayalam well yourself?" That set me thinking, my brain sub-conciously DID think in English and then translate it to Malayalam when I spoke my mother tongue. But then I came up wih a list of stuff that does justice ONLY in malayalam.
  • When you say stuff like "Poda" or "Podi" which literally translates into "Go Boy" or "Go Girl" respectively, but means much, much more than that for the true mallu.
  • Some words like "Adipoli" literally translated has no meaning, but is used to denote a term related to 'fantastic' - only better, with explosive effect on one's state of mind
  • Which word in any language can you use with equal aplomb to mean complete agreement or sarcasm in style? Guess what! We have our own "Thanney" !
  • If you haven't heard of "Aiyooo" you really must be from another planet. It is the language equivalent of M-seal! Use it to bind expression to any emotion from horror to humour, from sympathy to absolute glee. Don't even try to look for an English version.
  • Some threats that work only when said in Malayalam. (I swear I have friends who love experimenting with the language on unsuspecting non-malayalees out there. For their safety, I shall refrain from explaining those in here.)
  • Memories of my little niece from Canada saying "Ammaaaaa, ivide chavit." (Mom, stamp here) in a Canadian accent, to kill an ant.  Not 'chavittoo' but 'chavit' as in 'take it'
  • All hell breaking loose when I spoke with a Kannur accent (poyitt, vannit, ennit... etc) in Trivandrum, the land of 'vellangal', 'enthirappi' and the sorts.
  • Memories of my sister and I having animated teenage conversations with a melange of Malayalam, English and Hindi ... 'Chethified' 'Chammalsify' 'Adichu Polikalsify' .... and the likes.
I could go on and on, but to cut a long story short, I am so glad I have a part of my brain that processes words close to my heart in a language which may not be the one which I think in, but definitely the one which triggers endorphins. I guess that makes it truly mother tongue. As for my kids, I am sure as time goes by, there will be memories that trigger off a language they identify with.


  1. Loved reading this post..so true with people settling down in different parts of the globe these days, children learn so many languages with the exception of their mother tongue.

  2. Well written, but who finally one the argument.
    Did the mallu might surrender

  3. :D Hahahahaha!! Go boy, go girl!!! Ayyo, enikku vaiyya!! I said this 'enikku vaiyya' to a non-mallu friend when he said something funny, and he asked me what it means. When I told him that literally translated, it means "I'm not well", he was confused as to why I would say that when he cracked a joke. :D Like you said, some things just CANNOT be translated from Malayalam.

  4. he he he made me smile so true , you are the mother and your language is the mother language .. WHAT LOGIC I liked it


  5. @Shobha...thank you.. I think you understand my predicament ;-)

    @Peter John... lets just say her class teacher is in for a surprise when my daughter submits her homework. And if anyone raises objection, both my 7 year old and my 3 year old can sing the complete version of "Omana thingal kidavo" There!!

    @Spaceman ... yup! other favorites: "Pinne" : Afterwards?? "Palli paranjal mathi" : Saying in the church/mosque is enough?? :-D

    @Bikram ... hehehe.... the most over rated word in Bollywood came to my rescue 'Maaaa...." !

    @Ajay ... thanks!

  6. So who won? You manage to rationalize for yourself...but did they buy your argument? If you live in Delhi, Hindi is the language ...haha:))) I am from Delhi and Hindi fan. :)))

  7. @A ... ofcourse, my kids may never become Malayalam language experts. Ofcourse they learnt Hindi before any other language. But I would be heartbroken if they never saw the rich heritage that the rest of India has to offer - especially Kerala. So it was a joint decision by hubby and me that they learn as much of any language they can!

  8. Although the incident is humorous, losing grip on one's mother tongue are signs of losing grip on one's culture. I often wonder how it will be ahead - and I just can't stand parents who are proud of their kids who say ' he knows malayalam, kurachu kurachu' (and here, the pronounce 'kurachu' like the Malayalam equivalent of 'bark' instead of 'little'!)

    It is a real concern, Nirvana - and I hope you give your kids the right perspective on this. I say this 'coz I was born/brought up in the 'Gelf' ( for a part of my childhood) and I know how well my parents took care of me, so that I don't sound like those NRI brats!

  9. @Vinitha ... I so agree with you. Fortunately, my husband and I share the importance of knowing BOTH our languages. I have the same stubborn streak my mom had when she spent hours teaching us the language. And thanks to her, Malayalam now comes easy to me, even though I was brought up in Dubai. Like I commented above, even the lullabys my kids NEED to sleep are in Malayalam. Thanx so much for commenting - I am happy to know that this is a common concern!

  10. @ Nirvana - 'BOTH' our languages? Ermm, am I missing something here? To ask rather shamelessly - your better half ain't a Malayali?
    (Apologies, if that was too direct!)

  11. @Vinitha.... Hehehehe ..... nail on the head! Nope... he's a non-malayali. And no apologies required..

  12. The logic ---> Language mother speaks = Mother Tongue took the cake.

  13. @atrocious ..... you bet! The most over rated hype of motherhood to my rescue here!