Having recently been initiated into the mysteries of non-English blogging, one feels that a bit of explaining is in order.
I, like many of my peers, read and write English much better than any other language. This, in spite of the fact that my first language (or mother tongue, as it is called in this part of the world!) is Tamil. The Indian education system, a not-too-evolved version of Macaulay’s mid-nineteenth century model of masters and rote, places a lot of stress on English as the medium of instruction. Add to that a set of parents who are fluent English speakers and a house filled with English books of every description and you have a perfect recipe for a very Tamil-deprived childhood!
However, Tamil was and is the language of everyday life. Friends, relatives, shopkeepers, strangers, bus conductors, the bandyman – everyone spoke to you and were spoken to in Tamil. Teachers spoke to you in English, even if some were not terribly good at it, and would hit you with a cane if they caught you speaking in “the vernacular,” as they called it. My parents switched easily between spoken Tamil and English easily and naturally. As a result, my spoken Tamil is as good as it can get – after all I am a native speaker. The only peculiarity was the lilt of the Kongunadu region that was firmly imprinted on my Tamil. This has now all but disappeared – the result of various wanderings in different parts of Tamilnadu, and more than a decade of living in Chennai. But the moment I am speaking to someone with the lilt, it reappears, as if by magic!
So, Tamil was the language of speech during my childhood. But the schools made sure that English was the language in which I read and wrote. A succession of none-too-good Tamil teachers, who poured scorn on those who weren’t able to rattle off the classics by heart, and meted out punishments like kneeling in the corridor and sitting on the floor in front of the class, made sure that my interest in Tamil was effectively killed. Fear and loathing for the language were what these teachers inspired in me. By the time I had a Tamil teacher who could kindle any interest in the language and its literature, it was too late – French offered an easy way out that I instantly took. It remained my defense against Tamil till I no longer had the threat of having to study a second language looming over me.
Much later, very slowly, I came in to contact with people who could show me the beauty and richness of the language. Who could show me how accessible it really was, and what I’d been missing all these years. But alas, the childhood language abuse has taken its toll – my reading speed in Tamil is appalling, and I am yet to finish reading a Tamil book fully. My progress in reading Tamil has been painfully slow. Hopefully, I’ll find it in me to actually stick to it – the rewards are great indeed.
Along the way came to urge to blog in Tamil. The main reason for this being some wonderful things I experienced which can only be explained to the fullest in the tongue in which it was said. Spoken Tamil is a language in which it is relatively easy to pun, and native speakers do so all the time. In urban contexts, the spoken tongue is peppered with Tamilized words from other languages, English and Hindi being notable contributors. This gives rise to a whole new world of punning, sometimes even unintentional! That said, navigating the cultural cake-mix that is today’s Chennai is an exciting affair, especially if you are a language gourmand like I’ve become. And that is one of the reasons why the thought of blogging bilingually excites me.
Of course, the immediate trigger was the incident of the cop and the biriyani-seller!