What it like to live in a multilingual country like India? With the fast-changing geographies, tongues too vary — mild, musical, coarse, harsh, easy, tongue twisting, with script and without. The experience is different when using the languages you are born into, study in school and learn later in life.
My mother tongue is Malayalam, but since I was born in Karnataka, my first language in school was Kannada. So I never learned to write in Malayalam, though I tried once and understood that it isn’t a herculean task once you can speak the langauge. My second and third languages were Hindi and English. But these two came a little late in my life, that is from the fifth grade, as was the case with every Kannada-medium student.
Growing up, I perceived the three languages differently. Kannada was like a childhood friend you could take for granted to a good extent. Hindi was like a relative with whom you were supposed to develop a good rapport to keep things easy and fine within the family. English was different. There were lots of teething troubles, but I fell in love with it way too soon.
I never stopped learning languages. The clarity and fluency with which I used my mother tongue suffered a drastic deterioration from the invasion of other languages. I could speak Tamil with ease with my colleagues from Chennai, but not so Malayalam with those from Thiruvananthapuram. I picked up Tamil from watching films and listening to film songs. Though I tried the same with Telugu, I failed and found myself struggling to communicate on my visits to Andhra Pradesh.
My wife speaks Tulu, a language from the coastal belt of Karnataka, thus adding one more language to my repertoire. I always welcomed new languages, cherishing the opportunity to learn them. The little efforts you put to learn a new language never disappoint you though.
When you are in a new place, it’s easy to get by when you know the native language. On many occasions, I have experienced, to my great surprise, how a person, maybe a client or customer, softens his tone on learning that you can speak in a common language. Moreover, your expressive horizon expands with multiple languages. Some words and expressions are much better or sound more beautiful in one language than in the other. Knowing multiple languages will always help you connect, learn, listen and enjoy the gifts of life on multiple fronts.
Recently, I took a break from my long-time love, English, and tried poetry in Kannada and later in Hindi with much doubt about going wrong with grammar and finding suitable words. For my joy, I could do it well and many loved it too.
So, being in a multilingual country, languages should not be treated as a barrier but rather as tools that add different colours and shades to one’s persona.