Sunday, May 17, 2009

Identity crisis

A few months ago, little Gunjan, who stays with her parents in the same apartment where my friend stays, was left heartbroken over a strange issue -- other kids of the same apartment did not let her play along with them as she did not know English!

The three-year-old's parents had migrated recently from a Maharashtrian village to the southern metro. She knew no languages other than Marathi. Later, I saw her eagerness to master the foreign language, which is no more foreign for many kids in the Indian metros.
The littile girl's plight made me take a trip down the memory lane when, as a kid, how I used to hide away from people who speak any language other than my mother tongue or just pass a shy smile on a face-to-face encounter with them.

Things did change when I was shifted to a convent in the city from the English medium school in my village, where speaking the language was never a necessity. The new school welcomed me with a 25-paise fine for each word I blurted out in any language other than English! It came as a rude shock to me as a fifth standard student, but had to slowly train my tongue to twist accordingly.

We used to find relief from the suffocating English environment secretly during recess time, carefully far from the ears of our class monitor who noted down the names to be fined. After the classes got over, the school bus took me to my mother tongue in the evenings. It was indeed, like my home, where I always found my mother's warmth. I could jump, scream and do whatever I want. No past participles, conjunctions or interjections would frown at me. I could express myself, upholding my identity.

Chirping it from a very young age, English has become the mother tongue for many of the metro kids. Some of them do not even know what mother tongue is, forget what theirs is! Neither do their parents find it important that their kids should learn their language.

English is their language, which they speak first, they converse later and in which they grow up finally. Many of them cannot claim to have a mother tongue as their parents speak different languages and they, themselves, born in yet another language region.

With all the goodness it offers, like a better living and job prospects, English in our country, is robbing kids of their birth right -- an identity.


Smitha said...

Well, India, unless you live in an area which is predominantly full of people speaking your mother tongue - you will prob never get to speak your mother tongue..In most places in the north - it will be Hindi rather than English and in the south - English.. But is our identity really linked with the language we speak? I mean, I am a Malayali who grew up in Bihar - so I speak Hindi and Malayalam and English confortably.. But I don't think I have lost my identity.. All this becomes part of my identity..
I do beleive that it is good to know where one comes from - simply because it is part of one's heritage. I have a daughter and I try to talk to her in Malayalam - just so tht she is remains connected to that part of her heritage..

Debby said...

I balance this aspect by reading books written in my native language. This is a good way to cancel out too much English influence in our day-to-day working life.