One mother, many tongues
Amma learned Hindi and Tamil in Bombay (Mumbai happened much later). Sounds not much of an achievement, right? But for a newly-wed bride, who spent most of her maiden life in a hamlet in what was then South Canara district (now Udupi district) of Karnataka speaking only Tulu and Kannada, is no mean feat either.
Most of the denizens in Tulu Nadu region are bi-lingual, if not multi-lingual. So learning a language is not a big deal. To be fair, it ain’t a big deal in any of the non-Hindi speaking areas of India. It’s a very northern practice to stick to one language at the cost of mocking other languages.
Tulu, the lingua franca in our hometown, is the native tongue of Tuluvas. Kannada is the medium of instruction and the language of business though. However, when Amma moved to Bombay, the business language here was Hindi and/or Marathi; neither of which she could converse in. She recollects how, back then, she struggled communicating with the PDS officer at the counter trying to buy her share of subsidized kerosene, rice and sugar.
Thankfully, Amma is brave and has always been. Through our difficult years, she started teaching kids at home (primary school) with most of them being Tamil. One of the perks of living in a largely-Tamil neighbourhood in Bombay was how one could be privy to Tamil customs and the way of life without ever visiting Tamil Nadu in person. For that matter, the first language that I, a largely naked infant roaming around the neighbourhood, started spouting was Tamil instead of Tulu. For Amma, it was a practical choice. She had to learn Tamil to understand and communicate with the kids and their parents. The added benefit was of course she checked one more language to her kitty!
So, when Amma recalls her early days in the city when she used to pinpoint to the vegetable vendor and bargain by her fingers, and compare it to now when she can speak five languages in varying proficiency, she has indeed come a long way.