JOURNEYS THROUGH TWO STATES

The title I gave for this article might make you wonder about the content of this article under the topic – ‘Mother Tongue’. You might think I gave this title to attract the readers. But actually, I will be describing a few events during my journeys from one state to the other in this article.

A journey always becomes smooth when we have best of passengers traveling with us. I usually don’t find it very difficult to start a conversation with anyone even if I don’t understand my co-passengers’ languages or vice versa but knowing the language does give an extra advantage to us to mingle with others and relate with strangers.

As you all know, I am basically from Cuttack, but for work, I live in Kolkata. So, whenever I travel from Kolkata to Cuttack or vice versa, the languages that I know have always come to my benefit. Let me explain how…

Once I was coming back from Cuttack without a confirmed ticket. That train had compartments with sitting class, not sleeper class. All I had to do was to stand and travel for 7 hours till Kolkata. But I was asked to sit down by my fellow Odia passengers as I was speaking my mother tongue. And when the train crossed Bengal border after Balasore and Bengali passengers boarded the train, I had to leave their seats after being scolded by few Bengalis. I would have anyway left their seats without being taunted but because I was a stranger with a different mother tongue, I was unable to relate with them. That time I was very new to Bengal and didn’t know Bengali at all. These issues are very common but I am not going to project the issue here… What I want to highlight is – a language gives us a face, an identity to be accepted or rejected by people around us.

Afterwards, once I picked up Bangla and started speaking it fluently I never had such problems. I become a Bengali when the train travels through the state of West Bengal and I become an Odia when the train travels through Odisha. I was able to speak with Bengalis and laugh with them. I could do the same with my fellow Odias as well.

Last time, what happened, I had my seat in the middle of a three-seater with two males sitting on both sides. On my left there was a Bengali gentleman and on my right, there was an Odia boy. All three of us became very friendly towards each other. The Bengali gentleman was a medicine stockist and the Odia boy was a Medical Representative. And I knew a few of the medicines which I usually have, so we had a discussion on medicines. During our discussion, I said jokingly, “See, one of you is Bengali, the other one is an Odia and I am a mixture of both Bengali and Odia…we all are somewhat related to the subject medicine…” And all three of us laughed heartily.

And my journey through the two states was never boring…

Now, you must be thinking that I have deviated from the topic. I started speaking about learning languages instead of my mother tongue. I haven’t.

If we closely observe ourselves then we will realise that when we keep conversing in different languages, we don’t forget them but if we literally stop conversing a particular language then we slowly forget it.

When something becomes our day to day affair, we get accustomed to it forgetting all other things surrounding it. It happens with languages too. When we stop the journeys of speaking different Indian languages and become stagnant around our so-called official language, ‘English’ or ‘Hindi’ then we tend to forget our regional as well as the mother tongue.

I will end this article with an example…

These days, I find it difficult to write Odia. Can you believe it? I got highest marks in Odia in class 10th. But I am unable now because I write and type only – English… English… and in English.

We should not stop the journey of travelling from this state to the other in speaking languages or else we will fail to relate with our fellow Indians, our neighbours.

Stay Blessed!

THE TONGUE THAT SPEAKS THE HEART

Language is the vehicle of expression and the heart is best expressed in one’s mother tongue. When we are talking of mother tongue, we need to carefully understand what it connotes. According to UNESCO, India is the ninth most linguistically diverse country of the world, Papua New Guinea being the first with 840 spoken and 12 extinct languages. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 major languages, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects! Quite understandably, India doesn’t have a national language. However, Hindi (which is spoken by a majority of Indians – especially in the North, North West, and Central zones) and English (which is considered to be a common medium) are the official languages of India.

The vast diversity of languages read, written and spoken in 29 States and 7 Union Territories, make India a multi-lingual diversity along its length and breadth. The country has seen zealots strive to preserve the linguistic identity of their respective regions with their sweat and blood. With increasing cultural exchange and migration, people have developed a tendency to learn new languages. While this is welcome, it is also essential to preserve one’s parent language.

In 2010, with the death of the last Bo person, the Bo language spoken in parts of Andaman Islands became extinct. A language erased from the face of the earth! The scripts of the Indus Valley Civilization have not been able to be deciphered till date because it has not been possible to decode the codes that the people of that time used. The detailed history of an entire civilization remains a mystery, apart from what has trickled out of the painstaking research of some historians!

If we wish to see the diversity of languages along with the rich foliage of culture and ethnicity survive the tempests of the centuries, we need to ensure that they percolate down the generations. ‘Mother tongue’ has been so labelled because the developing foetus in the mother’s womb starts learning to recognize the sounds and speech patterns of the mother’s voice and is able to differentiate the mother’s sounds and other sounds after birth. That’s why you must have observed babies stop crying as soon as they hear their mother’s voice, no matter how desperately others would be trying to pacify it.  

In a multi-lingual country like India, passing the mother-tongue down the generations is a big challenge in the present day, especially with too many interstate and cross-national marriages seeing the light of the day. And so, either the couples decide to use a common medium of communication or get into frequent conflicts. I have heard of many such couples arrive at the verge of a divorce just because each of them want their children to learn to communicate in his/her mother-tongue. These are critical cases – with the issue in question being seemingly trivial but having serious ramifications.

The human brain is wired to receive, process and learn multiple languages during the stage of language development. The more the number of languages acquired by a child, the more cognitively flexible s/he turns out to be. The ideal time for training in multiple languages, wherever desirable, are the very early years of life. 

While it is a drawback to stick only to one’s vernacular, its a handicap of similar nature to learn unifying/common languages without knowing one’s mother tongue well.

In the present world scenario, in a diverse country like India, in my opinion, children need to be taught three languages – regional language according to the State they belong, Hindi – which is a unifying language within the country and a language for international communication. No matter how globalized the world becomes, the tongue that speaks the heart expresses the best!