Was at a sixtieth birthday party recently. It was all very sweet since the kids organised it for their mum (who is my friend) and she was really surprised with the whole thing. Found myself at a table with people with strong opinions about religious harmony (do people still say that?) and so on. But our discussion was mainly focussed on mother tongues.
I was as usual lamenting my inability to read and write in any language other than English. These people were really shocked to hear me say that. What about Tamizh they said. Well, I can barely read it said I. What about Kannada then? I can read Kannada real well, but my vocabulary sucks, and I have tried reading novels several times and given up in ten pages. Last time this happened, I analysed it away saying that my speed of reading in English is too much higher than in Kannada so the pleasure is missing when I read so slowly. Plus there is the thing with vocabulary. Subsequently read a bunch of the more famous ones in translation, which felt very sad but at least I could do that.
Then this lady (who is a writer) reiterated that translations are not really all that. Even when she translates her own work, she strongly feels that she loses some of the original punch. I have no way of verifying this of course but tons of folks say this, maybe its true!
The worst part is, with the next generation it is probably going to be much worse. At least I would speak extensively in Kannada to my school friends. And I still speak in (our version of) Tamizh with my mum & sis (used to speak in English to dad unfortunately, hey! maybe I should blame the old man for all this stuff! Ha!). When I went to graduate school, I caught hold of a bunch of hapless guys and practised and practised what I claim as my Chennai Tamizh now. The version I speak to everyone else. I do sort of okay with Hindi. But these little ones? Start off by speaking in English it seems, with the proud parents watching from the sidelines and applauding.
You should make sure you pass on our culture to your child, the lady said. That sent me into a spiral regarding festivals and traditions and Diwali with its insane crackers and the general focus on food and excluding widows from the celebrations and a hundred other beefs I have. Oh no. I am talking about literary culture, she said. Oh yeah. That stuff I can handle. I actually like that. At least what I know about it. And am willing to learn too, as long as it involves reading. And nothing to do with food. Or crackers. Or kumkum. We should make a book club and read stuff out loud. Though I have visions of myself going
Ke Aaangan Mein...
Naariyal Ka Ped
which is from my school text book several hundred years ago.
The thing that absolutely sucks (or rocks, depending on how you look at it) is that my mum and my grandmum, both these high-energy women, can read real fluently in two languages (mum in English & Kannada, Paati in Tamizh & Kannada), and mum has translated texts from E to K. And my other grandfather has written his History books in Kannada and translated them himself to English. What have I to say for myself?
"Hi I am Kenny. I can read English and Indian English. I have read Helen Fielding and Chetan Bhagat, among other contemporary authors. I am fully ashamed of myself. But I am here today because I want to change...."