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Friday, January 08, 2010

Mind your language

Years ago, I had to write an essay for my Bengali class: 'Aami Ingreji bhasha keno pochndo kori na' (Why don't I like the English language) The teacher, Mr. Kapil Bhattacharjee, had even asked us to compare it with Bengali and conclude why we loved it over English.

It was tough. At that age, probably the toughest thing I was confronted with. Can you ever say whether you love your mother more than your father?  How can you compare two languages- both of which have taught you to think and speak your mind? I looked upon it as a challenge. SKD had once opined that the purpose of a composition is to bluff convincingly. The trouble was - where to start?

I was taught in an English medium school, my best friend in Kindergarten spoke Hindi off class hours, and I had the toughest time spelling 'chair' in Bengali for my mother in Standard II. However, in Standard V, I borrowed 'Dhaatri Devata', one of the prescribed textbooks for ICSE exams, from my elder brother who was in Standard X. The fact did some rounds in my family, courtesy : my eldest maternal aunt, and I was hailed as some language prodigy. The plain truth was that I simply got curious about the story on seeing the cover page illustration showing a man behind bars and a woman visiting him.

I own a copy of Geetanjali I bought at a Bangladeshi grocery store in Somerville. I'm crazy about those Uttam- Suchitra starrer romantic classics, where the protagonists merely stare at each other and everything is conveyed. I love Bengali food and I don't think I can ever give up my 'maccher jhol' (Fish curry and rice -stereotype favorite of all Bengalis. But I  do know some Bengalis who don't like to eat fish.)

Does these attributes make me a true Bengali? Any Indophile, thuri Banglaphile can do that, and yet retain his/ her identity. Then, why if someone who does not do it will not be a Bengali in the true sense?

I will always be a Bengali. It is the identity I was born with. I love my mother tongue. It is one of the sweetest signals my auditory nerves transmit to my brain. But if I'm confused or excited or upset I will blurt out in English, because that is what I do. Take it or leave it. Don't judge it.

P.S. About the essay
I finished writing it with some help from my paternal grandfather, who was an authoritarian on languages. (I regret not learning Sanskrit from him.) He usually checked my essays when I finished writing them, but this time around I managed to squeeze a few pointer- about Michael Madhusudan Dutta, about the inconsistent phonetics of English and so on and so forth. It was one of the toughest essays I wrote at school.


Sumit said...

interesting essay, am glad I never had to write anything of that sort - i wouldn't have been able to write a word. in fact, i studied hindi in school.

Aparna Kar said...

I'm guessing KV?

Mishree said...

Being a Bengali is, in its own way, a privilege conferred upon a chosen few...every year,the fragrance of incense and flowers,the sacred chants of 'Thakur Moshai', the 'Anjali' and the lyrical beats of the dhaak remind me,yet again,of just how privileged I am.

Having been brought up in Mumbai,I've learnt Marathi as against Bengali,grown up being an integral part of the Ganesh Chaturthi instead of the Durga Pujo,eaten 'Bengali Sweets' that don't even remotely live up to what they are called and what they are supposed to be,and done so many other things that are radically different from the typical Bengali culture...

I am someone who doesn't like Rasagullas.I am not very inclined towards macher jhol,or towards bhaat,for that matter.Aami aaj parjyanta Kolkata dekhini.And when people get to know,they mock-ridicule me because I am not a true-blue Baangali.

But at the end of the day,even though I may not conform to "Bengali" standards, it is Mocha,Dhokar Daalna,a madness for music,Sandesh,Malai Chop,kantha work on sarees and dress materials,the Shankha and Paula gracing the wrists of women I spot every other day,"para ninda para charcha",Baangla gaan,and, of course,the music ingrained in the very language,that ultimately constitute a large part of what I call Home.......I love being Bengali and wouldn't have it any other way.



Sumit said...

not exactly. hopped all over India as a kid. Hindi was a more stable second language to learn than Bengali - for academic purposes.

Amitabha said...

Bangali Holeo Rakhkha Nei.
Baangal Na Ghati? Kothakaar Bangali? Bangladesher? Assamer? Tripurar? Naa Ki Anya Jaaygar Bangali, Jaader Aamra Pravasi Bangali Bali? Maja Holo Anya Anek Jaater Lokeder Mato Shudhu Matra Bhasar Karan-ei Ek Jon Baangali Aaarek Jon Baangali-ke Dekhlei Ahladito Hoy Na.
Jaani Naa Tomar Abhigyata Ki Bale!