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Read it right

Smita Deodhar on the importance of knowing one’s mother tongue.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2009 18:17 IST
Smita Deodhar
Smita Deodhar
Hindustan Times

As a toddler, I preferred Marathi poems to English nursery rhymes. But education in an English medium school changed that.

As I became more comfortable with the English language, the slim Marathi textbook was my only link with my mother tongue.

Books by British and American authors were my main source of entertainment. At eight, I could identify with the blue-eyed children of Enid Blyton's books. I yearned to live in cottages with chimneys, eat hot scones and socialise with imps and elves.

Mills and Boon and Barbara Cartland books coloured my teenage fantasies with pretty gowns, lacy bonnets and chivalrous suitors.

Later, reading was a mix of thrash, thrillers and classics by western writers. At 18, I realised that I dreamt in English.

My circle of college friends included girls who had been educated in the vernacular medium. Not ranting I sensed a difference in our ideals, values and reference points.

King Arthur and his Round Table were strange to them. While I had grown up on foreign literature, they had read the works of Marathi stalwarts. I felt as if I had been disinherited from a priceless legacy.

I suspect I’m not alone in this kind of alienation. I know many people who are educated in English medium schools and can speak their mother tongue fluently. But they are not familiar with the script. This is not a rant against the English medium education. English confers many advantages on us — it opens doors and expands one’s view of the world. But in its exclusive pursuit, there’s much that we lose.

Every Indian language has a vast repertoire of literary genres — philosophy, poetry, social commentary, history, travel, drama and romance. The writings have the power to inspire, educate and entertain. They showcase the creative spark of Indians and instill a sense of pride in our identity.

Lost legacy
But if we cannot read the script of our mother tongue, won’t this legacy be lost? I’m trying to reconnect with my mother tongue by changing my reading habits.

I enjoy the rip-roaring humour of P L Deshpande and Acharya Atre and the sensitive writings of V P Kale. I keep abreast with contemporary writing and enjoy Marathi theatre. But it is toughgoing, because there’s so much of catching up to do, and the reluctance to pick up a book in Devnagri script is still there.

Some influences, I guess, are irreversible. Worth fighting for The key to a different future lies in catching them young.

Read stories to children in the mother tongue, teach them the vernacular script alongside the English alphabet. Buy age-appropriate books —every language has children’s classics. Subscribe to a local language newspaper and insist that kids read it. Sure, they will protest initially, but early lessons will never be forgotten. Conserving a legacy is, surely, a cause worth fighting for.