I have never been a language person; Even though I’m supposed to be eloquent in four languages and have the ability to understand a couple more, the hideous creature of language has always haunted me. Like the devils in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, my life has also seen many imaginary battles between the devils dwelling and hiding behind the letters, grammar and words of various languages.
The language which I first learnt, Tulu luckily has no script. Otherwise god only knows for how many more days and nights I would have had to be awake studying it. This being my mother tongue, I never had to put in a sweat to speak it, but this was just the beginning of the story. When I was sufficiently grown up to engage outsiders in a conversation I found out to my horror that there are many versions of Tulu. The version that I had learnt so seamlessly was known as the Shivalli tulu which is hardly spoken by less than 10% of the Tulu speaking populace. In fact with this statistic I was as good as dumb when I stepped out of my home. Even to this day the Tulu that I know is only Shivalli Tulu and I shamelessly use the same whenever I speak to the 90% of the startled non-Shivalli people. It is not only me who had this Tulu trouble; even my parents had a taste of it. My father is from Udupi and my mom’s home is near Sullia which are separated by about 100Km’s from each other and due to the theory of evolution the Shivalli language had also evolved into different branches. My parents could not make much sense of each other with their respective versions of Tulu after marriage and had to switch to Kannada, To my beautiful luck it was only a few months before I was born did they switch back to a newly created version of Tulu, freshly minted by combining the two versions and me being the first disciple of the new language.
English and Kannada suddenly started making their appearance in my life when I started attending the nursery school. Again speaking Kannada was never a problem but the written script had my head in splits. I with my simple mind could never figure out as to why and when I should go for the big letter compared to the smaller ones, the small streaks of lines which are put at the bottom of the letters always baffled me. I literally always took my chances on these underscore letters and used to get royally beaten up both at home and school. My best performance in Kannada came when I got 98 out of hundred in my first standard. Courtesy of this performance I also got the first rank which unfortunately was my last as well. My tryst with learning Kannada ended soon after I completed my fifth standard as my father got transferred to Ahmedabad. To be frank only once in these past 18 years, I went as far as writing a sentence in Kannada. One of my non-kannada friends in office had a Kannada maid at home and he wanted a note addressed to her saying that he didn’t want her to cook dinner for that day. Suddenly my mouth went dry and the old days of confusion and tension came flooding back. After a struggle of more than 5 minutes I did manage to write something. I guess the maid must have got the idea since my friend didn’t complain the next day. Even though my affiliation of writing in Kannada is almost dead and buried, this is not the case in terms of reading. I sometimes pickup the Kannada daily that comes to our home and I’m able to read at a pretty good pace. Over the last few years due to the influence of some pro-Kannada friends I have been reading Kannada novels. I have found them to be very different from the English ones as they are set in environments which are much familiar to us than the English ones. I hope to continue this association with Kannada over the course of my life.
I don’t exactly remember when I first learnt my ABCD’s but most probably I must have learnt it like a duck taking to water. It was only later in my life that English, which I was considering as my pet, started raising its ugly head. The world of tenses had me in a complete maze before twirling and twisting me into the endless realm of vocabulary. After studying in Bangalore at a pretty good school I went to Kendriya Vidyalaya in Ahmedabad. With the limited capabilities that the students possessed as far as English was concerned I soon became a star. I used to sweep all the debate and essay competitions. But nobody knew my dark secrets; I was a dud in terms of grammar. This mask was ripped apart when a harmless question in the class exposed me to the core. Our English teacher was asking a student to identify the tense of a sentence in the class; the student put his head down. Then came another students turn and the same posture was repeated. Finally the teacher after de-riling the class asked me to tell the correct answer, it seems I missed the mark by a very long shot since the teacher was flabbergasted with my reply and the whole class had to endure some 5 extra classes on the tenses. My affinity to the language grew with my interest in reading novels. Near my home in Ahmedabad there was a library called the Karnataka sangha, this was the place where Kannadigas who were feeling home sick used to have a get together. On one corner of this library there was a collection of English books. I started off my reading career from here. The first book that I read was the Arabian nights followed by the Hardy boys, the Nancy drews, Famous five and many of the Enid Blyton stories. She was my favorite writer at that time. After completing my 9th standard we shifted back to Mysore and accordingly I shifted to the bigger Novels. My father had a small collection of Novels and among them was David Copperfield. As a young kid I was fascinated by the size of the book but could never go beyond the first page as the language was too heavy. It was in Mysore that I got into the world of Dickens, reading David Copperfield was like reading about a boy who was so like me, I was hooked. My dad had studied in the Mysore University and he still had his library card. After some persuasion, my dad took me to the library and got his card renewed. From the hallowed halls of this library I borrowed books ranging from Dickens, Dumas to Narayan. The world of books took me and swallowed me completely. Later on with the advent of internet and e-books, I used to download free novels on the net from Gutenberg and read it on the computer. I had read several big novels on the computer, looks almost impossible to me now. After joining my job, I started buying books. Now 7 years later I have a pretty good collection at home. This is a treasure I cherish a lot and get lost into whenever time permits.
Hindi was more or less a step-motherly language to me. I started swimming into the alphabets in my fifth standard in Bangalore but was soon thrown into the sea of Hindi when we moved to Ahmedabad. Staying afloat was getting difficult and had to struggle left right and center with endless beatings from my parents and late night studies. Finally I reposed whatever faith my parents had put on me by passing the mid-term exams. The struggles of choosing the right letters etc continued but it looked a lot easier to navigate in Hindi since it didn’t have the killer underscores unlike Kannada. Even after coming back to Mysore, I stuck to Hindi till 12th standard.
Finally the language that gave me the shudders was Sanskrit. This was one language which used to puzzle me a lot, gave me nightmares and even after endless toil I was nowhere near understanding a proper sentence. After we moved into Ahmedabad in my first Sanskrit class I was asked to read a passage, I was rambling through the passage when the teacher showed me the stop signal. For the next 5 minutes, I was bombarded out of my wits and would have crawled through a mouse hole if I had the capability. Later my father had to come to the school to convince the teacher that I was starting fresh in the language and asked her to give me time, from that day onwards she didn’t point me out for any passage reading. It was only after some 3 years that my turn to read a passage came under the same teacher’s class, I pulled out no stops this time and rammed on the accelerator. The teacher was stunned and praised me like hell; she didn’t know that I had no idea about the meaning of the sentences though. With my sprouting but growing desire of reading the ancient Indian texts such as the Gita in their original form I have now in fact decided to give Sanskrit another chance. Hopefully this time I will be successful in grasping the language which is considered to be one of the ancient and the most complete languages.