Growing up in the 80s in a small town in north India, in a Hindi-speaking household, English was not a foreign language for me. What my South Indian neighbours spoke at home, was.
Without stoking a political debate on the highly contentious subject of North-South divide based on language, let me admit to the fact that in spite of the exposure, however limited it was, I never managed to learn more than a few words – appadiya and saaptiya (Tamil for ‘is that so?’ and ‘have you eaten?’ respectively), being some of them. Why, you wonder? Never had to, that’s all I can say. English always rescued us – both my neighbours and me – from any lost-in-translation kind of a situation.
Having said that, the state-owned television channel, Doordarshan, which at the time was the only television channel we had, did expand our vocabulary with its weekly screening of regional films, but there again it was the English subtitles that made the experience of watching regional films more enjoyable than the craft or content.
Over the years, while many of us have emerged from our parochial wells, have sampled diversity in its varied forms and without being accused of cultural appropriation have learnt to appreciate the spectrum of culture, cinema and cuisines we’ve been exposed to, we, I believe, have lost out on one thing – appreciation of what we grew up with.
As Ayesha Amaan, mother of 11-year-old Omar Farshori, tells Friday Lite in this article, knowledge of mother tongue – Urdu in her family’s case – has given her son the ability to connect with not just his extended family but to his roots as well, giving him a sense of belonging, without having to turn his back on being a global citizen.