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Learning a language

In today's world, we all keep moving from one city to another in search of greener pastures on the employment front. You end up working in places where you are not familiar with the local language and culture. Understanding the culture of a place or city, may be little easy. But picking up the local language would be a tough task.

Knowledge of local language is very important to strike the right chord with your fellow employees, neighbours and with people we face in our day to day life. However equipped you are in the common communication language like English, local language would be a big plus. I have seen people from many parts of India coming to Chennai and working here. I also know many people who have left Chennai or Tamilnadu to work in a different state or city.

From my personal experience, I can say that guys who move out of Tamil Nadu have picked up the local languages much faster than those guys who come to Tamilnadu. It is possible there are exceptions like guys moving to Bangalore and they are under no obligation to learn local langauges. But even in Bangalore there are many friends of mine you have picked up Kannada and talk very fluently. I know of guy who is a Telugu but has worked in Bangalore and Chennai and he speaks all these three languages, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil. I can also speak some Telugu(!?) though I have never lived any part of Andhrapradesh.

I think generally, people from South India easily pick up new languages compared to my brothers/sisters from northern states.

I have seen hundreds of my colleagues and friends in my office and outside, from North, West and East India, who have failed to pick up Tamil even at conversational level after so many years in Chennai. They still speak one or two words in Tamil, which is usually something like poda, kirukku, eppadi erukku(!!) etc and they think that they have mastered the language. They still can't strike a conversation in Tamil with a colleague or with an auto rickshaw driver.

Normally, their conversations with auto drivers would be like this:

Waves his hand to stop an Auto-rickshaw and the dialogue goes like this:
Man: Kilpauk?
Auto-rickshaw Driver (ARD): vaanga, Sir (Please come in, Sir)
Man: Evvaluv? (How much?)
ARD: Kilpaukkulla entha pakkam, Sir?
Man: What?
ARD: Where? Where? Kilpauk..
Man: Mummy - Daddy pas (near Mummy Daddy)
ARD: Nooru rupa kodanga sir (Please give Rs100, Sir)
Man: How much?
ARD: Hundred. Hundred.
Man: Seventy
ARD: Sir, Kilpaukulu orrey one-way Sir.. chuthi chuthi poganum Sir..
Man: What? What? No One-way..No one -way...only 70

The conversation goes on like this and finally they would settle for a via-media price.

But look at the South Indian who goes to Delhi for 5 years. Can you imagine him living in that city without knowing Hindi? He would learn that language within 6 months and even if he comes to Chennai, he speaks like kya hyar?? kya chalta hai? etc.,

I cant understand why these non-southerners have a big mental block in learning the local language. Let it be Tamil in Chennai or Kannada in Bangalore, I can bet 95% of them would not have picked up the language even after being in the city for more than 5 years. At times it irritates you when they start talking in Hindi assuming that everyone around understands that. Wont it be interesting if you try to learn a new language? I am sure it would be fun. I have interesting experiences trying to learn Telugu from my room-mate.

Will write that next.


adwait said...

I wanted to write on your thoughts published on your blog for sometime. I disagree with you. I am a citizen of this country with no belonging to one place. Born in Mangalore, grew up in Delhi and worked all over India. I haven't planned where will I finally settle down and therefore not constructed a house for myself.

If you look at the number of North Indians i.e., marwari, aggarwals, sindhis and punjabis who have settled in Tamil Nadu speak and breathe Tamil. It is wrong to think that there is this resistance to learn any language. In the end it boils down to necessity. I learnt malayalam in three months though I feel embarassed that I could not learn to speak Tamil in the six years stay that I have had in Chennai. Thanks to friends like you who made me feel comfortable and feel quite at home ! While in Delhi, I have seen that south indians would prefer Karol Bagh and virtually made it a southern state within Delhi. The Delhi Tamil Education Association started many schools which taught Tamil. Bangalore is another metropolis that has a very cosmopolitan population and many may not know Kannada. One could get to hear Tamil and/or Malayalam in the branch of State Bank of Travancore at Bangalore. I met a sardar in Bangalore who hailed from Bellary who did not know Punjabi and will only speak Kannada.I am a firm believer that we should not loose sleep on this subject. The economics will determine which language will prevail.

A culture as rich as Tamil is here to stay and grow. We need not fear about it. What we need is a big heart that can take in all the diversity and make the diaspora of Tamil Nadu prosperous and happy !

Venkat Muthukrishnan said...

Hi Adwait,
Thanks for the detailed comment. Its very true that economics will determine which language will prevail. I am all for free movement within the country and I have dont have any particular bias or prejudice towards anybody.
But the point I am trying to make here is why people coming from North India cant make efforts to learn the local language. I wrote this particular piece after seeing so many of my friends and colleagues showing no interest or have any inclination to learn the local language, which cant be the case if I go to North.
Do you agree?

Horizon said...

Venkat Anna,

I tend to agree with Adwait. I have so many of my friends who are from north india and other parts of India, who speak fantastic Tamil. I went to Mumbai but didnt learn a word of Marathi because as Adwait said Hindi , English and Tamil were sufficient for me to survive there. I have seen examples of people whom you want to portray in the blog but i think it cannot be genralized. I also feel that this is a subject that can be debated from various angles.

Also in your comment you say that if you go to north you would be forced to learn it , here is where economics come in , if you go to metro's or A cities in the north,you would still be able to survive without learning the local language but if you go to states other then these two, then you would be in trouble. I think economics and necessity drives the desire to learn the language. Its not only true for Indian states but i think applicable globally.

Venkat Muthukrishnan said...

@ Naveen: When you say you have number of North Indian friends who speak fantastic Tamil, can you please let me know are they born and brought up in Chennai/TN or they have come here for work? I think there is a big difference. Guys who are born & brought up in Chennai do manage to speak Tamil. There are exceptions even to that.

My grouse is against the folks who come to the city for work. I dont have a problem if they dont know the language but the attitude they exhibit if somebody prods them to learn Tamil is obnoxious. They deprecate the language, which is highly irritating for me as a Tamil.

Horizon said...

Ok got it , the post lead me to believe about all north indian people. I get your point. Maybe we could be looking at a minority of people , anyway message has been conveyed.