Magane Manogara!

I sit in a sofa looking around listlessly. A little away from me, sitting at the head of her dining table, the Tamil teacher presides over a small group of 10 year olds. There are two girls reciting Thirukkural loudly and a boy who is copying down answers from his open text book.

And there’s my son, sitting there bewildered..

The girls voices raise in competing with each other. The boy stops writing to check something with the teacher. Suddenly the teacher’s grandson who has been playing in the drawing room screams. Before anybody could react, one of the Thirukkural girls runs towards him and picks him up. “Auntie! He has done su-su!” She wrinkles up her nose. The teacher immediately gathers the boy from her and heads to the restroom, shouting instructions to the children over her shoulder.

Oblivious to all this, the teacher’s mother-in-law sits near me in another sofa, her head thrown backwards and is snoring softly.

The teachers comes back to her seat, settling her grandson on her lap and continues her lessons with my son.

“What day is it today? How do you say this in Tamil?’  She asks him.

My son stares at his toes. “Come on! Tell me!” She prompts him. He sinks lower in his chair. “Take a guess.” She cajoles him. “I’ll not mind even if you give me the wrong answer. Don’t feel shy!” She laughs. My son cringes some more.

Indru enna kizhamai!” She booms the answer. “You repeat what I just said!” He mumbles something inaudible. “Come on! Louder!” She encourages him.

Then she looks at me across the room. “Ennamma idhu? (What’s this?) Your son has no comprehension of the language. And he’s born and brought up in Chennai!” She clucks.

tlc051014bwevNow it’s my turn to cringe.

Before you judge me, let me assure you that I’m certainly not one of those hoity-toity moms who thinks it’s uncool to let her child learn his mother tongue.

But as Murphy’s law would have it, especially when it comes to children, you end up doing the exact opposite of what you had planned.

Before I had my son, I always looked at parents of misbehaving kids with diasdain.  ‘How could they let their kids get away with such behaviour?’ I used to wonder. ‘I’ll never be like that when I have my own!’ I used to resolve to myself, in my blissful ignorance.

Of course, once my son was born, I just had to add pepper & salt to my words and gobble them all up.

Tantrums in the mall, check. Screaming in the theatres, check. Making another child cry in a restaurant, Check.

By the time he turned 5, I’d been there and done all that and more.

Anyway,  I swore to myself that my son will never be one of those snooty kids who spoke only in English and think it’s infra dig to talk in their own language. I spoke to him only in Tamil and urged the father to do the same in Telugu. Though he played along most of the time, my husband invariably reverted to English after the first sentence.

But I plodded on. A friend still remembers when my son  was around two, I got palpitations when I heard her talk to him in English, . “How you yelled at me!” She recalls even now. “Like I slapped him or something!”

And I was very happy his baby-talk was all in Tamil.

Amma! Menaam!” He used to scream when he didn’t want something.

Inniyum’ meant another. “Biyam’ meant he was scared.

Our initial ecstacy over his utterences soon turned to worry when we realised he hadn’t graduated beyond his one word sentences at three, when my friend’s son who was a few months younger was belting out full sentences like an adult.

I panicked as usual. He had just started play-school and there were so many more to compare him to.

One friend suggested it was because we were confusing him with too many languages. “He just doesn’t know which one to communicate with. Just stick to one language and see the difference. I’ve seen the same thing happen to so many kids”.

It made sense to us and that was the end of Tamil & Telugu for him. We conversed with him only in English and lo and behold, he was talking nineteen to a dozen in a month.

Cut to present.

At ten, my son has made me eat my words all over again with a lot more pepper & salt. Since English is the only language he uses for communication and thanks to the All-American entertainment he gets from Disney channel, he is snooty and refuses to talk in Tamil.

And when he utterly has to, he sounds exactly like M.R.R. Vasu in an old Tamil film playing a Marwari money-lender.

I still would have shamelessly shrugged, blamed it on TV and went on with life. But trouble brewed when I had to choose Tamil for his second language. Only other choice was Hindi and my knowledge of that language ends with the sporadic bollywood movies I watch.

Last year I realised the gap between his textbook and his actual understanding of Tamil was greater than the widest of oceans.

So I now sit in this drawing room three days a week amidst a cacaphony of voices which strangely reminds me of a 80s Bhagyaraj film set and giggle shamelessly at my son saying things like “naan en amma veedu ponaan” (Which is supposed to mean I went home with my mother.)

When I asked him why I should wait there instead of running some errands he replied, “Because it’s all your fault Amma! You did the crime, so you do the time!”

Serves me right.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.