Teething Tamil troubles

The frustration felt at not being able to read is something indescribable. It is like the loss of an arm, or misplacing your spectacles, forcing you to see blurred images. I can read, as evidenced by my writing (duh!). What I am trying to rant about is my inability to read Tamil. Having grown up far away from tamizhland, I juggled Devnagari scripts at school, read English and scribbled in Aryan tongues. I never realized what I was missing until the train one day refused to move. Let me explain. I and my mother, journeying across the country, and Indian railways decided to prove its unreliability. With nothing to do, amma started reading out loud a Sujatha novel. I was hooked. I did not understand some phrases, but I desperately wanted to read. And couldn’t. Chennai was a tortuous maze of squiggles. And I learnt the intricacies of pa and ba, ka and ga, the ever comforting zha. Ra ra, na na and na confused me. The absence of several consonants worried me, but if Tamil had survived two millennia without them, then it must be ok. I struggled. I read children’s books. I started watching mindless soap operas, and read characters names. I read ribbons under sun TV. I pored over Kumudam. I pestered all my grandmothers to teach me the alphabet. I fed young cousins barely three feet tall with the tastiest of chocolates in return for their textbooks. My efforts to read Tamil would often result in temporary suspension of all work in my house, with everyone in splits. I gave my parents headaches with my persistently silly questions. Suddenly the language I was speaking for so long refused to exist. It was a new language, with rules and grammar. With history. It wasn’t Tamil anymore, it was Tamizh. I looked longingly at bound volumes in my attic, stories waiting to be read, worlds waiting to be explored. I even procured an English translation of Kalki’s epic and read it in one go. Amma thought it remotely funny, Appa snorted. I haven’t given up as yet. I can now read bus destinations, hero’s names and simple jokes. I hope to read Ponniyin Selvan (hah!)..still I hope.

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6 Comments

Filed under books, family, language, tamil

6 responses to “Teething Tamil troubles

  1. Liberal

    haha…story of my life bro! anyway please change the “i and my mother” to “my mother and I” before i have a stroke!!

  2. Hakuna Matata

    Story of my life part 2 … except that I was hooked to the English transliteration of Ponniyin Selvan and learnt Tamil by reading Sun TV Flash news

  3. buddy

    the transliteration has some weird and some outrightly funny english at places though

  4. swatimala

    story of my life part 3done the same wid bengali…my progress…can read wedding cards, takes 10 mins to read the whole thing

  5. sthitapragnya

    mmm….i'm glad u realized the importance of knowing one's mother tongue. Being that we are devoted Telugus, my mother & i have been desperately trying to teach my brother how to read and write the language. Having lived almost all our lives in Andhra Desha, it is unfortunate that some native speakers themselves cannot read or write the language. I hope my brother realizes what he's losing out on.

  6. Hope… is a good thing. But as someone who studied the language for ten+ years, and then a couple years later, could not tell when it was chinna ra and when it was periya ra, the only thing I can tell you with certainty is that I don’t have the adoration that you do

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