I’ve been fooling myself into calling myself a polyglot for a while, and pretending that I’m somehow better with languages than the average human. The truth is that, barring some scenarios that are more an exception than the norm, you invariably grow up learning two languages in India – Hindi and English. And if you’re from a state where the native spoken language isn’t Hindi, a third one gets added to the list. And if you happen to travel outside your state for educational or occupational purposes, another one jumps on board. Of course, the levels of proficiency in each would vary widely – from a few basic mishapen phrases to fluent speech – depending on your active interest in the matter, but it is in way uncommon to find someone who speaks more than one language.
Speaking for myself, I was tutored in Hindi, English and Malayalam, my native tongue, till the 8th grade, after which I was happy to dispose off the Hindi textbook, and tackle the remaining two alone. Interestingly this was also the time when I got introduced to Bollywood movies, and lamented my earlier disinterest in Hindi, as I vetted on the quality subtitles for emotional connect.
Coming back to where I started off, I have no clear idea when I suddenly decided to become a polyglot, but I do know what it led to – in the two month summer vacation after 10th grade, I armed myself with a tiny booklet that vowed to teach the reader Tamil, and set off on the task. I believe the idea was that I ought to learn the three tongues spoken by the states that bordered mine – Tamil, Kannada and Telugu – before conquering the remaining 20 odd main languages of India.
I proudly learnt the alphabet, but soon realised that speaking with understanding was a different matter altogether. And that was that. As karma could have it, I found myself pursuing higher studies in Tamil nadu and even marrying a Tamilian, and the knowledge of alphabets did come in handy later on.
I have tried to learn multiple langauges since then; Urdu, Kannada, French, Bengali, even Braille! But I never succeeded in finishing what I set out to do, unlike the 16 year old me. Single minded efforts thrive for a few days and then fizzle out over a week. Something else catches my eye, or I find it too complicated a project, or I simply prefer to be lazy. Of course, the call of passive entertainment like YouTube and Netflix and even online window shopping did not exist when I was in school, and my brain might now be re-wired for short term rewarding highs. Perhaps the determination of a school girl doesn’t replicate well in an adult. Or perhaps I am too busy with a myriad of other interests, as I saw more of the world.
I am trying to learn Bengali again now. I hope that I’m able to stick to it, so that I can stop pretending to be a polyglot and actually be one soon.