Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nee Veruthathe Aare???

It is a dilemma that hits me hard every time I sit down to write. English or Malayalam? I have heard people say the language that you think in is the language that you are most comfortable with. English is the language I grew up with - learning, reading and loving but Malayalam was the language I was raised up in, speaking and hearing. I have scarce given attention to the language of my thoughts, but when I began to write them down on this blog, English was the natural language of choice. But as time progressed, the itching to see what little of Malayalam survived in me, had grown to a point, that I have come to curse myself for the step-motherly treatment, I have meted out the mother-tongue all along.

It all began twenty one years ago; that summer vacation in my native place stays ever so fresh in memory. A 6 year old kid sat teary-eyed and shivering before the stern glare of the woman who taught the basics of malayalam to the children in the village. I was getting the alphabets wrong; my mom, ammachi and appachan crowded around the dining table trying to help. But I just kept getting worse and worse. The slide that began then continued year after year. I barely managed to scrape through exam after exam. The malayalam textbook, the malayalam teacher and the malayalam language remained a recurring nightmare of childhood that eluded tiding over.

The 6th Standard, was the first time I came into an oddly tangible, but then-unwanted inheritance - the knowledge that a small part of the malayalam literary corpus ran through my blood too. We had to study a poem, Aethen Thottam (Garden of Eden) written by Mahakavi Kattakayam. Inquired of him to my dad, but the pride which radiated off Pop's face as he recounted the Mahakavi's works and achievements scarce resonated in me. And then it happened. Our Malayalam sir, a literary critic of some renown then, an ancient hoary figure who scared us beyond all mention, was distributing answer papers, he reached mine, looked at my name, then my marks, and asked, "Cheriyan Mappilayude Aarayitte Varum Nee?" I replied and with an expression of pathetic condescension, passed me my paper. If ever I wanted to toss the family name attached to me, it was that moment. Jiby John offered me anonymity. Jiby John Kattakayam was an embarassment in Malayalam classes. Since then, I never used Kattakayam in school and in a gesture befitting my hallowed ancestor, bunked school, the day Aethan Thottam was taught, to skip further shame!

There were brief moments of magic - like when learning SankaraKurup's Mambazham, Malayatoor's Mummy, ONV's Oru Vattom, Lalithambika Antharjanam's Bhoomiyile Malakha, Uroob's Mindapennu and Poonthanam's Jnanappana but those were minor blips in a rigid syllabus that restricted malayalam into an academic subject, rather than a rich language with a good corpus of literature, we just didnt have avenues to know of. The way ICSE and CBSE schools which today are mushrooming throughout Kerala, treat Malayalam, needs to change. I went on to pass Malayalam with "high honours" in the 10th...the second lowest mark in the whole school...I didnt feel shame but blew a sigh of relief that I was done with Malayalam for life, but how wrong I was, how ironic has the turnaround been...in a blog where I extracted maximum mileage and sought self-gratification for the years of anglophilia, I write in loss today about a phobia that grasped me all those years to the cusp of a feverish hatred. Knowing English is good, but trust me, knowing my mother tongue better has been one of the most fervent prayers on my lips, these last few years. I read Basheer, Mukundan, MT and Vijayan today in the hope of reversing my ageing, hoping to make up for the many lost years, in the hope of finding the ability to write in Malayalam too, as freely and with the same youthful abandon, as I can in English. Remains to be seen if I can succeed...

Last year in Delhi, we had a discussion on Khasak, and a dear friend who was part of it, asked me if the english translation by Vijayan himself was anywhere close to the Malayalam original. Embarassed, I told him I had read the english version only and couldnot help on that question. It got me back into reading a malayalam work again and some events from a little later which I have blogged about before, gave me the impetus to atleast try. All said, even this post on Malayalam, I have succumbed to the easiness of writing in English. Maybe its too late, maybe its the overwhelming delusion of my still-strong fascination for English that is preventing me, maybe it is the laziness to master Varamozhi, but it's a restlessness that wont stop devouring me unless I write just once more in malayalam. I guess its true, that old saying - Pettammeyolam Varumo Pottamma.

P.S: I have said somewhere that the books read in the schooldays, the experiences in later life especially the exposure to a new world, have helped in the blogging process...I forgot to add something else to that potent combination. It might seem absurd to you guys but it is a fact...the 5000 strong wordlist I memorized day in and day out for my GRE preps. That took my vocabulary to a new plane all together...and I have rarely needed an english dictionary since then. These days I look at the Shabdatharavali wistfully hoping I knew atleast 1% of the malayalam words it carries, I know I am too old, lazy and busy to slog through its 2000 pages. If only someone has a wordlist of malayalam words prepared and put out there, that I can read, memorize and equip myself with...maybe to talk, maybe to write or maybe just to think in! Forget writing, these days very few people talk good malayalam, colloquial and commonplace words have taken so firm a-firm-hold on us...that I feel the wordlist is a viable option to save both the spoken and the written language.


Anonymous said...

You are right. Knowing one's mother tongue well is a blessing. It's too bad that a lot of people are actually ashamed and try to make sure that their children learn to speak english with an american or british accent. I wonder when this complex will come off. I am glad you are learning again. The way to keep our mother tongue alive is by learning and teaching it to future generation, instead of being like politicians and cribbing about dying languages.

Ashok said...

I too dreaded the Malayalam exam and never developed a taste for Malayalam literature. I think there comes a time for each of us to turn to such neglected elements of our lives. And mine is not far away. As the great writer said, "Ellathinum athintethaaya samayam undu Daasaa"

BTW, "Cheriyan Mappilayude Aarayitte Varum Nee?"

bombay dosti said...

even ICSE had some nice poems and books... although for vyazhavattam was a favourite over mindapennu. And "ankana thaimaavil ninnaadyathe pazham veezhke, ammathan kannil ninnuthirnnu chudu kanneer" .. quite unforgettable.. and what a coincidence, just read khazak in english and few weeks back..

Preetha Nair said...

Hats off to you !!!!
am so glad that I am friends with an endowed writer like you :)

am in the process of finishing “Thalamurakal” and this thought of "how little I know Malayalam" crossed me a 1000 times …
I guess most of us who are trying to discover Malayalam would just nod in positive reading your post

mathew said...

something I really feel guilty about..partly to be blamed on a education which I got where they dint teach malayalam..so whatever malayalam I knew to read was from Sunday school..

Am just wondering how many masterpieces I missed coz of that..neways nice that you are able to get back now..

Jiby said...

anon, more than shame i believe its the eagerness to see kids being able to talk in english that makes ppl ignore malayalam.

ashok, isnt that a story common to most of us loyolites! cheriyan mappila is my greatgrandpa's elder bro.

BD, yeah mambazham is unforgettable...i wish poems like these i once knew by heart would stay in memory...but its all forgotten.

preetha, thank you. i have heard contrasting opinions of Thalamurakal...but what is most probably stopping me from reading it is its length.

mathew, u wouldnt believe it...one of reasons i skipped sunday school was the torture of having to learn catechism in malayalam. all said, the sunday mass sermons helped me pick up many good malayalam words coz achanmaar more often than not pepper their speeches with the best malayalam possible.

Anonymous said...

much respect to you for this post..

having never really learned malayalam formally in my life, and only being able to read enough to get on the correct bus (most of the time), it is strange that my interest in malayalam has been ignited now that i am in an alien land without any access to the literature of my mother tongue except those few i decided (on the spur of the moment) to buy a few months before my trip here..

i have just worked (fought, rather) my way through basheer's 'mathilukal', and though i don't understand everything, i loved it and i'm sure as hell not going to give up..

thank you for giving me the hope that maybe all is not lost for me.. maybe i too can properly appreciate varmozhi and onv someday..


Linsu said...

hey jiby...

kuree naalaayi njan manasil vicharikkun karyam.. thats wat u wrote.... 25 varshatholam kerathil aayittu innu ennodu malayalathi ezhuthan paranjal aksharathetto allel kuthum varayumo aayittallathe aarkum kanan kazhiyillaa.. n thanx to the chats... manglish aanu ippom reksha... aarodelum parayan polu naanakedu ennathaanu oru vishamam:) nee evidunnu vannedii madaame ennenganum paranjalo :D but to be true from my heart... jayikkan vendi mathram malayalam padicheduthaathaanu.. ente icse/isc paper correct cheytha teachers antham vittu kaanum ival evidunnu vannu ennu :D ningal atleast 11th muthal engilum rakshapettu.. for us yet another 2 yrs was thre.... proper malayalam ezhuthan buddhimuttiyirunna njan annu nerittathu nalla onnantharam chandalabhikshuki aarunnu.. ammeee athu oru kaalam... but ippo i would love to go back n learn all those malayalam i have missed n left out..

and to quote one incident.. joli kitti aadyaayi blore kaalu kuthiya kaalam.. i had to send pappa something by post.. and sneham & missing feeling kaaranam pappakum mummykum athil oru letteroode vechu... letter okke kitti.. pappade oreeee oru dialogue... "ninakku ithonnu malayalathil ezhuthi koode" ... mathiyaayi.. pinne njan veetilku kathezhutheeeeeette illaa... btw i had written it in manglish.... malayalam allelum i tried to be good :D pappa kuree kashtapettu athu vayuchu manasilaakanum!!!

veendum veendum blogan aayi kathirikkunu :)

Anonymous said...

iee blognu njan inkane DP kanda adikkuna bhashayil thanne ezhutande?
pandu mutale ente oru fav subject aayirunu..
chilappol malayalam teachermare valare adikam ishtam aayirunatu kondavam.
nancy ma'am...ne pole olla teachermaaru padipichal arum malayalaum ishtapttu pokum

matirbhashayil ezhutunnatu ente oru hobby aayirunu.. pakshe kashtam ennu parayatee 10am class kazinju ezhutan pattiyitilla.. ezhutiyal kolam ennundu. Ennalum ivide engane type chaiyum ennarinjooda

pattam classil ente mayalalam marks athra mosham onnum allayirunu.. oru 90 ondu but njan kore koode prateekshichayirunu

linsu chechi(presume its a chechi)
paranja pole... veendum bloggan kathirikunu
P.S. Could have used a tag for this. Mebbe next time... i have 2 posts'a'brewing
(guess what.. im in your college and first class HAPPENED :| ...waiting for saturday to writee..)

vere palatum related to school stuff happened...wondering wheather to write
involves some of our staff, non teacheing .. old boys... and what makes ester with acid :)

Anonymous said...

nammude oru tenth standard teacher(Mr. Manmadhan nair...Hes classic)
was kinda too good in malayalam
this is what another of our staff told me about him cos she used to work with him
when he was teaching in uni.. he got into a slight argument with some students... who were like hotshots in SFI
avare cheeta vilichal pani pokum
he said " edo pitirshoonya.... "
vilichatu manasilavate.. paavam chettan kettondu poyi :-D

Jiby said...

jackson, really admire you for picking up those titles without even an education in malayalam...sort of conversely proves my point that the malayalam education i recieved really didnt give me or most others any advantage.

linsu, after being a silent reader for so long ur making a comment here...haha that must have been funny for ur parents to read manglish...their generation maynot even know how we gen-y mallus have made a new script for malayalam in manglish!

syam, then ur the kind of loyolite i always envied...the one who didnt lose the plot in malayalam classes! the malayalam sir's dialogue was too funny...i had a good laugh reading that.

b v n said...


my two cents...two points

can a writer or a person express himself perfectly in anything other than mother tounge - I think its tough, most often the flow is severely restricted in comparison to mother tounge. They say every word has a myth attached to it, I think the myth strikes a chord in the mother tounge. "little sky and a little light", "ithiri aakashavum, ithiri velichavum" - i relate more to the words in malayalam - somehow.

Next is the vocab, I learnt malayalam till 12th, i deliberately took the optional in ISC. despite this, my vocab is so pathetic that even movie songs dont make complete sense. Thats the sad part. education fails if our conditions dont aid continuous learning.

A very relevant post!

wanderlust said...

somehow, it had been instilled in our minds that malayalam literature is inferior. thanks to DC books, for that past few years, i have been discovering the joy of our mother toungue.

Vinod/Kakka said...

I was good at Malayalam in Loyola: We were taught by a Sebastian Sir (I think it was P. K. Sebastain Sir) who used to say dont speak each other. I used to barely pass English, but Malayalam, well I used to be in the top ten always. This continued till the model exam.
But ICSE boards, I made a 70 in Malayalam, and more shockingly a 90 in English. My classmates were as shocked as I was.
I did PDC at Govt Arts College. For my admission, I wanted Malayalam as the 2nd language. The admission counsellors told me, we have Russian, Prussian, French, Spanish and Cyriac, you made only 70 in ICSE in Malayalam, PDC is much tougher etc. I stuck with Malayalam. Never regretted it.

About literature: I read Malayalam authors, love most of them. But never understood Vijayan. The language and weird names of places and people were such a turn off, that I could never finish a Vijayan novel. Never could put down a M. T. one without finishing it though.

About writing: I would not speak to another Malayali in English. With writing, I guess transliteration is not easy for me, if I were to write on paper, both languages are equal to me. To type, English is much easier.

My fathers family was from Marthandam (just in TN) but he was brought up in TVM, and attended St. Josephs School. But he could not write Malayalam. He could read it, he could teach in it, he could review text books written in it, but he could not write it.

Anonymous said...

thanku jiby..

but i forgot to mention that in between chewing heartily at huge (for me) chunks of basheer and zakaria, i am now happily taking in bite-size morsels of mali's 'unnikale katha parayaam' and 'unnikale iniyum katha parayaam'..
ellaathinteyum thudakkam poojyathil ninnu ninnu thanne.. :)


Jina said...

i wanted to comment on ur recapitulation post..no comment space available..hence commenting here..loved ur honesty..n ur not there alone!!!