Sunday, January 4, 2009

Going Native

We joke with the elder one that she has not picked up an accent even after 9 months of being in London, unlike some who speak with a drawl even after a short vacation.

We Indians are an adaptable lot and pick up ways of the West in a jiffy. To think that the term 'going native' was an expression during the colonial period and referred to the people who forgot the ways of their home country and started to behave like the natives - ‘going native' was understandably considered a derogatory term in those times.

People have to adapt when they move and live amidst different cultures. I do not fall in the category. In fact, so deeply rooted am I, that I have been in the city for half a century, but alas, cannot boast of speaking the local language or my native tongue well enough. Which is a shame.

It all began when we were started school. The Christian missionaries were considered the best in imparting education, and the Convents the best schools to attend .And so we ( my brothers and I) found ourselves admitted to these schools. I was in class 2 and did speak a smattering of English. The teacher advised my parents to speak to us in English at home so that we could improve our spoken language.It soon got to be a habit that was difficult to break . In time I think my father noticed that we were not too comfortable in our mother tongue and there was a time when he refused to answer us if we spoke to him in English. Sadly, this was a rule that was not strictly enforced and at vacations when the extended family would meet, we did manage to communicate speaking the native tongue haltingly but with long pauses to gather our thoughts and grope for the right word . In the process, not just with the mother tongue, but with other Indian languages as well, we realised that one was thinking in English and translating as we conversed. This was quite disastrous and led to a great deal of amusement ( since syntax greatly differs in other languages!) I regret now that I did not simultaneously learn languages other than English, which was sad considering that my dad was a polyglot and could speak and write several languages.

I miss speaking my mother tongue, for I have none to talk to. It would have helped me connect to my childhood.

I do think, even if it is not to connect to our roots, that we should make an extra effort to speak the mother tongue at home with the hope that the children pick up the language.

Do 'go native', it is essential to survive in the country you have chosen to live, but it would probably make you a complete person if you can occasionally connect with the country where you were born.

1 comment:

  1. Very Interesting.
    After moving out of India and observing many Indians and how they absorb/adapt a different culture, I find the ones who are most effective at retaining their language and accents are the ones who are very comfortable in their skin. Or are completely oblivious how they strike as different from local ways. The ones who are quite comfortable being themselves with little pressure to fit in, actually fit in. Its very interesting, the locals connect with a comfortable person inspite of his/her language/accent. So I find a lot of desis in the local circles who are quite popular for how they are - in a positive way.


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