Tuesday, December 04, 2007

of cadence and language and crummy schools...

i have been with hansa, gissy and kavi since yesterday, dubbing for their film. we are para dubbing hindi over the kashmiri. and thats forced me to confront something thats been niggling me - hindi, or any regional language and its place in our schools.

hansu's hindi is very very good. i seldom go wrong with the grammar, my vocabulary is that of good spoken hindi, but thats it.i enjoy writing in hindi, in the institute i always wrote my dialogues in hindi, they were never translated from english, and since i read more hindi literature than ever before in those three years, my writing flowed pretty decently in hindi then.

and yet, both hansa and i would keep struggling with phrases and words. and the simple truth is because we think in english, we stumbled over civil society, pious, not in vain...( juhi ofocurse gave me a little lecture saying that civil society was a western construct so there was no hindi word for that...but then thats another debate).

it was natural for me to speak to sanah in hindi since the time she was born. it was natural for my parents, it was natural even for george who speaks malayalam in his home, simply because he has grown up with hindi all around him. so sanah speaks in hindi. with a smattering of marathi and english. i read most books to her in english, and a few hindi ones that i manage to pick up on every delhi trip.

now to come to the point of this post, whats really eating me up - george and i went to some kind of an open house at sanah's school. it was not an open house, more a one sided presentation. all was well until they came to the list of dos and donts for the parents. most were functional and practical things, fine, and then there was this cheeky 'do' sitting smug at the bottom of the list- do speak to your child only in english, it will be easier for the child to communicate.

i dont like the fact that i am sending sanah to play school, so what if she has a blast, so i had set my ample bottom in the chair with a lot of edginess, and then this! i was deeply offended, but decided to let it pass because one- -they gave the parents no space to talk, and two, let them set their dos, and i will do what i do!

but what could be the reasoning behind such a ridiculous thought???

the other day my mum commented that sanah hardly speaks in english, we should be talking in english as much as hindi. and i wondered about it, but there is english all around her. is there a chance that she will not pick it up as she has hindi and a smattering of marathi. every now and then i would speak to her in english just to check and realised that there was not a moment of incomprehension.why would there be, there is english ALL AROUND HER! infact, hindi is more of a conscious effort, and i wish there was more marathi and malayalam and punjabi around her. and i wish we would make the effort to surround her with these languages.

but for a school to request parents to cut out all other languages and stick to english? how absurd is that! tomorrow if sanah is subjected to some interview at some crummy school in english and she answers in hindi, she will be out of the reckoning i guess. in a country like ours to not ask a child how many languages she knows, and instead to pretend that only english exists is insane.

i see little meha rattle away in hindi, gujrati, english and sindhi, and she is two months younger than sanah. imagine a school that insist her parents speak only in english to her, cutting her away from knowing four languages!

i grew up with english and hindi all around me. completely confident about expressing in both languages.

george grew up with malayalam at home, and hindi all around when he was a goregaon boy. hindi was spoken even in an english medium school. and at some point he became a bandra boy, that meant hindi was pretty much cut out of his surroundings. was he anxious about slipping into hindi i used to ask him.

for those who know bby, bandra boys and girls were the uppity english speaking types, and goregaon and other suburbs meant you were a vernacular type. the townies ofcourse spoke english and so did the juhu ones.

i was from andheri, oblivious of these coded distinctions when i joined college, and spoke, thought, dreamt english. as did every one else in class, from borivali, ghatkopar, thane, colaba, or bhendi bazaar. and that was because we all went to an elite college, where the privileged english speaking types from across the city went!

in the setting where sanah is growing up, infact it will be an effort that she has access to good hindi, to hindi books, hindi rhymes, poetry etc. hindi film songs will surround her, but nothing else.

and replace hindi with marathi, punjabi, malayalam...she will be further removed from these languages that she should claim as her own.

when ramani or sarada visit they both break into tamil while speaking with sanah. madhavi prattled on in telugu when sanah was four months old. she said something quite lovely, when i see a child i find it hard to talk to her in a language other than the one i grew up with...and i remember thinking thank god sanah will be surrounded by so many languages.

my theatre teacher would make us listen to the cadence of each language. we were always chided because our hindi would sound false when we would slip into the 'english rhythm'. listening to my voice played back today i could hear the wrong cadence in every second sentence. and dubey's voice played back in my head - mother sister curses in hindi, marathi and english and then, surabhi, sur pakdo...har bhasha ki apni sur hoti hai...(i dont know how much theatre i learnt but my cuss word vocabularly rocks!),

the musicality of a language, will i even get to that with sanah?


Space Bar said...

Bah! These schools! This used to happen at the previous school that S went to. They were full of these Waldorf ideas (fascists!) and said very gently that once the kids are in an older class, it's better for them to speak only in English at home. I was quite disgusted. Because despite our best efforts to speak in Tamil at home, S is slowly losing all the Tamil he spoke so well until a couple of year ago. School does that to you anyway. Why would you willing give up your own language? (I'm thinking of starting Tamil classes for him and me!)

B o o said...

I was appalled when a friend of mine here suggested I speak to Ashu only in English so that she wont have a problem in School. At least in India, you can be sure that she ll speak one more language other than English. But living abroad rules out that too and if theres one thing I can NEVER digest, it is Ashu not speaking Tamil. Thankfully the school here has nt suggested the same to me. I am shocked that a school in India would suggest that. We would be back in India in a year or so and Im dreading the interviews already! :(

pappu poppins said...

till i was around two years old, i spoke only hindi and gujarati. my teacher told my mother she was shocked that i didn't speak well in english in spite of the fact that i came from a 'good' family!!!! my mother, with her years of teaching experience, told her that anyone who is completely fluent in the languages that they hear around them at home, will be able to pick up any language and not to bother me and scream at me for such silly reasons :)

the mad momma said...

agree with you on everything.. but i wrote a post long ago abt a little boy in the brat's school who only spoke his native language and everyday when i went to pick up the brat was in the midst of chaos because he didnt understand teh teachers, they didnt understand him...

i dont think english is necessary. but i do think its necessary to learn a primary language of the state you live in. simply so that they are able to manage when i am not around.

SUR NOTES said...

tmm: but thats my point tmm, kids like sanah are surrounded by english. she understands every word, and clearly has no problem understanding whats going on in school. she uses far less english than she does hindi or even marathi. and thats fine by me, because when she needs to 'use' english, she will, maybe with some hesitation, or maybe not.

and the child you mention, clearly growing up in delhi he needs to have a sense of both hindi and english to be able to communicate.

i think of george as a child, only malayalam at home, and his mum picking up hindi as he began picking up hindi...if they had insisted no hindi only then would he would be in a soup at school!

SUR NOTES said...

space bar: oh you keep supporting me on school rants....its a relief! thanksss yousss

boo:you headed back to india? another blogger meet coming up? in honour of the one who linked all the mommies in the first place! and dont take my rants too seriously, after saying all this the school teacher has taught sanah three new hindi rhymes which even i did not know!

pappu poppins:good for your mum.... am waiting to say that to sanah's teachers, stop hassling my child. actually the teachers are pretty chilled out, this was some silly presentation by the school head.

SUR NOTES said...

tmm: but thats my point tmm, kids like sanah are surrounded by english. she understands every word, and clearly has no problem understanding whats going on in school. she uses far less english than she does hindi or even marathi. and thats fine by me, because when she needs to 'use' english, she will, maybe with some hesitation, or maybe not.

and the child you mention, clearly growing up in delhi he needs to have a sense of both hindi and english to be able to communicate.

i think of george as a child, only malayalam at home, and his mum picking up hindi as he began picking up hindi...if they had insisted no hindi only then would he would be in a soup at school!

NainaAshley said...

Agree with everything that you said. Even here in US where kids are sorrounded by english anyway and hardly have exposure to their native languages, I hear such statements from some parents but having educators assert that is surprising.

anita & amit said...

much as i believe in love between anyone and anyone, i'm beginning to suspect that where preserving our tongues r concerned, we should only marry within linguistic groups! that's a joke of course, but seriously, betwn amit and me, neither of us speaks the other's lang. ideally (and as a student of language, i know this is possible), i'd be happy if n spoke mallu to me and my mom, guj to amit, and marathi to the maids. i feel eng should have come later. but we had a bit of a speech situation at one point, and the docs (yes, 3 of them) advised us to go with any ONE lang (they didnt say which), and wait till later (4 yrs) to get the others in. so now it's eng with the three adults, and smatterings of mallu-guj. marathi is the only other lang she is immersed in thanks to the maids. now n has more english than i'd have liked, and i see aproving glances frm her teachers when i say she speaks eng at home (they dont SEE my crestfallen face, of cors). i HATE that, more than i hate their preachy, finger-wagging voices asking parents to only speak eng at hoem 'till the interviews get over at least'. they dont realize the developmental damage they can do. that, fundamentally, is the problem. we r so obsessed with appearances these days, that we just dont THINK any more. phoo. long comment, sur, sorry!

anita & amit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Poppins said...

Nothing to add that the others have not said, just wanted to say that again this seems to be a Mumbai thing. My cousin sis (any chance her daughter and Sanah go to the same school?) says the same thing. And guess what she even complied !

SUR NOTES said...

nainaashley: actually i must add, the teachers are pretty calm, the person making the presentation is the ceo of this chain of schools! but that he should say this shows how little these guys think through issues ...

ani: your comment added a new spin/an edge to what happened this morning. made me laugh out loud!

poppins: must be a bby thing- i want to go back to b'lore, there are so many schools out there really experimenting with issues around education!

dipali said...

Interesting post, as always. Sad to say that English has acquired this tremendous weightage in our educational system, over and above all our regional languages.
When we were really tiny, we lived in England, and my sister and I would only speak in English, but since my mother only spoke to us in Hindi we could definitely comprehend it but were too inhibited to speak. Strange, because till I was two years old, Hindi was the only language I was exposed to. Came back, lost the accent over the years, thankfully.
Wasn't really inspired by school Hindi, we had to clear an elementary paper in the ninth standard. I've lost out on a language that is part of my heritage and my culture. I am one of those who loves Premchand, but has read more of him, and other Hindi authors like Srilal Shukla and Krishna Sobti in translation.
On a somewhat contrasting note, the singer Sheila Dhar gave up her job in the Publications Division when her guru told her that constantly speaking and thinking in English was detrimental to her singing of Hindustani khayal!

Sanah will automatically pick up English in school, teacher's are very powerful reinforcers of a language. All the best!

M said...


Been reading your blog off and on for a while now - first time commenting.

I grew up in B'lore in the 70s/80s and we saw this attitude in some of the schools that tried to be upscale but weren't really. (These were the schools with names like St.unknown, and without proper school buildings or playgrounds.) Now, I understand from family members, that many new schools based on new-age curricula (like Waldorf, or some of the many so-called international schools) do ask parents to focus on English alone! Seems very counter-intuitive to me and all of us who grew up speaking (and possibly reading/writing) many languages. I now live in the US, and slowly, kids are being introduced to Spanish in Kindergarten, as research seems to have found that an exposure to languages at an early age helps!

We're happy our kids will speak, if not read, languages other than English - we have a Tamil-only rule at home (which, in practice, becomes mostly-Tamil at home) - some of our friends who speak different languages have each parents speak their language to the children, so that the kids learn both (our neighbours are French-Canadian/Chinese and their kids speak and understand both Mandarin and French as well as English).


SUR NOTES said...

dipali:thanks for the engaging comment. and the sheila dhar anecdote is lovely- never did thank you for the article you gave me. i loved her book.

m:you are so right- cutting out languages from a child's life is so counter intuitive. and thanks for your comment too.