Unexpressed warmth of a mother tongue

Can you speak your native language? If yes, I hope you continue the tradition with your children and their grandchildren, if you have them someday. If not, I hope you make an attempt to learn it someday. Turns out your ancestors can’t speak to you in a language they don’t know and they are too old to learn something new: so the lingual burden falls squarely on you. At least this is the theory/fallacy I’ve developed over the years with my fascination with my mother tongue. You see, I love my mother, more so, for inculcating the (shared) love for a language that remains largely unrecognized. It took me a long while to realize that explaining how Telugu—or for that matter, any other south Indian language—is not the same as Tulu ain't worth the trouble. At all.

The ignorance is so strong that I remember reading a column on Mangalore in The Hindu once where the writer mentioned languages such as Byari and Tamil but somehow found it wise to omit Tulu. Similarly, in the Malayalam movie Aravindante Athidhikal (2018), which is practically set in Udupi, you’d sit through 120 minutes without hearing a word in Tulu. That’s like going to Marseilles and not coming across French. 

Anyway, this blog post is not going to be a letter of angst. It’s going to be worse. 

Let’s just say that there is a quiet rage hidden in my digression. I learned this from my pappa. During hopeless arguments with amma, he knew how to maintain silence in Tulu.

The question is, how do you replace silence with words when you don’t know what you’ve lost?

Well, it's tragic as well as cute how Tuluvas use Kannada words while conveniently assuming that those are common words for both the languages when in reality, they have lost the original Tulu words to time.

Although my spoken Tulu—written Tulu is a borrowed concept with heavy dependency on the Kannada script as the native Tigalari script is not in vogue—is pretty average with strong inflections from my upbringing in Bombay. However, it's only after moving to Mangalore that I acknowledged there is an urban Tulu as well which has nothing to do with Bombaiya Tulu. Mangalorean Tulu is nowhere as rooted as the Tulu spoken in, say, my village in Manipal. 

Aame. Eeme.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t watched Tulu plays yet, you are missing out on cutting edge wordplay. They are available on YouTube and are damn entertaining; steep on worldly observations, Grade A puns and sharp delivery. Never once have I witnessed an actor fudge a word, let alone a sentence. 

Here are some Tulu sentences that I take pride in framing even if they aren’t really up to mark. 

Mask paadle saree't, janakul uller baree't.

[Wear your mask properly, there are people near you.]

Aapina aapini, popina popini.

[What has to happen shall happen, what has to go shall be gone.]

Kai dek-daana, kai dek-daana, daane o par daana kai dek-daana?

[Have you washed your (coranavirus-safe) hands?]

Thank you for your accented attention. 

Once you are addicted to words, you don’t stop. You keep collecting them. And that has been my case. I simply relish knowing words—if I ask you your name and if I don’t know the meaning, my second question would be “what does it mean?”—and I try to remember them. Of the many Tulu words that I adore, nishtraa is a favourite. It stands for the feeling of estrangement between two or more people who were once familiar/cordial/close to each other.

Tulu, by all measures, is an old language and there are over 7 million speakers in the world right now. It’s rich and nuanced. This despite my lame observations like, there is a cha (tea) already in the Tulu word for hot (beccha)—which I believe is beautiful. Moreover, very few words can capture the essence of randomness the way 'wotrasi' does. There are over 6700 languages in the world and none of them have a word close to this beaut here. 

I am dead sure about this. 

Speaking of death, if Netflix's Russian Doll (2019) was to be made in Tulu, it would be called Yenchina Saav Maarre. Trust me on this. 

Anyway, I am going to leave you with this excellent take on the notion of ‘prapancha’ (the ways of the worlds). If you understand Tulu, you are in for luck. If not, there is always time and ways to figure stuff out. 

In conclusion, there is not much one can do to enhance the grip of one’s mother tongue other than, perhaps, learning more about it. So, in all fairness, this blog post is quite redundant. As a Tulu saying goes, “Don’t say too much.”