Baby’s first words are exciting, something to look forward to. There was a bit of added suspense in our home, will they be English words or Marathi words? Baby babble is universal, the first sounds and noises every baby makes are similar across the globe. … Continue reading
“Will your baby speak Marathi, or just English?”, she said as she looked at me, almost disapprovingly. As if my influence would be shielding my son from speaking the local language. I had to suppress my urge to turn defensive and simply smile and … Continue reading
We are planning to have Rohan’s naming ceremony next month (better very late than never) and we have started to think about how we will do it. We know the venue, who we are going to invite, what food we are going to serve and we’ve decided to decorate the hall ourselves, to add a personal touch. I suggested we put Rohan’s name in Devanagari (the Indian alphabet) in huge letters on the wall, and as soon as the suggestion passed my lips, I had tears in my eyes… I can’t write my child’s name!
I would not even be able to pick it out of a crowd words. I’m surprised now much the fact I couldn’t write Rohan’s name in his ‘father tongue’ hurt, and it really did hurt.
Was I just being silly?
Family and friends have asked me, “do you want to improve your Marathi now you have a Marathi child”. Honestly, before that moment, not particularly. I just felt I would continue to pick things up here and there and learn as Rohan learns. After all, we live in Maharashtra, he doesn’t need me to teach him (secretly looking forward to him being able to translate for me).
Since moving to India, I have been bombarded with “why can’t you speak Marathi yet?”, “you only speak English?” and more annoying “you should be speaking only in Marathi by now”. Okay, so maybe I am intellectually challenged because so many people are surprised I’m not fluent. It has been a struggle for me and the constant (yes, constant) badgering I get over it left me unmotivated and pretty defensive. Furthermore, I have found that my weak Marathi skills paired with the widespread understanding of English, is enough to get by. I can understand a reasonable amount of Marathi. I can follow the odd conversation and I definitely know enough to get the wrong end of the stick.
I cannot decide why I felt so strongly about this it brought me to tears. I guess I felt guilty that I didn’t know something so fundamental about half of my baby’s heritage, how to write his name in the native language of the place we call home.
Mother guilt, the psyche’s way to motivate us to try harder?
I had to do something about it, so I asked my husband to write Rohan’s name, I watched him do it and practiced myself. Over and over again until my fingers knew it by heart. A substantial amount of practice later, I can now write my child’s name. I tried my hardest, I don’t know whether or no my handwriting is really bad, but I can do it.
Logically, I know that this didn’t make me incompetent and it turns out I’m pretty proud of the result. I can write one word in Devanagari, and I think it’s lovely that my first word is the name of my first child (luckily it’s a short one). I also have a little more motivation to increase my Marathi vocabulary. Not so I can teach Rohan to speak Marathi, he has an Indian family who are already trying to do that, so I won’t be the mother who can “only speak English”.
I am no polyglot or linguist and my tongue has really struggled to grasp the new sounds the Marathi language has exposed it to. I’ve been told by native Hindi speakers who live in Maharashtra that it’s hard for them to pronounce some Marathi words as well, which makes me feel a little better. It doesn’t stop the people I meet in Nagpur saying things like, “you should be fluent by now, we can speak English so why can’t you speak Marathi?”. I had never even heard of the Marathi language or Maharashtra before I met my husband, whilst English is one of of India’s many national languages, but that is for another day…
So, anyway, I find Marathi very difficult to speak, my tongue just doesn’t seem to want to accept it, I just cannot form many of the words with my voice (doesn’t mean I don’t samajatha the jist of what people are saying around me).
Slowly but surely, small bits and pieces are starting to stick. The things that have stuck and I am able to actually say are, logically, things I hear constantly repeated, over and over. For example, when my husband is on the phone he says “baaki chhan” all the time, and that basically means that everything is good. I’ve got that one sussed and locked in the memory bank!
One evening, whilst parking our car, my husband asks me if everything is okay.
“Jackie Chan”, I reply. Oops!