The English speaking Tamils

I was at the parlour yesterday to get my son’s haircut and there was another mom-son duo already waiting, the mom fiddling with her S3 (maybe S4, I am no good at mobile models) probably looking for that unique smiley on whatsapp and the boy, a 6-7 year old just idly kicking around next to her. Note this – no conversation at this point. Then it was the boy’s turn. So the hairdresser sat the boy in his chair and the mom went along and stood beside the boy.

The boy to his mom: “I want Shah Rukh type hair, oh wait – no, I want Aamir Khan’s haircut.”

Mom: “Oh Like in Dhoom. Ok He’ll do it that way” (smiles at the hairdresser who pretends not to notice)

Boy: “Mom, I want my hair to be gelled and spiked.”

Mom:  “You are only 6 and you want it to be spiked. That’s not appropriate. I can’t allow that”

Boy (whines): “But mom, that’s how I want it. You said I could choose my hair-style…”

There was more but I couldn’t stand to listen. Without the audience, the mother would have probably not replied at all or just said “Nothing doing, keep quiet”. But with people around, they continued this fully English BBC conversation throughout the time the boy got his hair cut and quite loudly making sure everyone around approved of their English speaking abilities.

This is in Chennai and I can safely say they are not British. Chances are they are tamil. I won’t blame the kid. I won’t blame any of the kids who go through these English-speaking performances. Lately in malls, restaurants and schools I see more and more moms and dads talk to their children in English and English only. And especially when there are people around. I can get beaten for this – but I feel housewives do this much more than working moms.

You see super-singer daily, eat puliyodharai for lunch, go out to aapa kadai and saravana bhavan, watch “Naduvula konjam Pakkatha Kaanum”, are Kamal Hasan’s fan but cannot speak Tamil? Sowcarpet Sethjis speak Tamil. Our Telugu neighbours speak fluent Tamil. The pretty bharatnatyam learning American girl in the next street who cycles to Kalakshetra, speaks Tamil. Kushboo speaks Tamil. Shah Rukh Khan speaks konjam konjam Tamil. But Tamil-born Tamil mom of Tamil child in Tamil Nadu doesn’t speak Tamil to her child. What’s going wrong? It is simply unacceptable. The world cannot take more Trishas. It ain’t cool to not know your mother-tongue.

Fighting with the maid, bargaining with the road-seller and the auto-driver and calling fellow drivers names – you do in Tamil. But your kids can’t speak Tamil. Imagine how ineffective and helpless your son would be, not to mention ridiculed on the road for saying “Jackass”,”Fuck off” or stuff. Unless you plan to export your kids after school to your homeland (U of the S  of the A).

Please resist the urge to prove to your fellow moms how effortlessly the two of you chat in English. They don’t think you’re cool and nobody is going to give you a post in Vivekananda Institute. It doesn’t matter what the maître d thinks. I don’t care if it is Taj Hotel, I call my kids “Kannungala”, not sweetie-pie or choco-latte pie. It doesn’t matter if the family at the next table is doing their English-slinging thing. You don’t have to out-do them. There’s probably no other people on earth that is so conscious about others’ perceptions of them than the Tamil people. “Oor mechikarthikku” (For the public’s approval) – we will do anything. 
I’ve had my kids’ kindergarten teachers tell us that it is important to converse in English also at home so that kids pick up the language (The keyword here is ALSO). Fair enough. Go ahead, speak to them in English, encourage them to express themselves in English. Give them good books to read. But don’t train them like parrots. Don’t reprimand them for replying in Tamil. And that definitely doesn’t mean the kid answers every question in English even if he is asked in Tamil, even if his non-english-speaking paati asks him what he’d like for Diwali snacks. That’s just plain rude. I feel sorry for grandparents of NRI kids who don’t know English. I really do.

Here’s some everyday inspiration for those of you who don’t feel comfortable talking in Tamil – K.Balachander & Bhagyaraj movies, S.Ve. Sekhar Dramas, Vairamuthu’s songs, Vadivelu comedy, Lollu Sabha, Solomon Pappaiyya’s patti-mandrams, Gopinath’s Neeya Naana, Sujatha’s books, Kamal Hasan’s work. They’re all in Tamil and they’re all funny, entertaining, inspiring and absolutely great. I feel cheesy saying I am proud to be Tamil and you should be too. You need no reason really. I don’t.

I am Tamil and that’s what I speak.

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  1. Meenu says:

    Happened upon ur blog by chance! love ur writing style. Especially with ur Trisha comment, I became a biggest fan! Good to know that I'm not the only one annoyed by her English pulamai. Btw, my nri kid speaks fluent tamil albeit very ungrammatically 🙂

  2. SAPNE SUHANE says:

    That was a good one.LOL.
    @ the blogger
    India is a multicultural multilingual country that has evolved gradually with many cultures assimilating with each other,through migration from one region to another and also through the numerous invasions that the country has faced.To put it simply its like a big continent with many regional languages and with a 300yr old British invasion history.There is nothing wrong if a person prefers to speak in English. Infact its wrong when a complete stranger suddenly starts pointing fingers at your patriotism just coz one dares to speak in a language they want to. And if you have so much problem with english language then why don't you start blogging in your regional language.

    @ to the one who says her ''nri son'' speaks in fluent tamil.
    Why are you a NRI? Why are you staying outside of India? For earning big bucks???

    Its real funny when people complain about English language yet forget that ENGLISH is India's secondary official language(primary being Hindi). What's wrong in speaking in your country's secondary official language???

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