On International Mother Language Day, a look at language as a tool for socialisation and the mother tongue as a chord that connects us to our cultural roots

To mark the significance of various languages and their coexistence in Madurai, INTACH Madurai Chapter organised an event where 12 languages were discussed. The programme also threw light on how the Temple Town, though lying in the cradle of Tamil, has always attracted people of diverse linguistic backgrounds. Nearly a dozen people belonging to various communities speaking Oriya, Marwadi, Gujarati, Kutchi and Malayalam took part in the event and shared how they have nurtured and preserved their mother tongues while making Madurai their home.

“Madurai has always been a melting pot of cultures,” said Aravind of INTACH. “The Telugu-speaking Naicks made the city their own and they mingled well with the locals. Later, even people from the north found it warm and settled here.” The aim of the event is to highlight the importance of one’s mother tongue and the role of language as a tool for knowledge. “Mother tongue is always something special,” said Aravind. “Every one of us thinks in our mother language and even studies have been conducted on the effect it has on one. It’s said that the thought process is always richer when done in the mother language.”

Sankaranarayanan, the man behind the event, shared the historical episodes that demonstrate the multilingual and multicultural aspect of the city. Preethy Latapatra, who moved to Madurai from Balasore in Orissa two decades back, said she missed speaking in Oriya, while Boby Thomas, a Keralite, confessed that he knew only how to draw in Malayalam. “Mother tongue need not be taught as it’s an instinctive thing,” said Hemant Shah, a Kutchi living in Madurai for over 50 years. “But, in case if we are living out of the home state, we need to teach our children the mother language.”

Jitendra Golcha, a Marwari, said, “These days it has become a fashion among Marwaris to speak in Hindi. But I insist my family members to converse in Marwari at home. Mother tongue is an identity and pride and should be preserved and passed on.” The speakers also laid emphasis on learning and embracing other languages. Zafar Memon, a settler in Madurai, said, “Our ancestors came from a village Ranagaon in Gujarat. Our language is Memoni and it doesn’t have a script. I can read, write and speak Tamil fluently.”

Neeraja Sajan, a student from Kerala, said she enjoyed learning Tamil and found it funny that some words in one language may mean something else in the other. “In Tamil, madhyam means afternoon, while in Malayalam it means liquor.” Abhay Ghosh, a Bengali who has lived his life outside Bengal, said, “Grandmothers and mothers are the teacher at home. They are the ones who train children in their mother tongue. I owe it to my granny for the little Bengali I know today.”

The dialogue also threw light on the dialects in different districts and on the change in lingo every ten miles. The participants spoke about the political colours given to languages and how politicians use language to strike the emotional chord. Aravind reminded the audience that we lived in “Vandharai Vazhavaikkum Madurai”, the city that embraces and accepts everyone.