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To know how to read your mother tongue is to have the key to freedom.
When I was in school there was a story in one of my books which had this line somewhere in it. Not this exact line perhaps but a line which more or less conveyed this very idea. And it has stuck with me since then. The idea, the thought more than just the words but somehow I could never pin point as to why. Whenever I discuss this with the husband he tells me perhaps I should have read the story carefully instead of just this line. He is right, I guess.
Anyways, but tell me this, do you know how to read and write in your mother tongue?
Because I don’t.
I don’t know how to read or write in Bengali.
It just so happened that I grew up in a part of the country where English was the first language. Hindi was the other alternative or second language taught in schools that too only till the 6th standard. Khasi was the third language for some time but overall it was just English.
Now I was so bad in Hindi that my mum thought if she tried to teach me Bengali, I’d probably muddle both up scripts. Honestly, I think she was right on the money there. But as a result, I never got around to learning the Bengali Script. Good or bad, well, the jury is still out on that, if you ask me.
I have never felt that I’m missing out on something as a result of not knowing the Bengali script. I can speak the language and that has always been enough for me. But still, there is always this voice inside my head nagging me whenever I am reminded of it. You can’t read or write in your mother tongue. It’s so shameful.
To know how to read your mother tongue is to have the key to freedom. #Language Click To Tweet
Some years back when I flew down to Sydney for the very first time, an uncle who had come to pick me up had carried a placard with my name written in Bengali because we had never met before. The irony was that I didn’t know what was written. However, since it was Australia and he was the only one carrying a placard written in what looked like Bengali Script I was able to identify him. I still remember his disappointment at learning that I don’t know how to read Bengali. Even at that point, I had voices shouting in my head. One saying it wasn’t a big deal while the other chiding me for not knowing something which I should.
Sometimes I think the fact that I don’t know how to read and write in Bengali has made me appreciate every culture that I have been part of instead of being limited to just my own. But then again, I feel, that’s just my way of justifying something that probably isn’t the norm. For justifying my inability to do something as basic as reading a language I have been speaking at home forever. Who doesn’t know how to read and write in their mother tongue? I haven’t met anyone apart from my sister and me.
I have probably missed out on Bengali Literature. Translated works never have the original charm, rarely ever. I do feel that sometimes. Maybe reading the old letters by my grandparents or the Wedding card of my parents. These are some things I wish I could do. But other than that, I’m not too sure.
However, now that I have M, a part of me worries how I’ll pass on my language to her. Though I also wonder if her knowing and understanding Bengali isn’t enough. If her being able to write in it is really that important to me.
Will I like it if she and I are able to converse in Bengali? Of course, yes. Will it be really bad if she cannot read or write in Bengali? No, I don’t think so. And that’s where I find myself staring at that age-old puzzle again.
Should I have know how to read and write in my mother tongue? Should I be ashamed that I don’t?
Maybe I sound silly to you. Maybe I do, really. And that’s why I ask you to tell me what I might be missing out on?
What do you think is the benefit of being able to read and write in one’s mother tongue? Is speaking it not enough?