This is another idea like your ‘hometown’ that is beginning to get diffused and turning slowly into shapelessness. Many of us struggle to identify our hometown especially as we have migrated into big cities and lost touch with our ‘ancestral place.’ Many of us don’t even have an ancestral place to identify with. The idea of the ‘mother tongue’ is also going similar changes as we blend into one huge pot of urban civilisation. Many people are under the wrong impression that the ‘State’ we see now, like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Maharashtra etc have always existed. The concept of geographical states we know now is only about 60 years old as India got reorganised into Geographical areas based on language only after independence.
"Help! My mom cannot speak in her mother tongue"
“What is your mother tongue?” does not elicit a clear answer from many of us, including me. If mother tongue is based on our current geographical division it becomes even more confusing. Or is your mother tongue what you speak at home? What happens to a good part of the population that speaks English at home? Obviously, no Indian can claim his mother tongue is English though for many that may the language they are most fluent in. Or is mother tongue the language you think in? For many children, English is the only language they will speak in and the parents struggle to teach them a few words in their mother tongue so that they can converse with their grandparents! What would be the mother tongue of such children? And imagine what happens to their children! Their parents cannot speak in their mother tongue! “My mother cannot speak in her mother tongue!” Then what is your mother tongue?
The reorganisation of states based on language has also added to the mess a bit. In Karnataka, we have people who are very much part of Karnataka but their mother tongue is Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Konkani etc because parts of Karnataka was earlier in Madras Presidency, Nizam’s rule, borders with current areas of Goa and Maharashtra.
What is my mother tongue?
I think in English and that is my most fluent language. Officially on the record, my mother tongue is Kannada and I learnt that as my first language in a school in Hyderabad. The only school which teaches Kannada was chosen by my dad because he wanted us to learn Kannada. With my parents, my aunts and uncles I speak Tamil but I cannot read and write Tamil. I cannot even understand a bit of the pure Tamil that the Newsreader speak. When I need to curse the guy who broke the traffic rule, I automatically lapse into chaste Hyderabadi Hindi as I have grown up amidst that for thirty odd years and I don’t know one cuss word in Kannada or Tamil.
So I wonder, with time, will the question, “What is your mother tongue?” be outdated?