“My tongue in English chains”
~ Homecoming: R Parthasarathy
I must have been 13 when I read Richard II in school. Bumbling through the sonorous lines I suddenly felt a sense of recognition when I repeated Shakespeare’s 16th century English …
…so deep a maim
Within my mouth you have engaol’d my tongue,
What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?
Was that me ?
Speechless death. Growing up in Bangalore in the 1950s it was almost fashionable to function only in English and look down on those who didn’t. Slowly,very slowly, the Malayalam world faded from my Anglo-Indian existence. Nor did anyone ever suggest that I learn the Malayalam alphabet. Coping with both Hindi and Kannada in school I cannot say I was keen on trying to master another language even if my origins lay in its culture.
Meanwhile I enjoyed textbook Hindi in school and sailed through the Hindi Prachar Sabha exams outside it. I was old enough to enjoy lofty and subtle poetry and something in me stirred as I studied Harivamsh Rai Bacchan, Kabir, and Rahim. That melodrama and sentimentality, that lyricism and those rich overblown descriptions – it was all me.