Mind Your Language

What is it with us Goans and language?  Why do we have trouble learning another language? I am a sad reflection of my parents who are a rare breed of those Goans who can speak more than one language.  They are comfortable with not only English, but Konkani, Hindi, Arabic, Gujarati, Marathi and Punjabi flow from their lips like honey.  As for me, I’m barely able to converse in my native Konkani, and if I don’t embarrass myself while I speak Hindi, will be a big accomplishment for me.

‘I’ve grown up in the Gulf’ was the pet excuse I’ve used for not having picked up both native languages of mine. Although what the world didn’t know that in spite of having grown up on a foreign soil, the desire to pick up my mother tongues was the most strongest.   As a child, my siblings and I were fortunate to watch all the latest Hindi blockbusters that were released back home, and there’s where we learnt the famous Hindi dialogues and dance moves.  Amitabh Bachchan was the most famous star to grace our VHS in those days.  As for Konkani, well growing up as children, we weren’t exposed to this lovely language as one is out here in India.  Our only source to pick it was from our sweet domestic Goan servant, who knew no other language except for Konkani.  Aunty Espicisio Fernandes and we kids were good at dumb charades; a game that got inspired from your childhood I guess.  Sheer frustration of not knowing how to converse with this affectionate lady, made us children keener to speak her language.  Our first few words of Konkani had her in splits.  Innocent as we were, we would obediently take our dishes over to her to clean and would request her -‘Aunty Du-kor’.  In English it meant that we were asking her to wash our plates, but it was only years later that we realised that this sweet lady accepted our verbal abuse in the best spirit ever, a human being can possible tolerate in spite of having being called a Pig after every meal!

My younger sister and I learnt the language the hard way.  Yes sir, speaking with our lovely maid helped and acting as secret servant agents spying on our parents when they spoke in their coded language – Konkani enabled us to decipher the language better, or so we thought.  They knew we children wouldn’t follow, but little did they know that we were attempting to understand each and every word they spoke. 

Coming back to my question again’ why do we Goans not make the effort to learn our two native languages well?  Both Konkani and Hindi sound most alien and weird when spoken by us Goans.  We once had a building secretary here in Mumbai, who hailed from Cuncolim, who sounded like she was the underworld’s left hand man or in her case woman, when she spoke Hindi.  Teri Ko, Meri Ko and other such colourful words were the kind of phrases she only knew how to converse at the society general body meeting.  Needless to say, she wasn’t quite liked by the residents of the building for her linguistic skills, although her intentions and efforts were in everyone’s best interest.  She’s now settled in America, where she can converse with no discomfort at all.

There needs to be a yearning to learn.  Learn anything, be it cooking, a new culture, an art, a hobby or even a language needs to first start with a passion from within to want to know more.  And I think we Goans need to waken up to the fact that our sweet Konkani is on the verge of extinct.  Look around, see for yourself, ask any youngster if he or she can speak their native language, and you’ll get your answer.  Our fore fathers, our parents, our elders are going to be taking this beautiful language we’ve all heard being spoken around us with them to their end. And if we don’t make the effort to pick it up, in any way, we won’t have any source of passing down this wonderful part of our heritage to our children or the generation that follows. 

” Bhavam ani bhoinanom, zage zavum-ia ani amchi mogall Konknni bhas xikum-ia. Dev tumkam soglleank borem korum. “

– V Fernandes

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