Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reading in your mother-tongue.

They say you realize the value of something only when you it's gone. I realized that it holds good for your mother tongue too!

I am a voracious reader, but my reading was limited only to English. I have read hundreds of books of all varieties - classics to thrillers, from all over the world. Short stories, novels, novellas, essays - they have all gripped me and taken me to different worlds, given me ideas, put thoughts in my head, and made my brain a highly imaginative one.

Even in my childhood, my parents knew only one way to keep me truly engaged. Put a good book in my hand. They were very happy that they were successful in inculcating in me the reading habit. But they had one complaint. That I did not read anything in Kannada. I could read Kannada very well, I spoke it every day at home, and it was after all, my mother tongue. Then why didn't I read anything in Kannada? Once my mother caught me complaining, "Oh there are millions of books all around the world waiting to be read! I wish I knew all languages so that I could read all of them!" She quietly told me, "You know Kannada and haven't read even one Kannada book.. what will you do with knowing other languages? And it is not as if Kannada doesn't have good literature. Do you know that Karnataka has got the highest number of Jnanapith awardees? There is a huge treasure out there waiting to be read in your own language. And you are worrying about other languages".

Even this lecture did not affect me. I happily trotted off to a corner and curled up with yet another English book.

Then I went to study in a different state. In the hostel, there were very few Kannadigas. I got to communicate only in English and Hindi. I never knew how much I had taken Kannada for granted. I desperately wanted to speak in my language to somebody. I regularly called home to speak in Kannada, and caught myself singing Kannada songs, which I did not even know I knew. On a visit home, I cribbed about it. My mom spotted a golden opportunity and slipped a slim book into my bag while I was leaving. I went back to the hostel, and while unpacking, uncovered this little book "Rangannana Kanasina Dinagalu" (The dreamy days of Ranganna) by M.R. Srinivasamurthy. It is a very simple, light and humorous story about an idealistic village school inspector. Something in Kannada! I was drawn to it. Reading the first few pages was painful as I had not read Kannada after I studied for the last Kannada examination in school. But once I got the hang of it, I read full speed. I absolutely devoured the book. A totally new world opened to me. My own world!

One simple sentence in the book did it. "Ranganna entered the restaurant at Chickpet, and had a hot cup of filter coffee and steaming hot idlis with the butter melting on them".
I had read books from all over the world - but nothing had touched me this way.
I had sighed with Alexei Ivanovich, the serf, when he removed his galoshes and entered his house to accept some tea from his wife Marsha, served from the boiling samovar.
I had been privy to the thoughts of Denise Legrand when she sat at her favourite restaurant at the Champs-Elysees and sipped a Chardonnay while waiting for a rendevouz with her beau.

But this was something I totally related to! I actually KNEW Chickpet ( an old locality in Bangalore).. I could smell the filter coffee, and taste the melting butter and idlis! I could feel it with Ranganna! When Ranganna talked about a certain variety of banana, I knew which one he meant. I knew what it looked like and how it tasted. When he wore a piece of clothing, I knew which kind it was. In all the other "foreign" books, I could only imagine and wonder! Of course, these took me to another place and time, and I enjoyed that a lot, being interested in different cultures and customs. But this was a different kind of enjoyment. It was something I could relate to. I felt the same warmth that I felt when reading RK Narayan, but this was warmer - because the turns of phrase, and the idioms and the language, everything was my own! I followed this with a string of other books in Kannada. The more I read, the more I enjoyed it.

Yes, English books still heavily outnumber Kannada ones, but now Kannada also has a respectable place on my bookshelf! All of you out there, if you can read in your mother tongue, but haven't tried reading any literature in it, go do it. It is a different experience altogether!

36 comments:

Ajit Chouhan said...

Hey Shruti 1st one from me.

I guess as a passionate reader ,its the ideas and content which matters rather than the language.I guess Indians are lukcy in the sense that they get the chance to appreciate so many launguages,culture,food and music.

Shruthi said...

@Ajit: Hi! That's true.. that holds good for any books irrespective of the language.
But my point is that you can relate to the characters better! if you have read an Indian author writing in English about a place that you know about, don't you enjoy it much more? Because you know what he is talking about, you have seen it, been there.... similarly, when you read the same thing written in your mother tongue, you can relate to it more deeply. The characters, the situations, even the ideas.

Tagad_Tale said...

Good post. I should pick up some Kannada books and try reading them too. I remember Kannada was my worst subject in school - though we had the prof. from MES College teach us Kannada (do you remember his name ?), I never learnt it very well. Now, occasionally, I yearn for it.

Shriedhar said...

ur quest for books shows up in ur posts.
interesting to know that u finished 100's of all kinds of stuff. gr8 !!.

Supremus said...

Unfortunately I dont read Kannada (Sob sob!), but I do say that Kannada authors are some of the best; I particularly love "Parva" and "Vamshavrikhsha" both written by S. L. Bhryappa (and translated by my grandpa :) ), and they are the two bestest books I have read in my life - so much so that nothing else comes near those two books.

I also liked M.K. Indira's "Phaniyamma" - another brilliant book. In marathi, Kiran Nagarkar is awesome - his "cuckold" is a great book. I've been trying hard to find some other books too, but still haven't found some. Check those books out if you haven't already. If not anything else, read Vamshavriksha and Parva!!

Indian regional authors are some of THE very best in the world - a fact that I realized after coming to US lol.

Great post!!

Now pl recommend some books that you think I should read.... preferably if they are translated :)

Suyog

Manasi said...

You right there. Even I rarely read marathi books and my mom keeps on telling me to try them atleast once. Its just a matter of comfort and habit. I do plan but never go beyond a couple of chapters. Sad state of affairs. Hope i can change it someday.

Raj said...

Well, i have read only 4.05 english books till date and no hindi books :)

Shruthi said...

@Tagad Tale: Hi Krishna, :) took me a while to figure out who this is, who knows which college I studied in :D - that was Srinivasa Sharma. You should try Kannada books! Specially coz you are away from the country, you will enjoy it more ;)

@Shreedhar: Yes! Reading is one of my passions!

Shruthi said...

@Supremus: Hey that's interesting indeed! What's your grandfather's name? My granddad is also a science writer in kannada.. with many books to his credit, and I read a couple of them only recently, after all these years :((
Yup, will let u know if i come across some good translated books - there must be loads, but I am not aware of them :(

@Manasi: Sad right? Do try it out sometime - the first few chapters, like I said, take ages, but once you get into the skin of the book, it goes much easier. Do not give up!

@Raj: That 0.05 was ... err... beyond my understanding :)

Bhargav said...

Gosh!! I just finished lunch before reading your blog, but still my mouth watered...the hot 'filter' coffee and steaming idlies. Man, I really miss the idlies at veena stores;)
Do you have a list or something of kannada books which can be finished in one sitting? If so, can you please mail me the same. I can search it over my univ lib. I guess this could be a good starting point for me.

Abhinav said...

very well put... i remembered few years back i was @home in a Semester break and went to get my voter Id......i was given a form to be filled up and i took 15 min to fill it coz it was in Hindi. i felt ashamed for taking so long to fill up a form....frm that time on i have made up a pt anything not official and technical i jot it down in Hindi.
>@Abhinav: Ah yes, but would it >tell me what was in the very >place I am standing on, 50 years >ago? That's what interests me!
yea sure just grab a "TimeLine" and read.... :)

Shruthi said...

@Bhargav: Idlis at Veena stores! Yum! Gotto make a trip there sometime soon :) Yes, will take my mom's suggestions, and mail you a list of good books.

Shruthi said...

@Abhinav: Ahh yes, I know exactly what you mean. Me too, while filling up forms, like for example railway reservation forms, I always see if there is an English version and fill that up, coz it's so difficult to understand official language which is not in English. Sad state of affairs, hm?

Raj said...

I have only read 5% of my fifth book so far hence 0.05 :)

Anonymous said...

so true shruthi! i still have this on my to-do list though. :(

ano

chitra said...

Nice post Shruthi :)!

Shruthi said...

@Raj: Oh ok :)

@Ano: Make the "to-do" list "have-done" list quickly! ;)

@Chitra: Thank you!

Swathi said...

i'm one of those unfortunate beings on earth who doesnt know how to read in my mother tongue(Telugu) and hence 'am forced to stick to english :((

Ranjit Nair said...

OhBoy-we do have a lot in common. I am coming to India on vacation in March, and plan on adding lotsa Mallu books (esp those of this fab' author called MT Vasudevan Nair) to my collection - my Mallu reading history is pathetic.

Btw, your response to Ajit (about Indian authors writing on India in English) struck a chord - RK Narayan, ARoy (of course) and also Upamanyu Chatterjee's 'English August' (another amazing book - the guy thinks like me!).

Anonymous said...

Nice one Shruthi. Didnt know Kannada until I was in eighth std.. so had limited exposure for 3 years in high school but still love Kannada books, especially Beechi's novels.. I think his full name was Bhimsen Rao... I am not really sure.. but his humor sometimes borders on the sarcastic and is still one of my favs. Reading one of the comments about MES, remembered Srinvasa Sharma our Kannada lecturer. But personally I really love Sanskrit, had the language for almost 8 years and the breadth and depth of the language is simply amazing. Most of the writings are almost like poetry in motion.

Kishore

Sanjay M said...

hey Shruti very nice thought-provoking post! Hey my house is practically a stone's throw (ok... maybe for an olympic athlete) from Veena stores so give me a buzz when you get there!

Sanjay M said...

ok I mean the day and time when you plan to get there :-)

chandni said...

nice post shruthi....

I guess i should try and find some stuff in Hindi...coz like you, I am a voracious reader but have only read english...

Makes me g=feel like "whoa! there's so much I am missing"!!!

suryakannan said...

vow! ur blog is damn good! u ve got supra-human grasp of concepts n ideas.plz chk out my blog n leave ur comments.

mob719par031.blogspot.com

Supremus said...

Hehheh,

his name is K. Raghavendra... Rao :) - In my Engg days, I stayed with their family for around 3-4 months - very very literate guy; he's the one who translated both Parva and Vamshavriksha in English. I still suggest u read the originals, before you want to read the translated versions :D

Suyog

Shruthi said...

@Swathi: That's unfortunate indeed :( But if you can get hold of good translations of some classic Telugu books, try that out at least!

@Ranjit: Wow, thats cool! Yes, MT Vasudevan Nair's books, I have heard, are very good. good that you are planning to do the same thing, have a great time! :)

@Kishore: Oh, looks like you have done at least a little amount of Kannada reading! That's good! Yes, Sanskrit is a lovely language, no doubts about that :)

Shruthi said...

@Sanjay: Thank you! Sure, will let u know ;)

@Chandni: Wow, thats so cool, if I could make even one person feel that way, my post is worth it :)

@Suryakannan: Thanks! Wow, supra-human? donno about that, but thanks anyway ;)) will chk out ur blog.

@Supremus: That's really cool! Has he translated any other works of any other writers?

Dinesh said...

Hi,good post. I havent read any books in my mother tongue either. Being an southie born&brought up in north, the r/w in english and hindi were more relevant. Though parents made sure, I speak tamil and malayalam perfectly, r/w in the these languages, sadly didn't happen though.
R.K.Narayan sure is a great writer. I have read 3 of his english books. All the same element -Simplicity. Though the pre-independence India was totally different, it still feels so ours, when you read his books.

Prathibimba said...

Accidentally saw your post.. liked it a lot.. I also never read Kannada books till I joined a Software company.. ONly then after seeing the dearth of Kannada speaking people did I start reading Kannada books.. Now in the US, I read quite a lot of Kannada books... IN fact, they are easier to get here in Libraries than in INdia !

http://pratapa.blogspot.com/2005/10/kannada-books-in-america.html

anoop said...

was in the same mental state (that of reading only english books).. 1 1/2 years back borrowed a kannada book (nAyi neralu : SL bhyrappa)) from a close friend, though didnt like that one much, it didnt stop me from from devouring all his (bhyrappa) other works.. from then on, have tried out some books of Shivram Karanth and Purna chandra Tejaswi as well..
I agree with u cent percent about this: the way one can relate to the characters in a kannada book, Im still to come across any english book which can come half as close. The experience is so original when it comes to kannada books, as u have already mentioned even presenting the same story in english (RK Narayan) doesnt compare to the original, maybe because of the limitaions of other languages in expressing the emotions of a kannadiga..

Shruthi said...

@Dinesh: Thanks! Yes, very true.. simplicity and relevance. Really touches you.

@Pratapa: Cool post, and cool blog! Great that you get all that out there in the US too! Happy reading :)

@Anoop: Wow, you have put it very well - very true Anoop.

STALAG SUKHOI said...

Indeed ,that is one thing people overlook when they grow up.Everybody in bangalore say they can speak kannada but not write kannada.

Well no hard feelings,just my thoughts.

Shruti ninu kannadada ondu dinapatrike yannu odu.Sanjay vani athava yavadadru ondu masika.udaharange taranga.Nannannu nambu aa ondu trupti kannada odidage sigutalla,namma matru bashayannu odidaga sigatalla adu atyamulya :)

shyam said...

bahala sogasadha ondhu lekhana...odhi bahala santosha ayithu...

idly thinnakke hoguva prasangada udaharane.....bahala artha poornavaagithu....i mean..it hit the nail on the head........

nimma blognalliruva ithara lekhanagalannu odhi...nimma obba abhimaani aagibittidene...

and btw did u know ..that ur Open Letter has been circulated all over the world..........

i posted the same in a community by name "Bangalore's Full..Go Home" without your permission.........

Shruthi said...

Stalag sukhoi: You are right.. Kannadada patrike odidare adeno santosha... hotthagatthe, aadaru santosha :)

Shyam: Thanks a lot! I did not know that my letter has been circulated.. swalpa kasivisi aagatthe :)
And I realized that yavudo Orkut community nalli yavudo link hogirbeku antha - orkut inda tumba referrals kaanisthu, nanna site meter nalli!
But I sincerely don't believe that "Bangalore is full, go back", but I believe that let anybody come, but let them merge into this culture. Even if they don't merge, let them at least respect the culture. That is all I want.

Guru said...

hi shruti
really a great post... i've read many kannada books but very few english books :-( (unlike others) if any one wanna start with kannada books, go for K.P.Poornachandra Tejaswi, SL Bhyrappa, BGL Swamy Karantha Ravi Belagere etc
Kannada sahitya is very well grown and have many many good books of all kinds,
Do enjoy kannada reading
guruprasad.rt@gmail.com

suresh sathyanarayana said...

Hi Shruti

You must read works like durgasthamana.... mookajjiya kanasugalu and stuff like that ... trust me the feeling that one can feel when reading these works entirely out of the world. Sensing that u are a kanadiga what I intend to say is that when u read something, it be the best in the language u think, think meaning right from the thought of going out of home to the language in which u count. I assume if u ever think in Kannada then you will put these works right on top of the world. But please dont get me wrong as being super patriotic

Kudos, amazing writing though

Suresh

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