When words are worth their weight in gold

The two sentences don’t make much sense. Nor do they sound good. But imagine reading  the same sentences in Kannada: “Neenu heege! Naayi baalaa donku!”  The words evoke  a set of images — some of us may see an angry mother in a bright sari saying this to a naughty boy, and a dog on a busy Indian road, wagging its curly tail.

The story gains a colour and setting without the author having to write about it. This is the power of language.  Words carry with them a lot of cultural and local flavour. That is the beauty of each language.

When six-year-old Nidhi came from New York to her grandma’s house in Bangalore, she made a fuss about the food one day. Nidhi’s mother ignored her. After some time, Nidhi came back to the dining table, quiet as a mouse, finished eating the served lunch and asked for some more. “Aha, Nidhi wants you to scrape the spinach off the wall and serve it to her!” taunted Nidhi’s older cousin, in Tamil.

Nidhi did not understand why everyone else thought it so funny, as she hardly ever spoke or knew much Tamil.  ‘Shevuththu keeraya vazhichchupodu’ is part of a much-loved folktale that can only be enjoyed if you know the language.

And that is why it is fun to learn to read in your own mother tongue! Local stories written in a local language are rich and enjoyable.

Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ stories are a treat for young people since they are about English kids in an English setting. Reading them in Hindi or Bengali would never be the same. Nor would Sukumar Ray’s nonsense verse in Bengali  read as well in English.

This vacation, you could learn to read and write in a language other than English. The ability to read  a book in a local language is the passport for you to be able to enter a new magical world of words!

(The writer is an editor at Pratham Books.)

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