A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Of being disproportionately mixed

Posted by Pepper on February 9, 2021

I am pretty sure I have mentioned this on the blog, Mint’s native language, what we call ‘mother tongue’ in India, is Telugu. However, his family has been in Tamil Nadu for literally hundreds of years and the kind of Telugu they speak is almost unrecognizable when compared to the authentic Telugu. Also, for whatever reason, he identifies more with the Tamil language and speaks it far more fluently than Telugu.

Most of his friends have no clue about his native language and he prefers telling people he is a Tam guy. This greatly irks his parents who feel he needs to take more pride in his roots. Mint on the other hand, says they are hypocritical in their thought process, because they themselves only converse in Tamil. Not Telugu.

We have always dealt with a Tamil – Telugu war. When I got married, his parents wanted me to learn Telugu. He said that if I have to learn a language, he insisted it had to be Tamil. Now the fact that I learnt neither of them is a different story. Because really, that guy has had little interest in teaching me. He was perfectly comfortable talking to me in Hindi and English. All the Tamil I know and have learnt has been thanks to the effort I have put in on my own. And while I can understand a significant amount, I am still sad I can’t hold conversations on my own. But unfortunately I don’t have the bandwidth to self learn or go for classes and if Mint took more effort in teaching me, it would have helped.

I think my in laws gave up on me learning the language. And then Cotton and Candy were born and the language monster raised its head again. After another debate on what language the kids should learn and going back and forth between Tamil and Telugu, my in laws agreed to let them learn Tamil. They stayed with us for a whole 6 months and would talk to the kids in Tamil. Cotton and Candy were picking up the words. And then they left.

I expected Mint to continue talking to them in Tamil. He never took the effort with me. But he had a golden opportunity to do it with the kids. I definitely wanted to pass on the gift of language to them. From my end, I spoke to the kids in Hindi. Again, I have never exposed the kids to my mother tongue, which is a mix of Punjabi, Sindhi and Multani. I thought they would benefit more from knowing Hindi and that’s one language I have a strong connect with anyway, because, Bollywood.

So I took the effort to speak to the kids in Hindi. And surprisingly, it took more effort than I anticipated. English has been my comfort language and the language I think in. Hindi is very close to my hear but really, intuitively I am inclined to speak in English. Anyway, the efforts were paying off and Cotton and Candy were beginning to grasp the langauge well. Also, we spent several months in Mumbai and having a full time helper there who only spoke to the kids in Hindi helped immensely.

But what I began noticing over time is that when I spoke to the kids in Hindi, Mint would continue the conversation with them in Hindi. Every time I pointed it out to him and asked him to revert to Tamil, he would say that it seems unnatural to talk to the kids in one language and me in another. Eventually, he had fully switched to talking to the kids in Hindi. I was not too pleased, but he seemed to be supremely lazy in putting n the effort.

My in-laws were aghast. Cotton and Candy were not learning any language from their end and were developing a proficiency in Hindi. In my head, I could hear them screaming, ‘This is why we were so against the marriage, we knew it would result in us not being able to pass on our culture and heritage’. I have told them several times, this is Mint’s fault. Please blame your son. I would love our kids to know all the possible languages they can, I don’t know why he is such a lazy bugger. And I know a part of them believes me. They know their son. But the other part of me keeps thinking, what if they think this is their evil daughter in law’s fault? One who controls everything and calls all the shots.

Let me talk about the current happenings in our life now. Every time we are talking to my in-laws on a video call, Cotton and Candy keep switching to Hindi. Not only do my in-laws not know Hindi, this is a classic way of rubbing salt into their wounds. My in-laws ask them a question in English, they reply in Hindi. Jeez. Ayyo. Jale pe namak chidakna. I cringe every single time. This, despite me warning the kids before we start the call. Every time, I remind them. “Please talk to Thatha and Nanamma only in Engligh, okay?”. They say yes to me. But somewhere in the middle of the conversation, I see them slipping into Hindi.

And while I stress and feel guilty and apologetic, I see my idiot husband grinning at my panicked state. I genuinely feel sorry for my in-laws. This is not how I expected my mixed kids to turn out. I mean, I would have liked an equal contribution and our cultural mix to reflect more evenly. Unfortunately, the contribution of the other half is not in my hands.

19 Responses to “Of being disproportionately mixed”

  1. Bhavani said

    Seems like Ghar ghar ki kahani ! it is amazing that they actually speak Hindi ! Keep up with it ya .. eventually they will resort to only English but Hindi/Tamil will remain with them..
    At our home, hubby and I speak only in Tamil just so the kids will get familiarized. And they are but they can never converse fluently. I have only ourselves ( in our case both of us :)) to be blamed. When we speak in Tamil and they respond in English, we let go and never insisted that they should speak only in Tamil.
    So grandparents speak in Tamil with English words and they respond in English. Uncles aunts etc speak to them in English. Sigh !!
    On a positive note, my craze for Bollywood movies/shows has totally rubbed off on them and they love Bollywood to bits ! So 3 : 1 to watch anything BW at our home – lol
    I am partly ulta of Mint, Tamilian but grew up in Hyd. So can speak Tamil, Telugu, Hindi fluently. My husband being from Chennai always jokes saying, in Bay Area you can live without speaking English but not without knowing Telugu – ha ha ha

    • Pepper said

      I’ve heard this from so many people, that their kids can fully understand their native language but cannot or will not speak it. I think the fact that they can understand it is still an achievement. I am entirely expecting CottonCandy to switch to English entirely as they grow.

      And wow, you are from Hyd. Always thought you were from Chennai too. πŸ™‚ Haha, I agree with your husband about the need to know Telugu here, lol! In fact, it is the fastest growing language in all of USA and my friends joke that it will soon be called United States of Andhra Pradesh.

  2. Aiyaiyai this is a very general situation to most mixed culture kids here. What language to teach?! I do a lot of baby talk to Mowgli in Hindi too even though I want to bring Marathi to the forefront!

    • Pepper said

      You doing baby talk with Mowgli sounds so cute!
      PS – I end up talking to the kids, or Mint or myself in Marathi a lot when I want to rant. I dont know why, because none of them understand it, but it makes me feel more gratified. My kids are now very familiar with phrases like ‘Aata majhi satakli’ or ‘mala traas deo naka’ ..lol

  3. I get you there. It’s funny I say that because I am Tamil, married to a Tamil, of the same micro-sub-sect, if you will. Yet, my daughter and I are most comfortable with each other in English, which bugs the heck out of everyone – my husband, my folks, my in-laws…everyone.
    I hadn’t realised that language is this powerful a force.

    • Pepper said

      Haha, I get it. My parents and I talk almost entirely in English too. At least 95 percent of the time. I don’t know why, but I think most of us have reached a stage where we can’t have deep, introspective, intense conversations in any language other than English. We just lack the vocab. Or even if we don’t, it still seems hard to express yourself in depth in any language other than English. I don’t know how we get here.

  4. paatiamma said

    Language is called mother tongue for a reason and not father tongue πŸ˜‚

  5. paatiamma said

    It is simply the language the mother is comfortable with!

  6. Visha said

    Kids can pick up any number of languages till they are 5. I have seen that with Moo so Mint..it’s not unnatural, they pick up faster when hearing multiple languages πŸ™‚
    Pepper you start speaking to them in your mother tongue to carry on the legacy. I remember you mentioning it’s a dialect which is not spoken by many. Keep it basic and simple with words for come, go, sit, water and take it from there. They are still at an age to pick up the language so maybe five minutes everyday during a walk or before bed..
    Regarding Tamil it’s really sweet of you to wish they speak in Tamil with their grandparents ❀️ Maybe gently nudge them to switch from Hindi to Tamil every time they speak on video call? If that is hard try playing Tamil story videos for kids during their tv time, they pick up fast!!

    • Pepper said

      I know, I keep hearing and reading about how easily kids can pick up languages till they are 5, and that is exactly why I feel sorry about missing this golden period.

      I should start speaking to them in my mother tongue too, right? I do use some words here and then but I will probably start expanding their vocab, thanks for giving me the much needed push.

      As for Tamil, you know, I end up being the one teaching them Tamil too.. Sigh, they know basic words like ‘Kudi’ because I keep repeating it a hundred times reminding them to drink their milk, or Vaa, or Po.. I use a lot of Tam words while speaking to them in English or Hindi, but that’s all I can do in the end.. I will try to Tamil story videos, do you have any that you recommend, any links to share?

  7. The Bride said

    As a pathetically monolingual person, I say do not feel guilty. It’s already amazing that they speak Hindi. It takes a lot of work for parents who speak to each other in one language to speak to children in two different languages. It’s great if it is happens, but we can’t be feeling guilty (and it’s always the women who do) for it not happening – especially when one is abroad and there is no community to reinforce the different languages on a regular basis. My friend in India tells me that English has become the lingua franca for all the kids she knows with mixed parentage – and mixed parentage is going to be the norm.
    Do your in-laws speak English with an accent? Kids tend to just categorise people in their minds – they might have just categorised your in-laws as non-native English speakers and therefore resorted to the ‘default’ Indian language. My niece used to refuse to speak to my husband in Malayalam because she just decided he was in the English-speaking category (now she’s a teen and refuses to speak to anyone in Malayalam, except for a few words here and there in Kerala).

    • Pepper said

      Seriously, it IS a lot of work to speak to children in different languages. I was convinced it is worth it, but then I seem to rethink on some days. And yes, why are the women always the ones feeling guilty?
      I think a part of me subconsciously wanted to prove my in-laws wrong when they suspected that our marriage wasn’t conducive to propagating their culture. I wanted to be used as a shining example where we demonstrate that intercaste marriages can still be culturally rich and reflect cultures from both sides. Instead, my marriage is validating all their ideas of how a huge part of your culture (since so much comes from language) is lost when you don’t marry within your community. I hate them being proved right and see it as a personal defeat. I need to change my outlook.
      And yes! My in-laws do speak English with an accent. While their English is pretty much flawless, they definitely have a South Indian accent, if I can call it that. It never occurred to me that kids can possibly make some associations with it.

  8. […] wrote about a wonderful topic recently which is close to my heart. Language(s). I have spoken of my background here. Zack speaks […]

  9. Similar thoughts: I also wanted to make sure the kids learn to talk in native language in order to talk to my grandparents and relatives who are not all that well-versed in English.
    I speak to the kids in my mother tongue, they are the only ones to whom I can talk so that is a plus too. My hubby talks to them in Tamil. Me and hubby talk to each other in Hindi and kids reply to us in English πŸ™‚
    Kids can easily pick up languages, we never made any effort to talk to our son in Hindi , he just picked it up very well just by listening to us though I cannot say the same thing about my daughter.
    They attend Tamil school one day a week so now the little one started talking few words in Tamil too.

    • Pepper said

      Wow, that’s amazing, that your son picked up Hindi just be hearing you guys talk.

      We should consider Tamil school for the kids at some point too πŸ™‚

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