I tell you that I am in awe of the present generation. I feel scared to open my mouth when in the company of children in their pre teens. I become partially deaf and/or dumb when left to deal with them. Let me explain.
In a recent visit to Chennai I met a five year old nephew-the son of a distant cousin. I tried to engage him in a conversation just to keep him from running around.
“Do you go to school?” I asked him in English.
He looked suspiciously at me.
“Yes” he replied in Tamil.
“Which school?” I continued my side of the conversation in English.
He mentioned a name which did not register.
“Do you like your school?” I asked.
He asked me a counter question.
“Are you a teacher?”
“I am your aunt. But why do you ask?” I had a feeling that I was being cornered.
“Then why do you talk in English like my teacher?” and after a moment added, “Why do you talk in English at home?”
His question set me thinking. Having spent a good deal of time in Jamshedpur I seem to be comfortable switching from Tamil to Hindi and English according to the company of people I deal with at a given time. With my husband it is always Tamil and Hinglish or Hindi with my children. I seem to combine Tamil, English and Hindi with an ease that surprises me more than others. My students are mostly from Hindi medium schools so I deliver my lecture in English but simultaneously explain in Hindi too. In the 25 years that I’ve worked my Hindi has improved a lot. I had no answer to the little boy’s pertinent question. Had I insisted on talking in Tamil at home my children’s Tamil would not have been so pathetic. I wonder if there is anything I can do to rectify the situation. I derive some kind of satisfaction when I see that my Tamil has not deteriorated a bit. If it had, the little boy would have been correcting my mistakes.
Children these days are simply brilliant. With the kind of exposure they get, they are not children but mini adults. There is a story that does the round in our family. In order to make a troublesome child finish his food, my aunt asked my 8 year old cousin ‘to call the beggar from the street corner’ to take the child away in a gunny bag. My cousin really went looking for a beggar and came back with one having promised to give him left over food for taking the child away! Such was the innocence displayed by our generation. I dare not narrate this story to the present day kids lest they consider me a fool! I hope you now understand why I take advantage of my age and hear only half of what I am supposed to.