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Linguistic exposures in a family in just one generation!
In my 84th year, my mind boggles at the dramatic changes our generation has seen in just one life time.

For a start, I have witnessed humiliation at the hands of my English and Irish teachers, though they were not half as much educated as our family. We 'natives' were punished if we talked in Hindi among ourselves, even during lunch or while playing cricket. Of course, they gave me a clipped British accent, which was both a matter of pride among the anglophiles, and a matter of scorn among the rising number of nationalists. So much so, that the family decided to pull me out and put me up in a Sanatan Dharma school, where neither my classmates nor the teachers understood my spoken English. Though they secretly envied me, my classmates mocked me as a lackey of the British. So now, there was further humiliation for me from the Hindi-bhashi! I had to unlearn my spoken English and talk like a native. Nevertheless, my love for Shakespeare remains.

Living in Cawnpore (Kanpur), we were a typical Awadhi family. My grandfather was a court employee in Sultanpur (UP). Though my father taught Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit, he wrote postcards to his father in Persian or Urdu. More than half the postcard was full of flowery salutations. I have preserved my grandfather's diaries, in which there were entries in Hindi, Sanskrit, English, Urdu and Persian (see inset). All of us read Munshi Premchand's books and stories, both in Hindi and Urdu.

The ladies in the family wrote to each other in Hindi. These letters usually started with 'OM' at the top and first line usually being 'Yehan Gangaji theek se bah rahi hain. Umeed hai wahan bhi theek se bah rahin hongi.' The day's work done, depending on the season, we sat for tea in our lawn or at the rear, where we had a huge aangan. A harmonium was always handy. From KL Saigal's songs to ghazals of Akhtaribai Faizabadi were sung. Ghazals were still an elitist's fare. Jagjit Singh had still not arrived on the scene, to make the ghazal a commoner's delight, too. We had a ghazal dictionary, which explained difficult Urdu and Persian words and examples of their usage by famous poets.

With the onset of World War II, my uncle who was a doctor, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted with Wavell's Eighth Army in North Africa, Cyprus and Italy. Thus, we had a member of the family, who could show off his familiarity with Italian and Greek, while narrating his war exploits!

I had no idea that beyond my small world, our country has over twenty languages and thousands of dialects. At Allahabad University, I got additional exposure to Bengali, Rabindra Sangeet and Satyajit Ray. It was when I went to Pilani in Rajasthan that my world opened up. I realised, that beyond Vindhyas there was an India I did not know. A disproportionately large section of the students and faculty were from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Here I got my first exposure to Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Gujarati. Also, to their music and dance! The entire community of staff and students celebrated together all festivals on the campus: from Lohri to Onam. Culturally, we got to hear music from all corners of the country and Pilani gave me my first taste of idli-dosa!

After completing my studies, my job with a German MNC, opened up the world of German language and Goethe. When the first ever English translation of Kalidasa's 'Abhigyan Shakuntalam' reached Goethe, 'he went into ecstasies'! Sir William Jones, translator of Shakuntala had acclaimed the Sanskrit language as "more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either." There are strong commonalities between Sanskrit and German. Their scripts are phonetic and the grammars are almost same, belonging as they do to the Indo-European group of languages.

After all this global exposure to great languages, what language do I speak today? Well, most of the time it's Hinglish or Bombaiya English! Of course, I still remember Mark Antony's full speech: 'Friends, Romans and countrymen!'

On the other hand, our grandchildren in the US speak English with such a twang, that I have to tune my ears first! I cannot but agree with George Bernard Shaw, who famously said, 'England and America are two countries, divided by the same language'!

Our grandchildren in Muscat sing 'Happy Birthday' in Arabic and my wife has started singing Happy Birthday in Sanskrit, thanks to Chinmaya Mission!!!

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