I can read, write and converse most admirably in Malayalam, but, I have never ENJOYED reading books in my native tongue, as much as I do reading in English. Maybe because as a kid, there WERE more English books and novels that I was exposed to. Even now, I don't think that there are as many books for kids in Malayalam as there are in English. Which is sad, because I realise now that there are some beautiful writings in Malayalam as well. And I can hear the stories they tell so much better than a non-Malayali, because I know firsthand the setting, the mileu, the culture. . .
The earliest light reading that I did in Malayalam was of my Language non-detaileds. And I think a larger amount of my disinterest in the language was because of how my earlier teachers used to handle the subject. Their objective was to make us write the relevant answers in our exams. While this was admirable, and in which goal, I think they succeeded to a great extent, as far as a feel for the language was concerned, an appreciation of the felicity with which the writer expressed his views, feelings.. . they did nothing to develop a sense in children of that.This is true of my earlier English and Hindi teachers as well, but thankfully, my Dad inculcated in me a love for the English language, that continues to this day.
In college, one of my cousins had to study a collection of Malayalam short stories in translation. Malayalam Short Stories- An Anthology , had gems by stalwarts of Malayalam Literature- Thakazhi, Uroob,Basheer and so on . I loved some of the stories in this- Rachiamma, Steadily Flows the Yamuna, A Blind Man's Contentment. . . but this was because they were a translation. I doubt if I'd have read them if those very stories had been available in Malayalam.
The next best exposure I had to Malayalam writing was the mallu weekly magazines. Any mallu who reads this would laugh, and with justification, for some of them were quite trashy. But to the best of my memory, the first Malayalam writing that I savoured was a weekly serial in Malayala Manorama- Upasana by Mallika Younis. Once this had been pronounced a hit by my Mom, grandmom and aunts ( we lived in a joint family then), I collected all the earlier magazines and thus read quite a bit of the entire story in one go. Towards the later days into the story, there would be a rush for the paper boy, by all of us, to land hands on the magazine first and read what had happened to Lathika. . . It was a lovely story on relationships, and even had a movie - Ente Upasana- made on it. Though the movie was a runaway hit, with popular actors Suhasini and Mammootty, I remember feeling a bit disappointed with how it did not do justice to the feelings of the protagonist, that were brought out so well in the serial. But then, that is the power of words, A picture may well be worth a thousand words, but equally, there are some writings that cannot be picturised.
However, that was about the only one that I savoured. Other writings did not hook me, and the reading was desultory,just because the magazine happened to be handy.
Then I went on to University, to do my MA in English Literature. And paradoxically, it was there, while learning more about English language and literature, that I had my next exposure to the Malayalam language, in all its beauty. I had a Senior, and her room mate, a Junior in Chemistry, both of whom were excellent in their respective subjects, but shared a passion for Malayalam literature, and who took me along with them in their love of the language. But sadly, this did not last long. The Senior left, and the Junior had to concentrate on her Chemistry ( she also got another Zoology or Botany room mate who certainly did not appreciate an English senior coming and plonking herself in the room) . And I went back to my English books, which was definitely easier reading for me. But the University was where I learnt to enjoy Malayalam poetry.Because till University, honestly, I did not appreciate much of English poetry either.
I left (had to) my MA incomplete when I got through the MBA entrance exam. After that, I met and fell in love with, and married my husband who enjoyed English and Malayalam writings with equal felicity. I can write Malayalam better than him and have scored better marks than him too, but his teachers have given him a better education! And it has been one of the things on my wishlist ever since- to read some Malayalam authors in their language, in my language.
Later, when Sonny boy came along, and started along the path of learning, the Acha, more than me, wanted to get him to learn the Malayalam letters. Maybe because he'd seen how I did not enjoy the language, inspite of having learnt it formally till the eighth standard.. . .But Sonny boy does not even have the advantage of being in Kerala, for him to learn his mother tongue. Its difficult enough for us to teach him Hindi (!!) looks like he'll be following the same route as his mother. But I'd like him to be able to read and write Malayalam Its no mean thing to be able to converse and read and write in your mother tongue, no matter how accomplished you may be in other languages. And both the Acha and me are far from being one of those people who look down any language other than English.
In the meantime, Mayyazhi Puzhayude Theeram still awaits. . . . for the day an old lady will come strolling along. . for her Randam Oozham at Malayalam Literature.