Language is important. It is probably one of the things that makes us more human — it has contributed to our civilization, helped build (and destroyed) communities, it is the fine linkage between the then and now and the future. It is the spirit in which stories flow, a tunnel through time, a skeleton for all our words, dreams and interactions, a fine thin thread holding us together.

As a kid, I started making sense of languages a little later than usual. Because, I was surrounded by friends and families who belonged to different ethnic groups, and hence had their own mother tongues. Before I could understand what Dhokla means (D for dhokla is how a Gujarati kid learns the first letters) I had Idli, Rasgulla, Puranpoli and Jalebi thrown my way.

While I never (and still don’t) complain about food being sent my way, to use a fitting metaphor, it created a khichdi (or bhel, if you love chat) in my head. Being a social kid, I would go to their homes to play, watch TV and share meals. Even though outside of the family lines, your language lines are often blurred, most of us have a delicate place for our mother tongues and it is in the comfort of our homes that we, in some ways, preserve it.

I was exposed to so many of them at once and I was barely a year or two old then, that it was fun and challenging to make sense of what rice was called in 5 languages. Upon reflecting on it, I think what I experienced was a beautiful example of urbanization and globalization.

Even today, it is very difficult for me to draw lines over language and mother tongue. Originally from Gujarat (as you might have guessed), I have spent all my life in Bombay. From learning Marathi to be comfortable in a local context to Hindi as a flexible bridge between most communities to English which is language of this generation, while going back to Gujarati at home, because F for Fafda, to my desire to learn Urdu for they have the most pure, beautiful words.

I believe one of the factors what makes urban spaces an incredible phenomenon is languages and their blurred lines — including mother tongues. Everyone brings their own to the table and while we hold our own very close to our hearts, it’s the process of giving a bit of it away in return for something else — just like a potluck!

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It’s fascinating how we have evolved from one language to speaking a language of the world — wherever that may be for you (just like the veg, non veg, Jain, Chinese menu at a wedding buffet). While mother tongues are very personal, we live in an age where they are an integral part of what keeps the world together.

I would like to end with an incident that I encountered the other day. At an extremely busy suburban railway station in Bombay, I saw a girl and a boy speaking to each other in sign language. It was a beautiful sight of them finding their comfort in the chaos (of all languages) around them, in their own language, while going back to become one with everyone else’s. L is for LOVE (that they signaled to each other …or maybe laddoo) — and for the love languages and mother tongues’

On the occasion of International Mother Language Day, #CFMember Dharmaraj Solanki, reflected on his experiences on languages & his mother tongue growing up. This blog article was written for Pratham books:

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