It was best to stay away from Malayalam in school because God forbid you had the “Mallu Accent.” Dad spoke just enough English to be understood, wrote with notorious spelling mistakes, and pronounced English words in his own way with a rich Malayalam accent that could make any Linguist blush. Mom also figured it out in practice while working in Dubai. They raised us in an English world so that we wouldn’t have to take anybody’s shit (looking at all the North Indians).
It was great when I became fluent in English. Nobody could put me down, at least not grammatically. Heck, I even have a degree in it now. But you can’t run away from your mother tongue. Sure, you can hide from it amongst different languages, but one day you realize that you need her more than she needs you. Not knowing Malayalam meant burning a bridge to my past, to the circumstances that lead to my existence, to the stories that better explained my parents than any amount of observation could. In short, it cost me dearly.
It meant that I could never have in-depth conversations with a man who had so much wisdom- my father. I could never ask relatives for elaborate discussions of fun stories about my parents to use in my writings. Couldn’t establish Bangalore day’s type relations with cousins because conversations never crossed the surface, and was clueless in the face of peaceful sounding words armed with threatening undertones spewed by greedy uncles.
But mother tongues are loving, if you put effort she will flow into you naturally, instantly make you feel a sense of belonging. She will give you a whole new world if you choose to accept her, love her, embrace her without embarrassment.
This Onam was my first visit to my grandmother where I was able to sustain a conversation. She married at 21 and has two younger sisters (one has passed away) and an older sister(who passed away a few days ago). She studied only till the 3rd form because the school was too far away, and she sees dreams of her late husband. She doesn’t interact with him, she just observes him working in the fields. Sometimes, she even dreams of us.
And that is the spirit of Onam, it is not just Maaveli who comes back to his land on this day, it is all of us. Our essence has been stamped out of existence in a colonial, Brahmanical world. But then Onam comes armed with its food and flowers, ready to take us all back under the reign of Maaveli, who made us all equally bold, equally loved, and equally proud.
A very happy Onam to all of us!