Bringing Tamizh back- THE HINDU
Arts, Culture And Entertainment Theatre
Tamizh parents and those who love the language are sitting up in alarm. “My 8-year-old cannot have a conversation with my mother in our joint family,” said Bala, an HR executive in Chennai. “Mom watches TV-serials, kid watches Pogo, while my wife and I are at work all day. The kid doesn’t speak Tamizh well and doesn’t know Tamizh songs/poetry/games. How can we call ourselves Tamizh?” Muthuraman, a tech-businessman, rues the loss of family gatherings to listen to one member reading the week’s episode of Ponniyin Selvan. “Will Ananda Vikatan/Kalkibe published in English in the future?”
A door opened for them in answer, when Gayathri Srinivas, struck by the same thought, organised a Tamizh-learning summer camp. “I was looking for camps for my children – most taught arts and crafts,” she said. “My husband loves Tamizh poetry and suggested a ‘Tamizh’ camp.” In the summer of 2012, she hosted Tamizhmozhi Koodam, a gathering attended by writer/publisher friends. Is there a place where Tamizh lovers (not scholars) can publish freely, people asked, sparking the birth of tamizhmozhi.com.
Then came the kids’ camp, Kodayil Tamizhkondattam. “My son was struggling to speak/read Tamizh in class 5, and I found that was the case with a lot of kids,” Gayathri said. She knew only too well kids wouldn’t be interested in alphabets/words/reading; wouldn’t like an extension of classroom hours. Her two-month-long camp would supplement school-learning with fun-learning of Tamizh. “We organised Tamizh-related activities – taught kids (aged 3-10) kolams, songs, simple poems set to music, engaged them in what ancient Tamizhs did from dawn-to-dusk and demonstrated habits like cleaning teeth with healthy twigs.” The major thrust was on ‘Tamizh’ food – from neeragaram(water with cooked rice left overnight), koozhu, paanagam, neermoru to millet-based sweets. “We talked to them about Tamizh dishes, told them stories of our kings, their flags and even showed them a PPT about Tamizh administrative areas.”
She also found that most of the 40 kids who turned up for camp#1 hadn’t been to Madurai and Kuttralam, though they were veterans of the Dubai/Singapore/Malaysia circuit. She included land-identification and field-trips in her repertoire and invited Ms. Bhagirathi of Music College to teach folk songs/dance and Mr. Koothapiran (now no more) to narrate stories. Kids played pallanguzhi, adu-puli, catch-pebble and throw-marble indoors, pandi and kabaddi outside. “It was a success tinged with a bit of sadness,” said Gayathri.
“Kids born in Tamizh-speaking homes don’t speak their mother-tongue, but now there is this revival and interest in learning. We start with simple words like odu-ukkaru, make them work on those words.”
Word spread and in 2013, the numbers swelled. In June/July, NRI parents visiting India saw in Tamizhkoodam an excellent opportunity for their kids to learn spoken/written Tamizh.
They came from US/Dubai/South Africa – Tamizh kids who spoke English at home, couldn’t say, “Eppadiyirukke, Patti?” when grandmas visited them. NRI moms told Gayathri they wanted kids to read Tamizh so they could eventually read Tamizh magazines. Others come to her because knowledge of Tamizh helps them in their pursuit of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam.
“The NRI kids are highly focussed,” observed Gayathri. “They learn Bharathiar songs, aathichudi, Tamizhmozhi vaazhthu happily, read/write without complaining. Must be the culture of discipline in US schools.”
Others walked in after reading their ads about a bouquet of products – Thamizh Senthisai Kuzhu, Thamizh Kalai Koodam, Thamizh Palli Koodam. There are adults from other states in Chennai on work; a 75-year-old Gujarati because he loves Tamizh poetry; Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, Dutch, American expats for better interaction with the city; women married to Indians/Tamizhs settled in Chennai (“for shopping”); corporates who want their out-of-state employees to acquire a smattering of the local language. “I conduct workshops for them.”
This summer, her 400-450 “students” – helped by 10-15 teachers – tasted her buffet of activities at schools chosen on the basis of location stats. I met Rajalakshmi, a facilitator, who divides her year into halves, teaching Tamizh to kids in Chennai and Virginia. At centres across the city from Chetpet to Tambaram and outlying pakkams, those enrolled practised Tamizh, performed as a choir (serndu isai padal), participated in poetry contests. “Schools and activity centres are very supportive of our work,” said Gayathri.
“It is not teaching,” said Srinivas. “what we do is create interest in all things Tamizh.”
Gayathri can be contacted on 92821 33333.