Bilingual Dilemmas

Actually, I can speak four languages – Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and English (Yes, I count this as a separate language that I know!). But English is only for Business. Since, I can speak English well, Am I an Englishman? A look in the mirror confirms otherwise. Am I then Hindi? I guess not – for I can speak only broken Hindi.


We are then left with two more – Tamil and Telugu. Both are dominant languages of South India. As long I was in Chennai, there was no problem. I was a Tamilian outside my house and Telugu inside. But when I came to Bangalore, I had to answer one tough question – ‘Are you Tamil?’ It would have been easier to answer this – ‘Are you from Chennai?’ But no, you are asked the other question always. Sometimes, I have blinked for as long as 20 seconds to answer that question.


Forget others; my real problem comes when my heart asks my mind – ‘Are you Telugu or Tamil?’


Though my mother tongue is Telugu and we speak Telugu at home, I was born and brought up in Chennai in Tamil Nadu. My second language in school was Tamil and it was one of my favorite subjects. Outside my house, I always used to speak in Tamil.


Many of my classmates were Telugu by birth, but no one bothered to enquire. In fact, one of my bench mates for a long time in college was Telugu and had studied Telugu as a second language – in Chennai. But we always spoke to each other in Tamil.


Tamil is a very rich and an absorbing language. Living in Chennai for three generations means you are almost Tamil. Almost.  


When I came to Bangalore, my PG (Paying Guest accommodation) house owner introduced me to my future room mates and said that they were also Tamil. I insisted that I was Telugu. He then spoke to me in Telugu for five minutes. That was all he needed to convince himself that I was Tamil indeed, as he had earlier thought and spoke to me in Tamil henceforth.


Watching cricket matches could be boring sometimes. But with a big cheering crowd in my PG and 20 overs limited fast paced matches, watching the IPL was fun. One of my PG room mate was born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh (Chattisgarh, to be precise). His mother tongue was Tamil. This guy was supporting Chennai Super Kings (CSK). I decided that if this Madhya Pradesh (Now Chattisgarh) born guy could support his ancestral town; I better support Hyderabad Deccan Chargers. Or maybe even the Bangalore Royal Challengers, as I am currently living in Bangalore. But to my (and my fellow and ancestral city mates) dismay, neither of the teams blasted. The Madhya Pradesh (Chattisgarh?) supported CSK went right upto the finals! Of course, I decided to support CSK in the finals and you saw what happened! Call it luck – Bad Luck.


When I went to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram?) to my colleague’s house, his mother asked me the same question – ‘Are you Tamil?’ Looking at the confusion in my face, my colleague volunteered – “He is Telugu”. To which, his mother replied – ‘But he looks like a Pandi…’. I later came to know that Pandi is a loose reference to Pandiya Nadu and that Malayalee’s use that word to refer to Tamil people in general, much like how North Indians use ‘Madrasi’ to refer to South Indians in general!


The icing in the cake came when I over heard a couple of Telugu guys speaking about me – “Some new Tamil guy has joined in our PG it seems….”


So, I use this medium of Blogging to tell everyone in Blogsville – “Naan Thamizhan ille nu yenga sonnen?…..  Thamizhana irrundirunda nalla irrukkum nu than solleren”


Dasavatharam Style….


Destination Infinity


PS: I am not going to translate the last sentence to any other language. If you can understand it, it was meant only for you. J





  • Destination Infinity

    Vishesh, I dont know for what reason, but I thought you were Marathi. Unni doesnt mislead, but the first sanskrit name of yours does!

    Arun – Vazhkayile confusion illena kooda, oru confusiona create pannaravanga naame!!

    Deastination Infinity.

  • Nita

    That sure is a new one! 🙂 I didn't know that Vishesh was a Maharashtrian name! I always knew Vishesh was Tamil because he arrived on my blog first on the north south post! 🙂 And ofcourse his IP is from Chennai.
    But DI, this post of yours was very absorbing reading! I do drop into your blog once in a while but it is not in my reader. From now on this blog will go in my reader.
    When I read what you wrote I realised that I have gone through something very similar. No one seems to believe I am a Maharashtrian, due to the fact that I don't "look" like one! I don't know what Maharashtrians are supposed to look like anyway but people mistake me for a north indian and sometimes bengali. once even assamese! When I tell them I am Maharashtrian they can hardly believe it and many speak in Marathi just to make sure. Just today I was at the election office wanting to put in my name and they kept speaking to me in broken hindi. I kept replying in Marathi and then they saw my name Kulkarni and started speaking in Marathi. I speak Marathi fluently and in the right accent but still they were suprised!

  • Destination Infinity

    Vishesh, I was not confused by your name. But I assumed that you were from Maharashtra. It was a gut feeling, I dont know why – cant explain really. Some of your personalities seem to go with Marathis (Maybe I know very less Marathis!)

    Hi Nita, I too thought you were settled in Maharashtra. But I was not able to guess from where. But now, I know that you are settled in Maharashtra indeed and incidentally you are also a Marathi speaking Maharashtrian! We still consider you as a migrant from Maharashtra to Maharashtra! You should have atleast moved from Pune to Mumbai? 🙂

    Destination Infinity.

  • Amit

    Nice post. If someone asked me the same question, "Are you Telugu or Tamil?" – I'd ask them to explain what they meant by that question, before answering them. 🙂

  • Destination Infinity

    That would make them go on the defensive, and think again before asking that question. But sometimes Amit, it is because I dont reply in Kannada, that people want to know which language I am comfortable in speaking. Maybe I should say 'both' and wait for reaction 🙂

    Destination Infinity

  • An alien Earthling

    Very interesting post!

    தமிழ் is my mother tongue and we speak Tamil at home. Having lived in Chennai all my life, I speak Tamil everywhere. But I also consider Telugu as my father tongue because my father was born in Andhra Pradesh, though I know very little Telugu. I tried to learn spoken Telugu from my friends in college but did not succeed 🙁 They learnt more Tamil from me than I learnt Telugu from them.

    When we were kids, my grandfather and grandmother (who were fluent in both Tamil and Telugu) would speak in Telugu if they did not want the grandchildren to understand what they were speaking!

    Vaazhga Tamil, Valarga Tamil! Desa Bhashalandu Telugu Lessa!

    But English is my preferred choice for professional work as well as written (actually typed) stuff. Tamil is the language we speak among ourselves in the office (though our mother tongues are different), but it is English with others.

    Vishesh, I thought you were a Malayalee till now 🙂

  • Destination Infinity

    Since I am too fluent with Tamil, I have a guilty complex that I never devoted enough time to learn Telugu. This post is a result of that guilty feeling as Telugu is my mother tongue. But why no one considers Vishesh as Tamil ? 🙂

    Destination Infinity

  • Sahaja

    Its sort of confusion we get when one is born in one region but brought up in others…..My best friend is tamilian, but settled in Hyd since 3 generations….She is perfect tamilian yet….and she speaks telugu with us and tamil at home….
    well, if u are confused, i wud say simple answer is u belong to ur mother tongue community, and u adapted to ur home town community…anyways….dont know abt north but in south you can easily make out where one origins from their surname 🙂
    Its finally India right 🙂

  • மங்கை

    Same blood??

    me too…telugu by birth and but belong to tamilnadu.. we talk telugu at home…but i feel i am no less a tamil girl….. i too wrote a post on this when people questioned me.. how come u r saying u r a tamilian while ur mother tongue us telugu.. after comming to Delhi…i find it difficult to convince people…

  • மங்கை

    Same blood??

    me too…Telugu by birth and but belong to Tamilnadu.. we talk Telugu at home…but i feel i am no less a Tamil girl….. i too wrote a post on this when people questioned me.. how come u r saying u r a tamilian while ur mother tongue us Telugu.. after coming to Delhi…i find it difficult to convince people…

  • DR. Sudharani

    feel sad for telugus in other states as they are for getting mother tounge due to lack of langauge development in schools in other states. I can say your heart is telugu rest is tamil . Try as much as possible telugu in house to keep going

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