This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by . Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Opinion: Borrowed Languages Can Never Replace My Mother Tongue Bengali

Do you feel that a language is a portal into the broader possibility of understanding oneself, and one’s environment better? If it is, then isn’t the mother tongue the first stepping stone, the first rung of the ladder that one must climb to gain access to a larger world?

“If somebody asked me about my favorite movies, I know that the first names that will tumble out of my lips will all be in languages other than my mother tongue. But in quieter moments of self-reflection, I will think Satyajit Ray…”

Languages In My Life

I have grown up in a Bengali household, speaking and breathing in Bengali. No longer being in school, I will not be able to watch 21st February being annually observed as International Mother Tongue Day. Today I will not participate, or watch from the audience, as people take to the mic, to think and to speak in Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Chinese, Kannada, and Assamese, among other languages.

So today, ironically, I sit with a laptop screen open before me, as I spill out a few words in English- a borrowed tongue.

I do feel the guilt of knowing that my everyday life is largely transacted in an alien tongue, even though I am a Bengali, living in Calcutta While conversations with close friends and family take place in Bengali, an increasingly large number of English words and phrases interject my daily conversation. I would rather describe a dream I had to a friend in English, only throwing in Bengali phrases when it is impossible to find a close enough equivalent in English.

I feel- I experience life in Bengali, but somehow think about it, or share it, in English. Some days, neither Neruda nor Hozier can equate the emotions tearing within myself- and that is when I invariably turn to Tagore. Only Mohinder Ghoraguli can make me feel “…ami praaye ekhono khuji shey desh/Jani ne oboshesh (I have finally found my country/ I know at last)”, even though Delilah promises me of the thousand miles that can be beaten by trains and planes and cars.

Love And The Bengali Language

Ocean Vuong writes of the Vietnamese tongue- “Our mother tongue, then, is no mother at all—but an orphan. Our Vietnamese a time capsule (…) Ma to speak in our mother tongue is to speak only partially in Vietnamese but entirely in war.”

Reading this sentence, I remember a heaviness tugging at me. My Mother Tongue still talks of love in ways no other language ever will.

Bengali is the tongue that encapsulates poetry and politics, violence and freedom, history, and what remains undocumented- all within itself.

Perhaps the language that you think in shapes you in more ways than one It isn’t just the world of heritage that you gain, but your very thought process, the topics that you think about- will be shaped differently by different languages. If I think of “Revolution”, the images that come to mind will be different than if I were to think of “Biplob“.

On some days, I will read Hindi and Urdu poetry and marvel at the musicality of words like ‘afreen’ (expression of wonder at something beautiful), ‘mehfil’ (gathering) and ‘nawaazish’ (generosity), and then later go back to softly murmuring the Bengali words ‘chondralokito’ (moonlit), ‘priyotoma’ (beloved) or ‘meghmallar (rainy/overcast)’- knowing that while other languages may sound sweet, it is this- it is my mother tongue that truly rings in my heart.

If somebody asked me about my favorite movies, books, or music- I know that the first names that will tumble out of my lips will all be in languages other than my mother tongue. But in quieter moments of self-reflection, I will think Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shorodindu, S Shokti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay. Neera, Labonyo, and Bonolota Sen will be the shadowy figures I see in the recesses of my mind- not Vivian from Pretty Woman or Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind.

The Significance Of Mother Tongues

In an attempt to be “posh”, if you decide to let go of your mother tongue- whatever that tongue may be, then you are a sad sad fool.

Do I recognize the need for a global language? Yes, I do, a hundred times over. But at the cost of suffocating cultural diversity, personal identities, and outlets of creative expression? Never.

It isn’t only a strong emotion stemming from patriotism or love for the culture I was born into. Rather, what I hope to truly recognize is the fact that my mother tongue is more than the iceberg of my identity.

I cannot be a traitor or a mere visitor to my mother tongue and hope to be a person of significant worth. And I hope to understand this deeply enough in my bones- before I become another face in the crowd of borrowed cultures and languages.

Created by

Is your mother tongue different from the tongue you use most frequently in your daily life?
You must be to comment.

More from

Similar Posts

By Prabhanu Kumar Das

By Nishubhardwaj 221 Nishubhardwaj 221

By Faiz Ahmed Siddiqui

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below