Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Multicultural Malayali

எங்கள் அருமை மகள், தங்க மகள், டாக்டர் அனிதாவின்
நேர்காணல் டெக்கன் நாளிதழில் வெளிவந்துள்ளது, நேரமிருப்பின் வாசிக்க.
கமலாதேவி அரவிந்தன்


Years ago, when lecturer Dr Anitha Devi Pillai was a carefree teenager growing up in the island country of Singapore, she attended a Malayali get together which resulted in her first visit to Kerala.

At the meeting, she met a woman who asked about her ancestral home and knowing little about the notion of tharavadu, Anitha blurted out her address in Singapore. Her dad decided that it was time his daughters went to Kerala to understand the culture their grandparents came from.

“My paternal grandparents were from Kollam and migrated to Singapore as a young couple. My maternal great-grandparents were from Palghat. Both my parents were born and raised in Singapore and Malaysia,” she explains her declaration of being a third-generation Singaporean Malayali.

Holding a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics, Anitha knows to speak Malayalam fluently enough. But there was a time she was surprised to learn about the variety of Malayalam accents.

“I had not realised that there was a difference in the manner in which Malayalam was spoken in my dad’s home town (Kollam) and by my mother’s family (Ottapaalam-Palaghat). Although I was considered a fluent speaker of Malayalam in Singapore, I found myself becoming the brunt of several friendly jokes made about my spoken Malayalam. Inevitably, this then became an area of research interest years later and piqued my interest in linguistics.”

She learnt that Singaporean Malayalis, who have been living here for three to four generations, spoke a variety of Malayalam that contains features of Tamil, Malay and Chinese languages, reflecting the multicultural nature of Singaporean society. She discusses this in her book Singaporean Malayalam: The Presence Of A Hybrid Language.

Anitha credits her mother for her inspiration to write.

“My mother Kamala Devi Aravindan has written and published about 160 pieces of work. Amma has always been a writer. All my memories of my mum revolve around her reading and writing. There were Tamil and Malayalam books in every nook and cranny of our home when I was growing up. It was easy to fall in love with my mother’s literary world.”

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