This Is How I Learnt Urdu Because Of My Daughter

Language knows no barriers and you’re never too old to learn a new one. If your child can inspire you to learn a new language, why not! This is how I learnt a beautiful language like Urdu!

By Deepthi Balasunder  • 9 min read

This Is How I Learnt Urdu Because Of My Daughter
The language of love speaks for itself. It crosses all boundaries, builds connections and unites families. Let love be the primary language spoken in your family, and flourish in the joy it brings. Read the following true-life incident to believe in the power of love.

I am a Christian and my husband, a Muslim. While I grew up eating ham and taking piano lessons, he grew up drinking buffalo milk and playing gully cricket. While I enjoyed a liberal upbringing, he was raised in a conventional household. Good girl meets bad boy (some might opine otherwise, but don’t pay heed!). Long story short, the two of us met and courted for around three to four years before deciding to get hitched.

And who said life will be handed over to you on a silver platter? As anticipated, both families had their share of apprehensions about our decision to marry. My dad was a bundle of nerves although he was concerned about ‘more important traits’ than religion, like financial stability and personality. He was also hoping not to find a secret past or many wives. Once all these got checked out in flying colours with some quick sleuthing on his part – his ‘daddy worries’ were put to rest.

But, my husband’s family couldn’t come to terms with an inter-faith marriage. As expected, a huge drama unfolded. Not as intense as a fast-paced chase with sickles and hockey sticks, but a drama nonetheless. Eventually, when it became pretty evident that we were obstinate and had no plans to budge from our decision, everyone conceded, and we got married.

My husband and I — we rented a cosy little apartment in an upscale, happening neighbourhood. Friends were always there. We had fancy dinners and road trips; we worked hard, partied harder. We were having the time of our lives. But then, we had a baby. And like they say ‘life changes’ — and it sure did!

My daughter was born — the poetry of my life. And since my mother is no more, we needed help with raising the little one. So, moving in with my Urdu-speaking in-laws seemed like the more plausible solution. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive in a world that was unbelievably different from mine. But, given the lack of choices, we had no other option. So, we moved into my husband’s family home, a peach-painted house on a bustling street in a remote part of suburban Chennai. Being a joint family, we shared space with his parents and his younger brother’s family. Together, we were a family of nine living under the same roof. Imagine that! But we survived (and smoothly so!).

Looking back, what I distinctly remember during the initial hiccups of trying to get along with the family, was the fundamental language barrier that stood right in my way. But, thanks to Bollywood, I knew a wee bit of Hindi. Armed with that, I managed to decode Urdu and conversed with my in-laws in a strange language — a mix of Hindi, Tamil and English. Somehow, it worked, and we had perfectly meaningful conversations. Despite the overall communication gap, gradually with time, we established a warm relationship. Love needs no language, right?

Along with my baby girl, my nephew was being raised in the same house! The two were born just five months apart. So, the family members would coddle and speak to both the babies in Urdu. And when you raise kids in proximity, you end up using common words that refer to milk, nap, bath, food, play, danger, no, yes and so on. It just happens without even realising it. Also, I noticed that my baby understood and responded better to these words.

So, I began to try talking in Urdu. Of course, with it came a host of amusing bloopers. One, when you talk to elders, the language needs to take a respectful tone, which took me a while to get the hang of. For instance, instead of uno lathe (meaning ‘he will bring’) which is respectful, I would say une latha that is usually said in a casual tone. Thankfully, my in-laws were kind enough to understand that it was not out of any malicious intent or disrespect, but only because I didn’t know better. The hallmark was when I impressed the extended family, and I would greet them with the popular khairiyat se hai? meaning ‘hope you are well?’ Beautiful word, khairiyat! My favourite word though is shab bakhair, meaning good night.

Time flew by. I don’t know how or when, but before I knew it, I was fluent in the language (or so I presume!). I was singing heart-warming Urdu lullabies, having long error-free conversations with Ammi (who is an Urdu professor by the way) and dishing out clear instructions to the maids. So, in this manner, because of my little daughter, we moved in with my in-laws, and thus, I had the opportunity to learn such a beautiful language. This is how I learnt Urdu!

One of the highlights of our mommy-dotty Urdu journey is my baby girl’s first words. She is an inquisitive child with an insatiable curiosity — a ‘why child’ just like me! And one of the first phrases she ever spoke was ‘kaiko?’ meaning ‘why’ in Dakni Urdu (Deccan style). I had to deal with hearing that word a hundred times a day, but that’s beside the point. I was just overjoyed that she was a curious cat!

So, for the first two to three years of her life, we spoke only in Urdu with each other. Over time, her little phrases became long sentences and she carried out amusing chit-chats with her paternal grandparents. But the maternal granddad was dismayed, as he could not, for the life of him, understand or talk to his only grandchild. But then, thanks to school, we crossed that language barrier too. Now all of seven years, my daughter speaks in Urdu, Tamil and English.

So, from a less-than-stellar start with my husband’s family — today, we all share a good relationship with each other. Ammi and I are in fact, the best of friends and share a very special bond. Besides, my daughter gets to revel in the best of both worlds. She celebrates Eid as well as Christmas. She enjoys decking up in flashy ghaghras and lacey frocks. She relishes biryanis and plates of pasta. She witnesses traditional nikahs and white weddings. She sings Christmas carols and recites beautiful duas. And maybe somewhere down the line, some gully cricket and piano lessons?

Also read: Mother Tongue: 5 Ways To Teach Your Child

About the author:

Written by Deepthi Balasunder on 19 September 2019.

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