TULU?! WHAT”S THAT?
“Hey, you’re the new girl, right?” asked Julia. “Yes,” I replied timidly. It was my first day of school in America and I was frightened to death. I couldn’t help but gawk in amazement at my classmates who came in varying shades of white, an unprecedented spectacle for me. Julia was tall with milky skin, hazel eyes and soft golden hair. I, on the other hand, came only up to her shoulder, my brown skin appearing rather dark and unappealing in comparison to hers. This stark contrast did nothing to ease my discomfort. “I heard you’re from Asia. What do you speak?” she enquired. “Tulu,” I answered, knowing very well that she wouldn’t have heard of the language. She put a strand of her beautiful hair in her mouth, and began chewing it, her mind trying furiously to digest what I had said. After 10 seconds she stated, “So like you’re from that African tribe in Asia.” Wow ! She had just redrawn international, heck, inter-continental boundaries!! My admiration for her beauty now gave way to irritation at her stupidity. “Um no,” I hastened to correct her. “I think you were referring to the Zulu tribe of Africa. I’m an Indian.” Excitement gleamed in her eyes as she thought of something. “Ooooh my great grandfather was an Indian too. He was called Black Hawk and lead the Apache tribe for 10 years.” Before I could refute, she squealed, “Oh. My. Gosh. Maybe we’re related!” My frustration mounted as I tried to make her understand. “I’m not a native American. I’m an Indian. From India. And I speak Tulu, not Zulu.” I saw her almond eyes widen slowly as her pea-sized brain grappled with the information I had just provided her. After what seemed like eons Julia said, “Okay, I get it now. I just got a teeny weeny bit confused because Africa and India are like so close to each other.” She flashed me a smile and sauntered away. Girl, you need to check out a globe instead of the guys, I thought, no longer insecure. Alright, I admit it was a little too much to expect of a blonde. But surprisingly, I am greeted with puzzled glances when I tell fellow Indians about my mother tongue. 80% of the people I have spoken to thus far had no idea of the existence of such a language. They stared at me as if I were a creature from Mars, half expecting antennae to sprout from my head. Of the remaining 20%, more than half had misconceptions about this language called Tulu. “Isn’t it a mix of Telugu and Kannada?” is a question I commonly face. No, no, no ! Let me make it absolutely clear that there is no Telugu involved. And Kannada is like a sister language, vaguely similar, yet alarmingly different. Tulu is a language spoken by the natives of a small region called South Canara in the southern coast of Karnataka. The speakers of this language are called Tuluva. We are confined to a minute geographical area and comprise a very small population of 3 million as compared to 60 million Tamil speaking people. Tulu is a Dravidian language, different from Tamil and Kannada in its grammatical structure. Tuluvas are perhaps most recognized for Udupi cuisine and restaurants serving the same. Many of us have migrated to Mumbai, and Kerala. A small community though we are, we have managed to produce a considerable number of celebrities including Aishwarya Rai, Prakash Raj, Shilpa Shetty, Sunil Shetty, Ravi Shastri and Kadri Gopalnath.
As of now, I think I can safely say that I am the only Tuluva in our college. A little inconvenient when it comes to courtship but advantageous nonetheless. I am probably the only person in college who can say whatever she wants on the phone without the fear of being overheard. It’s nice to know that nobody except the intended person would be able to decipher my words. What I’m driving at is that our country is diverse and we Indians are manufactured not only in disparate tones of brown but also with immense cultural differences. It truly is a fascinating world for those who open their minds and explore the depths of this potpourri of languages and traditions.
- Sanjana Rajanish