Whenever my parents talked to each other in Kannada, it meant that I wasn’t supposed to know what they were talking about. I called it their ‘secret talk’. Perks of a multilingual environment, one might say. I’m not a very curious person by nature but the handicap of not knowing Kannada was kind of traumatic. I wanted to be able to understand all what was being discussed about whenever my parents talked in that language. I wanted to learn Kannada.
When I was 13 or so I asked my mother, who speaks awesome Kannada, to teach me Kannada. She was oblivious to the reason why I wanted to learn it. She was very happy, and she taught me a few basic sentences of Kannada. I learnt it, but I wanted to learn more. I asked my mother to teach me to read Kannada. She taught me and I learnt it within a week. We were in Mumbai but we had them deliver Kannada newspapers to our house daily. I read the Kannada papers. I got too zealous and started watching Kannada TV shows and Kannada songs and Kannada news and Kannada everything.
As luck would have it, we shifted to Bengaluru the next year. I could learn more Kannada. I heard people around me talk in Kannada all the time. I heard friends talk to each other in Kannada. I picked up basic Kannada fast. I continued to watch Kannada TV shows, Kannada movies, Kannada songs, Kannada everything. I could differentiate between the Mangalore Kannada dialect spoken by my parents and the Bengaluru Kannada spoken by the local people. I could see myself getting better at understanding Kannada.
In a few months we shifted to Udupi. Kannada there too. By this time I got pretty good at understanding Kannada. I understood what the bus conductor said. I understood what the shopkeeper said. I understood what the fat temple priests said. I understood what women gossiped about. I understood Kannada announcements. I understood Kannada notices when I read them. I understood Kannada!
Now I just had to sit quietly and listen attentively to what my parents spoke when they used Kannada, and I would understand. I waited eagerly for the next time they began their ‘secret talk’. One day they did.