Mission Delhi – Veena Mathur, Sector 51
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Wow, she speaks such free-flowing Hindi!
Now, this might sound like an awkward compliment in the Hindi-speaking Delhi region. But then Hindi is not Veena’s first language.
“Main Tamil Nadu ki hoon,” she says, giving away her origins in Hindi.
This afternoon Veena is chatting on WhatsApp video from the isolation of her ground-floor home in Gurgaon’s Sector 51 in the Greater Delhi Region, which she shares with her husband and their two daughters. During the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, Veena, 39, launched a multi-lingual YouTube channel called Gurugram Sisters, which basically consists of the dance and song performances etc. of two young sisters. “They are my daughters, Shivli and Aditri,” reveals Veena, effortlessly switching into an equally fluent English.
Veena grew up in Coimbatore’s Kuniamuthur neighbourhood. While a computer engineer student in a college of the same city, she met Visheshwar Dayal, a student hailing from Delhi’s Kamla Nagar neighbourhood. Their friendship evolved into love and a few years later Veena Jayam stepped into the Hindi speaking world by becoming Veena Mathur. “I was the first one in my entire khandaan to marry a non-Tamilian.”
Veena was 24.
It is considered relatively easy to learn a new language as a child, but not so as an adult when one’s first language has already taken over much of the linguistic mind space. Veena agrees with this theory and gratefully credits her husband’s parents in helping her with Hindi. “They gently nudged me to chat with them in whatever Hindi phrases I could manage.” At first the Tamilian was quite shy to speak outside—they were living in Indore then—fearing that people might laugh at her attempts. “But almost everyone would praise me for being so good with a language that wasn’t my own.”
Truth be told, Veena confides that learning Tamil is slightly more tough than Hindi. “After all, Sanskrit came much after Tamil… and some pronunciations in Tamil take time to master.”
Anyhow, the Tamil-Hindi speaker has been living in the Delhi region—Gurgaon specifically—since 2010 where she hardly gets an opportunity to speak in her native tongue outside her home. “I personally know only one or two Tamil families here.” Veena says she talks to her husband mostly in Hindi and English—“He understands Tamil but he never talks to me in Tamil out of shyness… though I have heard him speaking it with others.” She engages with her daughters mostly in Hindi, but makes it a point to also converse with them in Tamil, “because it is good to be proficient in many languages.”
The lady insists that she can do all the North Indian Hindi-language prayers of her Mathur family “but when I’m praying from my inner heart, the prayers instinctively come out in Tamil.” She laughs confessing it.
Even so, nobody is perfect. Veena still has to learn the numbers in Hindi. “I can say do sau (200) and teen sau (300) but I don’t know how to say the beech-wale (middle) numbers.”
And now the lady calls her daughters to the living room, where they often shoot their YouTube videos. “All that’s needed for a good recording is a tripod stand and a camera, and a mike for my elder daughter who loves to sing; the younger one is more into dancing.”
Speaking of their next performance, Veena says, “Engaludaya adutha video janmashtamiyai munnitu Lagaan padathulirindu ‘Radha kaise na jale’ paadalil oru arumayana nadanam.”
What, you don’t get it? Go, learn Tamil.
[This is the 349th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Now say it in Tamil