7weeks in India – Tamil is calling


I am on my way back to India. This time I will spend seven weeks in this really interesting country, mostly in Tamil Nadu: visiting social projects, talking to people living and working in rural areas, learning and listening more in depth and identifying how business and social players together can create more win- win situations to all. Understanding is the first step and it is key. But here is already the huge challenge. Although English is spoken by many people, esp. the young generation, there is a big communication gap: how to talk to all the people who do not know English at all, those who I want to understand much better? Talking in the foreign language is a “door opener “. And communicating via third parties is always somehow artificial. So, a few weeks ago I have decided to learn Tamil. Or better to learn the very basic vocabulary, courtesy phrases and grammar. It must have been my linguistic and language studies of the past to put that somehow crazy idea in my mind, however, a language forms also the culture and the way of thinking is reflected in the language itself, isn’t it?
So far, so good. That’s why I started a few weeks ago to look for material for language studies. I was not really successful. In Germany, buying a grammar or a dictionary German – Tamil seems to be impossible. But I found 3 very useful PDFs – basic vocabulary, learning how to write and a grammar, offered by an university professor, T. Lehmann, in Heidelberg. And free for download. Thanks, professor! These materials should be enough for the first steps. And even the second and third steps. What I have understood immediately: This language is completely different from our European language structures. I was happy when I found a good teaching app English – Tamil, called Nemo, with a native speaker, transcription and original writing modus that helps to pronounce and learn the basic vocabulary and simple phrases.
Studying Tamil is a big challenge: the first weeks it seemed rather impossible to me. How to remember these words that at the beginning sounded that similar that I forgot them already in the first five seconds…. and then these words change also endings continuously? These tiny letters … our European eyes are definitely not used to and it could drive you crazy. At least myself. Have a look here: மன்னிக்கவும் – this means mannikavum, ‘sorry’. And sorry to Tamil people if there is an error. I am trying my best and I hope to become better within the next weeks.
It feels sometimes like a child doing first writing exercises: up and down, to the right, smaller circle, then go up again…. A first letter is done. Now with around 150 words in my mind I am really curious to find out whether I will be able to understand at least a single sign or word. My expectations are not high, but if millions of people are able to read and write, I should be able to remember at least some basics, shouldn’t I? I did not know that Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of South India and North-east Sri Lanka. It has official status in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Tamil is also an official and national language of Sri Lanka and one of the official languages of Singapore. It is legalised as one of the languages of medium of education in Malaysia along with English, Malay and Mandarin. It is also chiefly spoken in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands as one of the secondary languages. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and was the first Indian language to be declared a classical language by the Government of India in 2004
But it is not just the language, it is the people, this different world and much more that makes me looking forward with a lot of curiosity and joy to the next 7 weeks.
My first 2days stop will be Chennai , the old “Madras” , the arrival is scheduled for tomorrow morning . In Chennai, I will stay with an interesting women and the Banjan Mental Health organization. But more on that meeting later on.
Now it is travel time: Arrival at Dubai and from there to Chennai. The second Indian adventure is going to start. A travel I did not even dream of when I came back in April. But life has sometimes its secrets … and who knows what will happen.

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