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A taste for Tamil


IT IS not something you normally hear, while meeting foreigners. Hardly do they show genuine interest in learning an alien language, beyond a couple of words, if they happen to live among the majority that speaks it. But, Ayaka Miamoto's interest in Tamil goes as far as learning in depth about the culture, partly the reason for her stay in Chennai. "Language is an expression of the culture in which it is evolved and Tamil is no exception. In its structure, I only see an ancient culture providing inspiration for learning," she says.

As a student of Tokyo University, Ayaka chose to pursue a course in Sangam Literature. Apart from "Silappathigaram", she has also enjoyed reading "Manimegalai". These were, of course, the translated versions in Japanese.

"That was my first glimpse of the literature and I wondered how civilisation had advanced. It triggered my imagination about the language," she says. The flexible and round Tamil characters that contrast with the flat and square Japanese script, are liked by many in Japan, including Ayaka.

It has been a month, since she started learning Tamil at the Institute of Asian Languages, Taramani. Ayaka's ability to apply her knowledge amazes everyone.

"Living in this environment makes it easy for me to learn the language properly. My friends and colleagues correct the mistakes and help me speak Tamil in new situations," says Ayaka. An occasional Tamil film and film songs also help.


Greeting people with a "Vanakkam," in his heavy Russian accent is Mikhail Mgeladze, Consul General of Russian Federation in Chennai. He recites Bharati's "Senthamil nadenum podhinile", explaining that Tamil has an exciting sound. "It isn't as popular as Hindi back home, but its unique sound and script, which is different from Devanagari, aroused my interest in 1966."

Constrained by lack of teachers and a proper environment to speak Tamil, Mgeladze had to approach students from Tamil Nadu at the University of Moscow to practise spoken Tamil. "We had the opportunity to read Tamil magazines that served as a window to the culture. Nowadays, listening to Tamil has become easier with the advent of satellite TV," he says.

Being in Chennai on diplomatic assignments four times since 1973, Mgeladze has had many opportunities to air his knowledge. Touring remote villages in the State and screening Russian films formed part of the cultural activities of the Consulate in the late 1980s. As the subtitles of the films were mostly in English, explaining about the actors, the story and the location was left to Mgeladze. "I found this task exciting. The village situation, where one could speak only Tamil, was challenging," he says.

Both Ayaka and Mgeladze learnt Tamil under different circumstances. While Ayaka likes to use her proficiency in the language to understand the customs and traditions of Tamil Nadu, Mgeladze would like to savour the literature.

L. SUBRAMANI

Pic by VINO JOHN

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