As far as I remember, my parents introduced me to both English and Bengali alphabets when I was a kid. Although I do not remember the Saraswati puja when I was introduced to formal writing by a priest, but as I recently witnessed my younger brother being introduced to formal writing in both Bengali and English alphabets, I believe my kick off with formal writing was of no difference. Like my brother, I was also made to memorize Bengali (বাংলা ছড়া) and English rhymes. Not sure why we are made to memorize all these rhymes. Is it to amuse the neighbours and relatives or just to get ourselves into a routine of study hours? In either of the cases, my Bengali pronunciation was better than English. The only reason being, it was influenced by my surroundings. As soon as my hearing developed, I could hear all the people around me speaking in Bengali, so it came naturally.
As I was inducted to nursery school, I started learning both the languages simultaneously. One of the primary books I had was of pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Barna Parichay. It was the elementary book of Bengali learners for decades. Along with that, I had English alphabet learners book (A for apple, B for ball, C for cat….. and the list continues to Z for zebra). In primary school, I had to read Bengali grammar by Sri Bamandeb Chakrabarti and Oxford’s essential grammar guide. For every set of Bengali poetry and prose books, English Reader Digest was bought in every year for new classes. As there was a Samsad’s English to Bengali Dictionary, so was there another Bengali to English dictionary by A T Dev in my collection.
However, things mainly changed in this time of high school when people asked me to concentrate more on English as this was a foreign language and greater command on that would have required much practice. This sudden change in perception made learning way much harder. It was quiet obvious that Bengali vocabulary got enriched with growing interaction with people and English vocabulary was confined in interaction with teachers or exam papers. Who at that age bothers to voraciously read dictionaries or thesauruses for a foreign language? 🙂
Bengali, being the medium of education, received precedence as all other subjects that I read till high school was taught and evaluated in Bengali only. The lack of interaction or habit of reading or writing diminished rapidly as I started climbing upward in high school order. Then started most vicious and unforgivable crime of memorizing essays and other writing stuffs for English exams. Bengali writing was improvised over time with partly memorizing but English was neglected in terms of improvising.
India, being a British colony till 1947, had a huge demand for English learnt graduates for office works. Although, I was born after three decades of independence, still, English was a mean to get better job. What could be better than good grades in English language in exams to show case your talent? Hence the memorization slowly and silently gulped down the learning and improvisation.
After a long period, came the years of undergrad studies. Being an engineering student, I did not have any other choice than to have the medium of study in English. Initially it was a bit rough ride but thanks to my foundation, I could survive.
Now, I do not differentiate between these two languages in good deal. Bengali is my mother tongue. In any day, I am able to express my thoughts in Bengali than in English. However, I do not want to stop learning and may be some day I’ll be able to compensate the negligence I turned on to my second language.
In any cases, English may be my second language but not in any way it feels to be a foreign language anymore.