In The Daily Beast:
I grew up, as many Indians do, in an archipelago of tongues. My maternal grandfather, who was a surgeon in the city of Madras, was fluent in at least four languages and used each of them daily. He spoke Tulu with his wife, Kannada with his daughters, Tamil with his patients, and English with his grandchildren. In my hometown of Mangalore, on India’s southern coast, it was common for a boy of my generation to speak one language at home, another on the way to school, and a third one in the classroom. These were not just dialects or variants, either. Kannada, which I spoke at home, and Hindi, which I had to learn in school, belong to different linguistic families and are as dissimilar as, say, Spanish and Russian.
Columbia University, where I went to study in 1993, insisted its undergraduates learn a foreign language, so I discovered French. I remember the thrill of sitting in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and working my way, over the course of a week, through an entire André Gide novel in the original French. In England, where I studied in the late 1990s, I took a class in German, having heard that its peculiar syntax and word structure posed not just a linguistic, but a cognitive, challenge: German speakers apparently thought about the world in an entirely different way. More: