Tulu is a language /dialect spoken in a very small part of India. The language is spoken mainly by the natives of South West Karnataka – primarily the Udipi and Dakshina Kanara districts to be precise. That is really a small part of the huge country that India is. Tulu has a large body of literature written in the traditional Kannada script and earlier works are found in the Tilagari script of Sanskrit origins. It has a rich body of oral literature and there are about a dozen variants of the spoken language as one travels across this part of Karnataka. It does have a sweet ring to it and I do agree with many who say that is the Bengali of the Dravidians!!
If you go by census figures, Tulu is spoken by approximately two million people today. Most of the Tulu speakers are largely confined to this geographical belt. You could find a few Tulu speaking cohorts in parts of Mumbai and Kerala. It would be rather extremely rare to find Tulu speaking natives in significant numbers out of these geographical boundaries.
This preamble is necessary to establish the background of the story. It was way back in the mid sixties. My parents, still in early years of their marriage, were traveling by a first class railways coach between Calcutta (of yore) and Ranchi. They had only one confirmed berth of the two- berther coupe and were hopeful that the person occupying the other berth would miss the train or be severely indisposed or forget that he was to travel so that they could have the berth to themselves. But that was not to be. A portly gentleman made himself comfortable in the upper berth and he seemed in no mood for conversation. My parents knew it would be safe to converse in Tulu and were discussing diabolical plans to throw him off the train or plans generally in that direction. My father took it upon himself to impress his newly acquired wife and spoke in emphatic Tulu to convey that he intended to roll up the “intruder” into a ball and throw him out of the train at the next station. While they did not have the luxury of the additional berth, these imaginary plans certainly added to the mirth and they continued to amuse themselves. They told themselves that thanks to Tulu, they could discuss safely whatever they wanted to do to the gentleman, who was most certainly from Bihar or Bengal and was oblivious to their plans for him.
My mother remarked, “Tulu is probably the safest language to converse in this part of the country!” The journey rolled on and it was time to alight at Ranchi.
While they were getting off, the gentleman spoke almost for the first time- in chaste Tulu!! He asked if he could help them with their luggage. He went onto apologize for having made the journey uncomfortable for them by occupying his own berth- all in glorious Tulu. He laughed heartily and said he was grateful for all the imaginative plans being discussed – he said it had made his journey memorable!
My parents went into an apology overdrive. Well, at the end of it three Tulu speaking strangers became friends in a remote corner of this vast country and the friendship has survived four decades, notwithstanding the diabolical plans!!