By Dr Talat Chaudhri.
I’m a half-Punjabi born in Essex who has been living in Aberystwyth since a couple of years before the end of the last century, which is now seventeen years since I came to do an MA in the Welsh Department after my first degree in history. When the other students around me in Oxford went off to get jobs in London, I came to Aberystwyth to learn Welsh and to study the Celtic languages and their cultures instead. None of them understood why, apparently, though they knew that what drove me was very different to anything in their own lives. I intended to stay for a year, go to Brittany to learn Breton, and then go to Cornwall with all this knowledge to work on the Cornish language revival. I learned Breton in the Old College in Aberystwyth instead – and I’m still here!
Why then? That is always the first question. But, to be honest, there isn’t really much of a good reason. When I was young, we used to come to Wales, to Cornwall, or to other places in the west of Britain on our summer holidays. I was influenced by a number of books that made references to Wales, Cornwall and their languages. But it is very difficult to give a clear explanation. One day in the Central Library in Southend-on-Sea, I came across a book about Cornish, Cornish Simplified by Caradar (A.S.D. Smith). I joined a Cornish language revivalist movement. I went to Oxford and was for a short while in love with a girl from Ruthin. I became a vegetarian, began to learn Welsh, and the rest is history!
Since then, I have been a Welsh and Breton tutor, gained a doctorate in linguistics and the Cornish language in the Welsh Department, worked in the University and then later worked for three years away in information science in Bath as a result. But here I am back again in Wales and in Aberystwyth again. As many people say about Aberystwyth, once one stays here for two or three years, it becomes difficult to leave permanently, and I have very little enthusiasm for moving away. This is my home and I have never yet had any other place that I could call home.
I am now a town councillor for Plaid Cymru representing the Penparcau ward, including Penparcau and Southgate. I have an IT business in the town. I hope to be able to work in Celtic Studies again one day despite the shortage of jobs, and I still do research in the field. But far more importantly, I have become part of the town and the community in Aberystwyth, and I know hundreds of people in the town, if not many more, to the point that I could no longer count how many. My mother lives in Carmarthenshire and has also learned Welsh, a woman from England who has no wish to go back to a country that has changed beyond recognition since her childhood in the 1950s and 60s.
The main problem with the tide of incomers is that the majority of people who move to Wales see no reason that they should learn Welsh. I am really rather angry about this attitude: if you go to a country, you learn the language of its people, plain and simple. Anything else is disrespectful. When people come over from poorer countries, they are expected to learn English – not Welsh, even if they come to Wales, even if they come to a county where the majority of people speak Welsh. By the way, I completely understand why they want to come to a rich, prosperous country like ours: who wouldn’t want to do the same rather than staying in a poor country or one destroyed by war and Western post-imperial international politics? In any event, there is no expectation on the other peoples of Great Britain to learn Welsh when they come to live in Wales – but there should be. Not everybody has the talent to learn languages easily, but nonetheless it is that core language ability that is what makes us human: everybody can learn languages far more easily than they believe they can.
I have given a large part of my life as an adult so far to supporting people who want to learn Welsh and Breton. There is little that I would like more than to keep doing this sort of work for as long as I can. If I could make a living just by teaching these languages, I would do just that, write, and live in this place where I am no longer a stranger and an exile as I was previously in my life in England from the very day that I was born.