Friday, July 01, 2005

A collage of books that inspired me and my thoughts (strong and black like my coffee) on language and identity

I am reading this amazing book (not found usually in bookstores) which talks of a different perspective of history. Written by "Saki", the book is titled "Making History : Karnataka's People And Their Past" in two volumes. I picked up this book from a CPI book stall in bangalore and I have altered some of the ageold perceptions held steadfast in my mind. This book narrates history from the common man's perspective under different dynasties. Instead of talking of which king killed whom and which monument was built by whom, it talks of how people lived and existed during the various periods of karnataka's history.

Another book that I really enjoyed reading is a book by James Michner titled "The source". Set in Israel, this story traces through time, the travels of a mound of earth from early neolethic periods to the current day complex West asia situation. In between it traverses through the Kingdom of Israel and Judah, Greeks, Romans, Early christians, Turks, Crusaders, Arabs, Ottaman empire, British and the raise of Israel. Surprisingly it has a non-relgious, non-racial tone and just seeks to tell, that all that comes will one day pass and things wont be much different from what it was.

"Guns germs and steel", another brilliant work by Jared Diamond clinically analyses and looks at human civilisation from a socio-cultural, scientific and biological slant without getting into any of the cliched arguments of civilised and uncivilised. In fact it is a breath of fresh air from many of the indophiles who hail India as the cradle of all wisdom. It neither has the arrogance of "West is the best" widely displayed by Americans and Westerners seeking to civilise the world. A must read for people who like objectivity and deep thinking analysis.

Often my friends have asked me, "why do people in Tamil Nadu dont speak hindi ? Whats wrong if they learn hindi ? Comeon ya, its the national language it would be good if they learnt it". My reactions used to be just that, reactions of a strong kind acidic, sarcastic and even jingoistic. Over the years (as any good wine would), I have matured and became more inside looking in analysing issue. Why dint I learn hindi in Chennai. I thought, I did. Afterall isnt "Lavadekabal" a hindi abuse ? I had started using this word as early as class X and as frequently as "ongamma..." or "Ongakaa.." ("your mom", "your sis" genre of abuses). Havent we given the prized position of abuses (Its difficult to make it up there) to a hindi word ?

Down the line, we altered some of the meanings of hindi words. Lets look at "dil". The hindi take on "Dil" is love, romance, emotion, coooing and all those mushy-sushy things people engage in (sans the rock-and-roll. Atleast that was what was portrayed in the movies).. Instead the tam version of dil is rock hard bravery, jumping from cliffs, challenging an army of 100 men, catching the bullet with left hand and sending it back faster than it came. But overall the image is one of courage, bravado, action, danger and daring. Havent we took a hindi word and made it as cool as it can get ? We took Paratha and made it Brrrrrota. We even invented kothu brrrota. Infact adaptation of other language words and giving it a tamil twist is a fine art practiced and perfected by the common man of the streets. My uncle exclaimed that hot chicks (he said "modern" but he meant "hot") in besant nagar beach speak in chaste gaana tamil and make it a cool statement. One of my last remaining friends in chennai still exclaims "dai dubukku" whenever I visit her in chennai... Eeirily similar to my chum buddy, punjab da puttar who addressed me by "VASU - Gandu, Madarchod, how are you" ? Vow he made the "ma ki" gaali so cool and so endearing. I guess, all this explains the tremendous level of self confidence and pride people have in their identity. I have. That was the reason when someone in pune called me, "Madorchod LTTE idhar aa... ", I couldnt tolerate it and shouted back "Sardar behen ke laude, bhara bhaj gaya kya ? thu idhar aa". Ofcourse we became good friends, but on equal terms. He saw for himself that the only tam in the class is not going to take it lying down.

As again, I grew up. I met a lot of friends and genuinely and openly wanted to learn their way of life. I lost that attitude "Tamil is superior to everyone else" and re-caliberated it to "Vernacular is superior". Somehow my taste for hot retorts hadnt changed. The other day My uncle (who has lived over 25 years) in bangalore said "These Kannadigas, they are all somberis (lazy)", blood shot through my face. I just without thought reacted "Chithappa (uncle), have some gratitude for the place where you lived. you have eaten their salt. Dont be an ettapa (The tam equivalent of brutus who betrayed Ceaser, bhaji rao who betrayed shivaji)". Weeks later, through informal channels, it was communicated that I am a "Persona-Non-Grata". I felt very bad, not for the comment but the virulence with which it came out. I managed to soothe his ruffled feather, massage his ego and do the dew ;).. dint I tell you that I have no fucking shame or pretentions ? (dont believe all that I say huhh...?)

Anyway, I realised that we tamils or no better too. We shouldnt just talk about tamil and tamil greatness whereever we go. Wherever I cite examples of tamil having achieved this or that, please consider "tamil" as a vernacular experiment. There is nothing exceptional or unique in tamil which has achieved it. It is a call to resurrect the identity of an oppressed set of people and was tagged along with the language. Afterall language is an important component of identity, isnt it ? My use of tamil is in that spirit and not as a statement of "I am greater than you". Who ever you are, oriya, parsi, Punjabi, Urdu, Hariyanvi, bhojpuri, telugu, tulu, konkani.. I wish you well and when I live in your part of the world, I will lend my might to you..

Jai Vernacular :D

In this spirit, I believe strongly that Tamil promotion should be confined to inside tamil nadu. When we live elsewhere we should also seek to learn other languages. Afterall, we know the hard journey and the tough choices that were in front of us in the 60s. The onus is on us, to lend our voice and support to others in the struggle against hagemony (dominance of one way of life over all others). Its impoirtant we dont become hagemons ourselves. When I say, "We should help others" it is not out of the arrogance displayed in full bloom like when an American says "We will free people from tyranny", but of the way the French helped settlers throw the british out of the colonies in "1756" with warmth, respect and a desire to help friends. Silent yet respectfull of others. Thats why today, no one in America remembered that the statue of liberty an icon of full blodded american patriotism, jingoistic and all was a gift from the french upon winning the civil war. The true americans (who cherished the freedom but not the jingoism) nevertheless knew that and were not seen dumping fine french wine in the gutters or renaming french fries as freedom fries.

Helping should not be touted as a proof of superiorirty. Its just coincidental we found the path and we want to share this with others out of genuine goodwill, with respect and honour.

In retrospect, I realised that my tamil identity should be perceived as non-threatening to others. The onus, lies in me make it so and not in others to percieve it so (remember the parsi message back to the king of cochin, saying "we will be like sugar in milk" when asked "who are you ? friend or foe ?". Its that way).

I realised that "when in rome", be a roman. I have made it a point to speak in kannada every available opportunity. To the autowaala, when asking directions, in hotels, everywhere. I feel everyone should do that too in bangalore.. No questions. Period. There are no logics here. It should be a rule, a silently enforced one by the people. It is not a crime "not knowing or not having learnt kannada in bangalore". But it is one "Not wanting or needing to learn Kannada in bangalore". Yes it is not so practical for people who dont know kannada. But once you give it a start with "saku", "beku" you can soon graduate and become a good speaker within a year's time. Dont feel shy to stumble and make mistakes. Do your mistakes with flair that the other person says "gothuaithu... heli" (I understood it, you just continue). Slowly friends (almost embaressed for having to correct you) would help you upgrade your language (correct your mistakes, improve your vocablary).

For a long time, I used hogi for "I have finished" with my friends mom. She understood that I was confusing the word "hogaya" (hindi) with "aiithu". But she never openly corrected me, just sent a message to her sons who are my good friends. She understood what I meant and yet never spoke in anything other than kannada. I realised that unless, I stretch and exert myself. I will never learn the language. Now I am good enough to converse with her. The best complement ever received was an unsolicited comment from their mom (with awe) saying "Vow... your kannada has improved". The comment was so natural that a very very modest person like her wouldnt dare make it so openly, if it hadnt been an instinctive reaction on my fluency. She used the spinal chord here.

I gave a self pat on my back. None of my friends appreciated me, well thats another story..

I feel sad, that marathi is not spoken much in mumbai as much as kannda is not spoken in bangalore. The sense of loss is asif it is tamil. Vernacular gives the indegenous, the common man, the poor man, the farmer, the non-english educated, the weaker sections a strong sense of confidence and identity. In TN, developement has been uniform throughout the states with industries in tirunelveli, Tiruppur, madurai, coimbatore, salem, vellore, karur, namakkal, kanyakumari. All this because in the 60s a virulent campaign to install Tamil as the prima-lingua was done despite criticisms and reaction. As an afterthought, it was a great move because, indegeneous people have developed. Tamils all over have developed the strong sense of confidence which was long shattered by colonial and fuedal mis-rule.

No more is it considered a slick english speaking "Peter" or "Mary" (btw, thats the slang for an english speaking duo.. spelt as and peeetar and mayri) is superior to the tamil medium educated diploma holder. The reaction in my college (coimbatore) would have been one of disdain and they can easily spot the fake guy. Nobody gets awestruck by a fluent and articulate vasu if he is articulating crap. They would just say "dai peetar mooduda (addressed to me, and asking me to cock up)" (refer the start of the para for explainations on peetar and mayri). This is because there is no sense of lesser or greater associated with language. Its a level playing field.

I used to think when in school "whats wrong with learning national language and speaking it in tamil nadu ?". The answer came to me from an uneducated farmer in dhindukkal district where I was attending an NSS-YFI camp (trying to teach uneducated people to sign their names in tamil. build toilets for schools).

The farmer : "Whats the use of education" ?
My reply : "Education will liberate you from under-developement".
The farmer : "All that is fine. Whats the practical use" ?
My reply : "Nobody would cheat you anymore ? you can do business with city folks. your son
can expand and make your farms more productive".
<..totally exasperated by now...>
My reply : "If you complete XII they will give you more loans".
The farmer : "Ya, that I know, thats why both my sons are doing their degree and besides I
dont have the time. I got to export these mangoes abroad no..." ?

That sent a hard assed slap right on my face (not literally, figuritively) and I found a new found respect for him. When someone has not been educated and has no practical use for hindi, is it reasonable ? acceptable ? and worthwhile to teach him hindi ? He doesent even know how to read and write tamil. But let me tell you, this guy is a mind reader, he will nail you if you try to take him for a ride. If he does get cheated once, he will hunt you and mow you dowm. Such is his confidence. He is the king of his small town. Thats the way every villager and oppressed man should feel. Thats the India that will take us to greatness. One of the reasons for his confidence is a strong sense self belief. He did go on and learn to read, write and sign (just in case). I learnt the importance of self belief and confidence in one's life. Predominantly from movies and the tamil movement. They just told him that "you are cool" and dont lose you are protected. They gave him the confidence to not feel low about who he is and think practically upon situation.

I also learnt that if found practical uses, these self confident and smart people would learn dutch or german (if he needs to impress an exporter). If you think I am talking shit, just look at tirrupur a hoisery town of entreprenuers. The largest in Asia and one of the growing areas for SAP implementations. They would use other languages as a tool to further their life, because their own language has given them the confidence to stand up and feel proud. I know some would say "what crap", but from the point of view of people who have been suppressed and oppressed forever, it is a great moral booster and an assertion of their own worth as citizens of this country, weather or not they are educated. This sense of mass infusion of pride is what was achieved by the heroes of tamil movement. Kudos to them.... If not for them, We might have missed the fiery dialogues of "Parashakthi.." (an earth shaking movie penend by Karunanidhi and rendered by Shivaji" or the great lyrics of "Veera pandi kattabomman" (one of the few chiefteins in India who opposed the british on sound principles of anniyargal (foreigners) and not because he was opposed to someone else. The "Kanni pengalukku Manjal araithaya ? edharku vendum vaddi ?" dialouge rings in my ears like a strong medicine to the tierd soul rejuveneting and giving it eternal life. I wish every language in India have such a revival of position. Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Assamese, Mizo (isnt it sad, they have lost their script and are using english to write their own tounge ?).

Here I have to grant credit to the Saets of Chennai (marwaris and gujjus) who speak flawless tamil, The enterprising sardars of Namakkal, Salem who literally control the spareparts market and truck/busses body building market. Nammakal also is the second largest poultry farm in Asia. Its millions of eggs and lolly pops baby...ummm... The sardar speaking tamil literally made me dumbstruck... I was gaping so widely, it made the sardar very very uneasy. He just barked "ennap pakara ?", "what are you gaping at ?". The tone was bordering on irritation. I just scooted.

I very strongly believe a re-assertion of vernacular in general and kannada in particular would be beneficial in the long run. Ofcourse the "children of libertalisation" (a.k.a the IT companies, the MNCs) would run away to gurgaon or hyderabad. But 25 years from now, we would have more farmers and a stronger set of indegeneous people. ITs actually a minute price to pay for the large and cascading benefits that would accrue later. IT doesent take much, just 10-15 years of a strong implementation of kannada in day-to-day life. Infact all people should be encouraged to stay here and learn kannada.

World over, the indegeneous people are getting diluted and losing the race for a better life because there is a strong attempt to dilute their political voices by promoting uni-cultural and uni-lingual images. It cant work in India and I would be a sad man to see a glorious and beautiful language like kannada see an untimely demise.

As a parting statement since I am in bangalore, I owe my aleigence to the vernacular of the land. That side of Miraj, it would be Jai Maharashtra, cross over to hosur - It would be Jai tamil. For now it is



At 12:01 PM, Blogger Scribblings of a Sinner said...

Wonderful post..

Apologies for swerving away from the current topic.

I made a post on Ilayarajas latest CD'Thiruvasagam in Symphony', alternate perspective

Pls take a look. I would value your comments on the same.

At 3:42 AM, Blogger nin said...

Mervalous post....
keep it up...

At 9:57 AM, Blogger small squirrel said...

ah...wonderful...the linguist in me is happy.

Language is very strongly tied to identity. I do not have to tell you the long, many, and arduous (which doesn't make them illegitimate) reasons why Hindi isn't taught to children in TN. You have only scratched the surface of the issue...

It's good that you have taken the time to learn Kannada. It can only make you a better person to learn more...

It's a shame that here in america we have very little opportunity to learn any Indian languages but Hindi/Urdu. I was lucky to get Sanskrit and Kannada in grad school, and only because I am a linguist.

I could go on and on...

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

I love all languages, though I am not a linguist...

I can understand marathi, gujju and man if i can learn hindi, I can learn anything in this world...

till 96 I dint know who kishore kumar was...

now apun ka hindi ekdum jakhaas hai baup...


At 5:44 AM, Blogger Prabha said...

Nice post.I can totally relate to what uve written :)

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

@ prabha

thanks a ton... speak kannada.. :)


At 2:32 AM, Blogger Sudarshan said...

Making history is supposed to be the finest work on Karnataka's history. Its saddening to note that most people from this very state fail to understand his struggles and still consider him as just another naxal who took up the violent route and met his end to police's bullets. We still havent realised that we have lost one of the most creative genius of the modern era who scarificed his career/social life and eventually his life for the appeasement of the weaker sections. Sad but true, India is going the capitalist way and we see Americanization in the way we think, work etc., and nobody can do anything about it. I still say we havent got our independence. Anyways, the debate never ends. Saki's book is not available anywhere. Can you give me the directions to this bookstall?
To be honest I havent come across a person (from another state) with a positive attitude towards Kannada. Glad to note that there are people who think differently.
Very well written post Vasu. I'll be back for more.

At 4:07 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

I completely agree with your view on Saki... What amazed me was a beautiful explaination of early ritualistic traditions. Imagine if a educated but determined person like him couldnt change the world by peaceful means and had to resort to the violent path, how would lesser men faced with the prospect of drought, death, oppression and migration do ? The gun seems to be the obvious choice..

Civil society has totally failed and the raise of India would happen only when these people living in the margins raise. Till then there is no glory..

BTW.. I picked it up from the stall of Communist party of India.. Both volumes. I havent found this anywhere else..

At 5:07 AM, Blogger Suksy said...

Sakkathagi bardidira neevu.... Nim anisikegalannu yellaru artha maadkondu avaravara jeevanadalli anusarisabeku...

For those people who don't understand my commment, I have commented that this is an amazing post and people should understand Vasu's intentions and follow it in their lives too...

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Ramana Siddharth said...

man i just read ur piece on naxalism... what u said abt bloodless violence is really true...naxals fight for what they believe in...which is the same thing the jawans in kashmir do...just because something has govt backing it does not make something acceptable...of course our jawans are defending india...but isnt vilence by any other name still violence?man ur ideas are really tht provoking...i came 2 this blog on srivatsan's recomendation...and am super glad...

At 6:33 PM, Blogger ada-paavi!!!! said...

learining a langauge is not a problem, but the problem starts when a langauge is thrust on u.
in TN hindi is thrust upon people, the news channels like NDTV prsume the entire nation undrstands hindi, and sometimes fail to give proper subtitles, and national media covers only hindi cinema, how many reports has ndtv carried on a girish kasaravalli movie or a kb film? but theyll cover every single hindi movi release,
ppl c the langauge being thrust upon them and therefore are revolt against it, they feel tat their identity is underatack and hold on to it even more strongly, langauge being a strong part of their identity, pl hold onto tamil.
dont know how it is in the other southers states, but tat is the situation here

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

@Suku - Thanks.. Though my kannada is not super good, I can speak functional Kannada and understand whats spoken.. nowadays my first reaction is in kannada..

@Siddarth - I agree to a large extent what you say. I am not talking violence by poliece and naxal violence. I am talking of violence perpetrated by the upper class Indian mafia crowd, who influence govt to make rules favouring them. They also use money and law to their advantage and push poor people deeper and deeper into poverty. Though what you say is essentialyl the same, do take note of the subtle differnce...

@Vatsan - Imposition doesent work. Infact it has exactly the opposite reaction. Having been in TN during the prime of my life, I know what you are talking about. But, NDTV is a pvt. company and is free to do what it wants to do in terms of airing content. I most of the times dont like watching NDTV and switch channels. The same cannot be said of doordarshan as it is people's channel. Its afterall govt. funded. If we are against hagemonism in TN by hindi speakers shouldnt it be the same for Tamil speakers in Karnataka ? Just my thoughts.. thats all..

At 1:13 AM, Blogger Mukta said...


There is a portion of your blog that made me remember this unsure which part but I'll put it down all the same. Gilette Burgess - 'If you haven't changed your opinion in the last few years or acquired a new one, check your may be dead.'

Hmm, so these are the books that have made your thoughts strong and black like your coffee...anything you read that's added cream or sugar yet?


At 4:36 AM, Blogger Vasu the terrible said...

Dint you know, that milk/cream is for babies, sugar is for sissies and men like it black ??

Just kidding, bravado apart I have shed all likings of emotional tales, heroic tales, romantic tales, and other fictional works like a snake sheds its skins.

Only the cold, calculated, intelligent tales of history as impassionate as possible interests me..

my friends say, it comes straight from my heart which is small, stony and black.. :D

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow.. vocal u are.. I love languages.. but am too lazy to learn :P

At 2:42 AM, Blogger Archana said...

Naanu adanne yochane maadthaa idde......kannada gothiruvara haththira kooda yaake English mathaadbeku antha?!
Kuvempu hindakke thagollabekaa "Elladaru iru, enthaadaru iru, endendigu nee Kannadavaagiru"??

Jai Karnataka in Karnataka...and Jai Bradford in Bradford?

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Chandan said...

Nice post Vasu, bahala channagi bardiddira. You have got a refreshing attitude mate which is sadly missing in most non-kannadiga Bangloreans. Anyways, nimathavara santhe jasti agli. :o)

At 7:32 PM, Blogger fanaah_phantom said...

//whats wrong with learning national language and speaking it in tamil nadu ?".//

part XVII of the constitution:
defines OFFICIAL language (NOT national lang)

Article 345: This gives the State govt., power to decide its own "OFFICIAL LANGUAGE"

Article 343: This defines hindi and english to be the "OFFICIAL LANGUAGES" of union govt.


NATIONAL LANGUAGE: defines the people of the nation, culture, history.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: used for official communication

While a National language by default can become the Official langauge, an Official language has to be APPROVED legally to become the National language.



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