21 January 2009

Slumdog, colonial legacy, etc.

The other day I was chatting with a friend about Slumdog Millionaire. He said it was one more of those unbelievably un-ending attempts to sell India's poverty. (Really! If only India's poor knew how valuable they were. They must know, of course.)

Anyway, from Slumdog we went on to talk about contemporary literature and how I felt we lacked one, one which is truly representative (though I don't see how one text can ever be representative of India). He disagreed and said we did have contemporary literature, only it needed to be translated into English (from Bengali, he meant. My friend is a Bong.)

Then, I clarified that I was talking about stuff written by Indians in English. To which, he said, “But why should we write in English? What's the need?”

It seems so clich├ęd to talk about all this, but here's my bit for what it's worth:

Anyone who loves to write will not mull over which language to write in. We write in the language that comes naturally to us, the language in which we think.

Now, this should logically be the mother tongue, right? Mostly, it is. But because many Indian children are educated in English right from the first day of school, they may use English + mother tongue equally well.

I think in English a lot: this could be because of my profession, my education, or just my inclination. But, as long as I know and love my mother tongue equally well, I don't see why I have to shy away from the fact that I would prefer to write in English.

English wields a lot of political power over Indian languages, it's true. But, after more than 3 centuries after colonial rule, cant we get over the hangover and see it as a language, and not as something we grudgingly use because we were forced to use it 300 years ago? I mean, learning or speaking English shouldn't automatically mean you despise or refuse to learn any other language, be it Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, etc. If you choose to do so, [that is, look down on your mother tongue or Indian languages], that is your choice.

I do not like to look down or hate a language. I, for one, absolutely love to learn new languages, and love to discover the whole new worlds, new cultures, sub-texts buried deep in the womb of each language.

It is sad that most kids today cant read or speak a complete sentence in their mother tongue without faltering. And parents are hardly bothered with that. I had once read somewhere that the less you use a language, the more you lose in terms of the knowledge that comes with the language, like the different people who speak it, their occupations, knowledge about their bio-diversity...

For instance, there could be herbs or spices that grow only in a particular place and only people who live there know about it. They have a name for it in their language, possibly a whole culture built around that local uniqueness. But it remains outside your awareness and if the language perishes, all such knowledge, will, too. (My grandma can look at a herb and say what remedial powers it has. This language will die with her -- Of course, we'll always have our KAPLs and Daburs, but at the household level it will be lost. – Neither my mother nor I have bothered to learn this from her. Of course, this is not really about language politics. It's more of post-colonial India's suspension between the knowledgeable past and the liberating present. Aah, there we go again... making India's colonial past a reference point.)

Well, to sum it up: I don't see a contradiction or a dichotomy in myself if I say I love my mother tongue and English, and choose to write in English. I sometimes write in Kannada, too, for my own consumption. I frankly don't think it is worthy of putting it out in public. If I could give enough time to it, I think I could write as well in Kannada as in English, but, time... that is the one thing I don't have.


Suresh Kumar said...

I do like to write in Kannada... bt i have grown up using english language and comfortable in it. I strongly feel that effort to instill the writing spirit is lacking among the decision makers.

Bt Kannada is not less popular. Even orkut has kannada script :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Suresh,

I have used Kannada on Orkut. The question of Kannada's popularity does not arise at all. It is mother tongue to millons.

And, we can make our decisions ourselves. Who are these decision makers anyway?

Thanks for visiting.


Winnowed said...

I assume your conversation with your friend was in Bengali. I am amazed that there are such bigoted people even in cosmopolitan cities like Kolkata!

Viju said...

Hi Vinod,

The chat conversation was in English. Quite a few Bongs that I've met are very similar to the cow-belt people. They think there is one South Indian culture, and all South Indians speak more or less the same language. Sometimes, when I tell people that I speak Kannada and dont know much of Tamil, they seem a bit bewildered. Also, they are intolerable jingoistic. Poor chaps, they still cant get over the fact that Tagore won a Nobel about a century ago. And so on, and so forth...

Zampa Saurav said...

I Would say that its the difference of opinion. I am a Bengali born in Indian Bengal (Kolkata) - raised in Maharashtra (Pune). I feel English / Hindi are the languages that are imposed on us... We Indians can still be As much Indian as We are today by valuing our mother tongue and making it Stronger..

Being in Maharashtra for almost 18 years now.. i'v vry well acquainted wit Marathi and ofcourse Hindi, Bangla n English.

I started blogging about a year back... i thought of blogging in Bangla but my inability and my lack of knowledge abt Bangla striked my mind... so Opted for English ! :-)