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Saffron diktat clouds the rainbow of languages

Saturday, 2 August 2014 - 6:00am IST Updated: Friday, 1 August 2014 - 8:16pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Common sense is uncommon. I know! However, I began to have doubts about this dictum when our brand new PM declaimed that his good governance strategy would take everyone along. Thankfully, subsequent actions by his cast and crew restored my faith in the cliché. If they had deployed common sense, could our netas have sparked as many dissensions in this short timespan?

Take the language controversy. Facing megascale problems—from soaring corruption to skyrocketing prices – you would imagine that our new government would simply not have time to bother about trivial issues. Think again. Ukase Number One — insisting that bureaucrats and politicians should tweet in the rashtrabhasha — managed to prod sleeping snakes into highpitched hissing. Ukase Number Two — set aside a celebratory week for the devabhasha — instantly provoking Dravida resistance.

Honestly, I don’t think the south Indian aam admi has any linguistic bias. Premchand, Khandekar, Tagore and Bankimchandra found devoted translators in the south. Unlike most Hindustani musicians who can’t tell Kannada from Telugu, songs in Sanskrit/Hindi/Marathi are part of Carnatic music concerts. No devotional singing session is complete without Tulsidas and Tukaram. Bharatanatyam can’t do without Mirabai. Also, don’t forget the legacy of the freedom fighting generation, intoxicated by “Saare jahan se achcha” and “Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara”. What did my grandma sing when she churned butter? Why, Netaji’s martial anthem, “Badhe chalo!”!

What the Tamils feared was/is coercion, especially in matters that might give the north an advantage. Their flaming anti-Hindi agitation (1965) was prompted by this suspicion. Feelings ran so high that the Hindi Prachar Sabha feared to hold examinations on its premises. So I had the unique experience of writing my vishaarad-level papers at home, supervised by my teacher! However, my love for Maithilisharan Gupt and Mahadevi Varma, Jaishankar Prasad and Bhisham Sahni, did not stop me from joining the students’ protest march against the imposition of Hindi.

The movement had its crazy moments. Cycling through the streets in a pair of shorts, balding Enrique, a Spaniard domiciled in Madras, suddenly found himself blocked by menacing Hindi agitationists, ordering him to repeat the adulatory catchphrase “Tamizh Vazhga!”  Afraid of mispronouncing this “sacred” Tamil cry, the poor man bellowed an alternative slogan: “Up Up Idli! Down Down Chapati!” After this, how could the protestors not carry Enrique (and his battered cycle) on a triumphant procession?

Whenever I travel through monochromatic nations abroad, I rejoice in my wealth of rainbow languages, opalescent cultures. Surely, this linguistic diversity rejuvenates us! So why not find innovative ways to promote every Indian language? Common sense tells me that we can knit India only if every north Indian school teaches a south Indian language, and vice versa. Not through dreary school lessons guaranteed to make the child hate the tongue! But through songs, plays, dancing, storytelling, games, where learning becomes adventure. Madhya Pradesh discovers Kannada, Bihar enjoys Malayalam. Tamil Nadu revels in Manipuri… Utopian dream? Maybe!

Meanwhile, the south’s antipathy to Hindi has noticeably decreased. Bollywood has done what BJP cannot do. The man on the street may not pass a government exam in holy-cow Hindi, but Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan have taught him the living Hindustani dialect. Also, how can southern hearts be immune to the romance of old filmsongs by Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar… Sangeet and mehendi have become south Indian ceremonies. Why, just yesterday, a grieving son from a Tamil family recited Faiz Ahmad Faiz at his father’s memorial service. Who knows, if the netas use common sense to zip their lips, Hindi may eventually, naturally, osmotically, become to India what English is to the world.

The author is a playwright, theatre director, musician and journalist, writing on the performing arts, cinema and literature

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