One nation, many riches

IN PERSPECTIVE

If “one arrow, one word, one wife” was the raja dharma of the prince of Ayodhya, our latest mantra of “one nation, one law, one tax, one language...” surpasses all dharmas. The recent one promoting a single national language will never be accepted by a nation that thrives on its diversity.

The immediate angry reaction in several southern states to the absurd suggestion that Hindi should be the national language of India shows that even the most docile citizen will turn aggressive when his own language is threatened.

In India, language represents an entire civilisation. For example, Tamil with the variety and quality of its literature so poetically described by A K Ramanujan as “the only language of contemporary India which is recognisably continuous with a classical past” is believed to be the world’s oldest language.

Tamil’s rich tradition goes back thousands of years. Its colourful history reflects the social, political and cultural history of Tamil Nadu itself.

Right from the oldest Sangam literature which dealt with topics like nature, love, war and society, Tamil literature closely reflects the history of Tamil Nadu down to the modern Tamil nationalist movement of the 20th century when poets like Subramania Bharathi wrote poetry steeped in patriotic fervour.

In between, there were also religious saints like the Vaishnavite Alwars and the Shaivite Nayanmars who composed poetry rich in religious imagery and music.

Thus, Tamil heralded a bhakthi movement as well with great literary works like the Kambar Ramayanam. Is it any wonder that the Tamilians guard their language as their greatest wealth?

As for Telugu, with its 2,000-year-old history of Budhhist and Aryan influences, the people who speak it will not tolerate its subordination to any other language. To them, it is not just the language of the common man.

It is the language of the gods. There is a Telugu Mahabharatha, a Telugu Ramayana and who has not heard of Pothana’s Bhagavatham? No wonder, Telugu-speaking people become so emotional when their language stands threatened.  

Potti Sriamulu exemplified that emotion when he fasted to death during the Nehruvian era fighting for a separate Telugu state to protect the combined interests of the Telugu people and their language when Hindi slyly tried to make inroads into Telugu “desam”.  BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had better refresh his history before treading on this slippery ground.

The fight for Kannada supremacy in Karnataka has been more political than literary. Except a few scholars who have preserved Kannada’s pride, the supporters of Kannada have spent more time and effort in denouncing English. Can hatred of one language promote the other?

By erasing English name boards, stoning English cinema theatres or by condemning English schools, Kannada chauvinists have only trivialised the issue.

Kannada has not lacked its ambassadors. Whether it is the 12th century mystics like Akkamahadevi or Allama Prabhu, or the later haridasas like Kanakadasa and Purandharadasa, Karnataka also had its bhakthi literature and music.

Researching and popularising their works would promote Kannada positively. We also have our poets, playwrights and novelists like Kuvempu, Kailasam and Masti Venkatesh Iyengar who have done this state proud. Why not research the works of these creative writers to promote Kannada?     

Ironically, many of our well-known Kannada writers of recent times cut their teeth on English language and literature.  A N Moorthy Rao, author of more than 50 literary works, is the best example of this dichotomy.

“Heady concoction”
Describing English as a “heady concoction — this thing called English literature — laced with ingredients borrowed from Greek and Latin,” he recalled how young scholars like himself who had “fed on the manna and honeydew of those borrowed riches” could not easily tear themselves away.

“La belle dame sans merci hath thee in thrall!” is how he once described the stranglehold of a foreign language on impressionable minds.

Yet, he did not deny the richness and variety that English had to offer. Even though it was his mother tongue, Kannada had no appeal to his enquiring mind struggling to express itself with ease and clarity.

All this was in year 1919 when students read English, talked English, wrote in English. Even when they used their mother tongue, it was a strange dialect of anglicised Kannada that we hear today. To quote Moorthy Rao again:  

“Idenu language appa?

 Fish alla, flesh alla, good red herringalla!”

With the Kannada renaissance in 1920, new writers of different genres have enriched Kannada writing. They have fought an eloquent battle for Kannada without a trace of chauvinism.

Today, with a chief minister also risking his own political career, has taken up cudgels for Kannada. So, the Centre’s mantra had better change to “One nation, many cuisines, many cultures, many costumes, many languages …”

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