Mind over language

This is one topic that never ceases to pop up in my mind. Most often, I even wonder why I think about it. But, I have to admit, it has bothered me for a long time. I guess it all began in 2004, when I was an intern in CNBC-TV18, New Delhi. My Hindi was still just about decent and I could pass as a local. You have no Madrasi accent, remarked a colleague at the office in Jhandewala. How come, she asked? Tell me something. Are Madrasis very dark people? My first reaction was to scoff at her racist remarks. But, then I realised she was just enquiring; maybe she didn’t know that skin colour is related to one’s pigmentation and genes, and that it had nothing to do with the region one comes from.

While this dawned on me, I was in for another shock. Another colleague nudged me. Hey, do south Indians eat just Dosas, Idlis and Sambhar?

Needless to say, this was too much for me in one day. So, I took a while to swallow the volley of questions and answered each of them, patiently. No, not all Madrasis are dark. No, we don’t eat just Dosas and Idlis. And, I don’t have a Madrasi accent because I learnt Hindi in school for 12 years. And, I have watched every Hindi film made in the 60s and 70s.

However, my colleagues weren’t convinced, so they added a few more enquiries. And, the most intriguing question was: why don’t you speak Hindi in Chennai. We in Chennai don’t speak Hindi just like how you in Delhi don’t speak Tamil, I said, looking triumphant about my answer. No, no, that’s not right, protested another. Hindi is a national language; I am surprised why Tamilians don’t speak Hindi.

The discussion ended there, for none of us wanted to get tangled in that debate. We knew it wouldn’t end at that.

After this, I have had numerous such discussions with many north Indians. Some of them firing the same question at me, and the same banter has ensued.

Yesterday, when I was reading R.K.Narayan‘s Salt and Sawdust, a collection of his short stories, I thought I had almost found an answer  to the question that was aimed at me some six years ago.

In one of his stories, ‘On Language’, he speaks about a gentleman from Delhi who visits Madras and is shocked at the fact that people there don’t follow or speak Hindi. RKN gives him the best explanation possible and says, Tamilians learned the language, till the moment it was foisted on them. To quote him, “Listen, Because of champions like you, who assume a dictatorial tone and decree must and must not for others. Your tone is self-defeating, counterproductive. If you remember, there was a time where in every Tamilian home there were at least a couple of members who attended Hindi classes and appeared for examinations, but all that stopped when an order came from Delhi that everyone should know Hindi as the only language.”

Well. that also explains why Thackerays’ Marathi crusade has fallen flat on its face.

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2 Responses to “Mind over language”

  1. Hi

    Being a north Indian living in Chennai, I think I can understand why north Indians are so appalled at people here not speaking Hindi.

    The fact of the matter is that despite knowing that Tamil is a separate language and all, at the back of their minds – They assume that they have to be similar. Thats because all languages to the north of the Vindhyas are similar to Hindi.

    Thats why it is difficult to understand how learning Hindi would actually take some effort and not just come about.

    I guess thats why there was that order from Delhi about Hindi.

    And despite all the talk otherwise, in my experience , most educated Tamilians do know Hindi. Maybe not as proficient as a native, but surely enough to converse.

  2. agree with those views… thnks for sharing 🙂

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