Language jingoism

The World Classical Tamil Conference that is being held in the city of Coimbatore has made me wonder many things. I am sure this is a political gimmick, for there is no logic in holding the conference in Coimbatore. For one, that place is too close to Kerala, hence not the center for Tamil language. And, DMK has long been trying to gain some foothold there.

I won’t get more into politics because like any layperson, I am more concerned about other things; politics is the last thing on my mind.

What made me ponder over this was a casual conversation with one of my uncles. He, a learned man, one with immense knowledge about politics and related topics, was fuming that the state government could cough up close to 400 crores for the meet. We were watching a band perform old hindi songs in Music Academy, Chennai, when this discussion was happening. What an irony, I thought; largely because for many Chennai is the last place where any such performances will find audience. Yet, the hall had a good crowd, a little lesser than the usual, thanks to the sudden downpour.

The point is: from my knowledge of Tamil language, which is my mother tongue, I can easily say it is one of the toughest languages. But, it hasn’t evolved much in recent years. Now, one many ask so which language has?  Still no other language beats tom-toms the way Tamil does. Be it cinema, politics or in literature, there has been a mania about the status of the language. And what have those literary figures addressing the conference done for the language? We are yet to discover missing consonants (there are no Ks, Ts and Shs in Tamil).

What makes the conference even more redundant is the fact that Tamil is not a dying language. It is still very much predominant in the state and has not been overshadowed by Hindi, unlike Kannada in Karnataka. Kannada had to give way for Hindi in Bangalore city, in the advent of the IT revolution. Ask any North-Indian who stays in Chennai; they would tell you how the overbearing presence of Tamil in everyday life has made it difficult for them.

It is one thing to be proud of your language and totally another to place it on a pedestal. No language gives you the right to scoff at other languages, in a bid to prove yours is superior. No one can foist their language on anyone.

I am a Tamilian raised in Tamil Nadu and I am proud of it. Yet, I do not shut myself from Hindi or Urdu. I listen to bothTamil and Hindi songs. I have grown up watching Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachchan films at the same time. My parents did not think twice before opting for Hindi as my second language in school. Does this mean I am not a Tamilian?

Respect your language and be proud of it, but there is no need to wear it on your sleeve 24*7. Language is a part of culture, but it serves no purpose if you promote it with such belligerence.

That reminds me: isn’t it time for an Urdu conference? This is one language that has been away from the center stage for a long time now. How did we allow a language as rich as Urdu to fade away?


12 Responses to “Language jingoism”

  1. Malini Iyer Says:

    Dear Janani,

    I loved reading this. I find that suddenly, I am at a loss for words!!! (which is very strange as I generally talk nineteen-to-the dozen on every topic that takes my fancy.

    I must say i agree with each and every word you have written. It was like as if, you just penned my thoughts on this subject.

    I think each and every one of us should try to learn as many languages as possible. I never make fun of languages. Instead I am fascinated with them, i just wonder how the same language is spoken in diff. ways in different cities or towns of the same state. Take Tamil for example – Madras Tamil is actually slang, tanjavur, tirunelveli, coimbatore, arcot, kanyakumari, palghat – the spoken Tamil is so different in all these districts. Phew ! Don’t want to bore u dear. Keep up the good work of writing! About all things that you feel strongly about. If nothing, atleast it will take away the frustration which is self – destructive!!! 🙂

  2. thank you so much… it was really nice on your part to take out time to go through the piece and share your views… thks so much again 🙂

  3. ritika Says:

    clap clap…well written and you manage to get your point across …
    i have a great fascination and respect for people who can speak
    different languages …i used to be good at it at one time and for a lot many years i wanted to study urdu ..but marriage motherhood and responsibilities spared me no time…
    i am in total agreement with you on this issue…..
    in France you can break your head but they will not make any effort to help you even if they understand what you are saying..
    in America i was told I have an accent..
    they will not do anything for their country or state ..culture or heritage but are stupidly fanatic about their language…
    you always come up with such thought provoking issues…well are our conscience….


  5. I just literally stumbledupon this blog post, am not sure how and from where, but this topic is so close to my heart. I am 1st in the list of people who shall detest jingoism of any kind, language to top that. And am glad that a lot of people in Chennai are sane enough to realize this.

    We also know that like TN, Maharashtra has been using this language and ethnicity divide too often for political motives.

    Honestly, very narrow minded. I am from Chennai and I speak as much Hindi or even more than Tam, and have no qualms in that.

  6. lakshmana Says:

    Hi, Went through your take on language thingy with much interest. Having been a ‘madrasi’ in Dilli for a long long time, real madras madrasis can perhaps not feel as strongly as the likes of us who have been through it. i must add my Hindi is terrific and even I dare say better than that of the Hindiwalahs. what you find somewhat unable to bear, the strong tom toming tamilians are in fact the ones to really thank for halting the Hindi imperialism who proponents wanted to throttle all other languages in India for the exploitative power it would have given the practitioners of the language. Sure it was to give an unfair advantage to the people with Hindi as their mother toungue when the Hindi fanatics tried to force one nation -one language misplaced patriotism in a sub continent where dialect changes every 10 km and language is violently different in every 100 km. thanks to the strong tamilian opposition and to the advent of technology and privatisation that demolished the likes of Doordarshan and spawned many regional channels that Hindi’s exploitative potential got that much reduced. How can you explain a Hindi officer in every PSU as if the other languages did not matter at all. And what would the fate of Indian software or thinking knowledge industry if the IITs were teaching in Hindi or other regional indian languages — may be we would have been doing bjhajans and kirtans rather than ruling the world in IT and knowledge sectors that are now merging. the language fanatics, which ever part of the country they are living in, forgot one thing that none of the indian languages became the language of modern science, modern technology and modern trade and business. thankfully, for whatever reason English entered the country and is alive and kicking in India for more than two and half centuries so much so that it has become nearly another Indian language — with a huge population (even if put at a mere two per cent of Indian population) proficient in this. but one thing, despite the tamil zingoism as reflected by the coimbatore WCTC, heartening is that one can still find signboards in Hindi at say road widening work near Mogappair that say ‘karya pragati par hai, dheere chaliye’ etc — a far cry from the days when anything in Hindi was only meant to be torn apart and banished from tamil nadu shores. is language oneness essential? though desirable, not the only necessary condtion as Hindi fanatics would want us to believe. Given all these, whatever the real motives of the WCTC organisers, some tomtoming is always called for, if only to check the Hindi zealots and their designs that put the majority of the nation (non-Hindi speaking populace) at a disadvantage.

    • Thanks for the perspective. I fact, some time ago, I had shared an excerpt from RK Narayan’s Salt and Saw Dust… here it goes:
      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.

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  7. JS,

    That’s a pretty interesting article and just want to add my two cents.

    1. The intention of forcing Hindi upon people in South India started with none other than Gandhi by establishing the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha in 1918 with a view of propagating the language. Trouble flared later in 1938 when C.Rajagopalachari introduced Hindi as a compulsory language in schools in the Madras Presidency.

    Even today, if you browse through any Govt. mandated history textbook, you’d notice that South India and the North East are neglected. Conscious decisions such as these will aggravate the animosity.

    So, to merely state the obvious- if you impose an alien language or culture, people will resist it with any means whatsoever.

    2. Enough of history lessons! :p
    What really gets my goat is the difference in proficiency expectations. Most of my North Indian friends who’ve lived in Chennai since their childhood struggle to speak even a sentence of Tamil. Yet, they manage to get by their daily lives without facing any problem from the locals. Whereas, if I speak in broken Hindi at a restaurant in Delhi for e.g., I’d be ridiculed to death!

    So, why the disparity?

    The purpose of learning a language must be through curiosity and out of the need to adapt to a region- not by parading Soviet styled propaganda!

    Oh, and I can speak flawless Hindi and Tamil. I don’t have any qualms over speaking either of them. I appreciate both the languages in equal measure.


  8. lakshmana Says:

    hi, read through the post and the responses all over again. am trying to source from the hindu, the two page article done in 1991 and post it here, on my blog, facebook and the like. since hindu had digitalised its editions since many years it might jist be possible to get hold of a soft copy or the pages in pdf form. will try my best with my old organisation, but may be fail. anyone, JS included, if they can help me procure the pages of August 1991 first or second week HIndu Sunday magazine section, it was a two-page cover story, would be gratefufl. with regards, lakshmana,

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