Having grown up in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India, Bangalore, I took to English like a fish to water. Neither my school nor my family took notice of how most of my daily communication – with my teachers, friends and even my parents and grand-parents, was in the world’s third most commonly spoken language, namely English (pardon me if the ranking has changed now).
Tamilian by birth, Kannadiga by domicile and tracing roots to Andhra Pradesh and currently living in Delhi, I have always wondered about the hullabaloo surrounding one’s command over the English language and its precedence over one’s native language. I am not advocating the abolition (or even regulation) of the usage of the language. For, it would be impossible for my professors in college to correct answer-scripts written in 22 different languages (the number of scheduled languages in our constitution). I recently read an article which enlisted how being the second-largest number of English speakers in the world was something we should be proud of. I am all for the enculturation of the language by us, Indians. Call me an idealist, but as a 19-year-old, my only concern is regarding our inability to over-come the idea that our country’s identification in today’s world must lie beyond the fact that we house the world’s second largest number of English speakers. Blame our rising population for such statistics, if you wish to. But, our identity (and identification) is a celebration of the multitude of languages that have originated from our land and the richness and glory of their infusion into not only English, albeit gradually, but also within one another.
If “Kolaveri Di” could be used by my classmates in Delhi, and “Kanjoos” become a staple word in my conversations with my grandfather in Bangalore, and the amusement on my friends’ faces when I tell them how I know of people who can speak in up to 5 different Indian languages (my grandfather for instance – who also quotes Milton and Rousseau at the drop of a hat), I ask you, is this not what we should be proud of? Is celebration of our linguistic diversity too much to ask for? Are we “scared of being left behind” if we did not become the world’s largest English speaking country? Or are we so incapable of national unity in the absence of a language that was imposed upon us by men who could not have wished for greater misfortune? At a time when “the local” is hailed, is it not necessary that we protect what is ours before it gets too late?
The though of that (apocalyptic) day when, decades hence, Sanskrit or Maithili would have become officially extinct (in cities at least; for, the rural heart land may be the harbinger of the language protecting it from vanquishing off the earth’s surface) and Hindi, a passing phrase in Bollywood films, gives shudders, isn’t it? In place of this, wouldn’t acknowledging and celebrating the plurality of mother tongues be a more pleasing vision of the future?