What's in a Language?

Namma Metro's official logo
(Courtesy: www.abrandnewstory.com)
There is a dialogue in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1975 masterpiece ‘Chupke Chupke’ where the cosmopolitan professor Parimal masquerading as the puritan Hindi-speaking driver Pyaremohan (played effortlessly by Dharmendra) tells Haripad bhaiya (played by the lovable David) that he feels bad that he is poking fun of a language, and that too his mother tongue (in this case, Hindi). Haripad bhaiya replies with a masterstroke of a line “ Bhasha apneaap me itni mahaan hoti hai ke uske mazaak kia hi nahi jaa sakta (a language by itself is so great that it cannot be made fun of)”

One would think that 40 years later, language wouldn’t be a problem in India, and everybody would learn to accept and respect the other’s language, but sadly, that isn’t the case. While on the one side we have reached Mars and boast of having one of the world’s fastest growing economy, but on the other we have constant infighting on issues like food & language. Beef is food for some people, and Kannada is the mother tongue of a million people, whereas India is home to a billion.

Bangalore as a city can be best described as an overgrown village, even without the traffic woes & frothy lakes. Pavements disintegrate into their constituent blocks midway on main roads, roads are plagued with potholes, traffic lights & zebra crossings go missing at intersections and tall apartment blocks clumsily spring up in the middle of modest independent houses. The one thing going for us in this city other than its trees, is the Metro, as it cuts on both money & time spent yawning while being stuck in traffic. Travelling from Malleswaram to Jayanagar had reduced to a mere 15 minutes, as compared to the 40-minute gruelling car ride. Three days into the inauguration of the Green line (which took six years to come into fruition), the metro was filled with more office-goers than joyriders, and Namma Metro was piled with accolades. But over the past few days, the issue that seems to be plaguing some commuters is not the surprising absence of escalators towards the platform at certain stations, but the multilingual signboards. There have been news reports on people blacking out Hindi/ non-Kannada signs on not only metro boards, but display boards of shops as well . There was also a video of people from the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike organisation questioning the manager of a retail store regarding the choice of the music playing in the shop. Apparently they had heard nobody speak in Kannada & no Kannada film songs playing.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t understand what the issue is. I never understood it when it happened in Mumbai, and I don’t understand it now. Apparently these people think that by not promoting Kannada, the language will go extinct. A basic Google search reveals that the population of the entire state of Karnataka is about 64 million and the population of Bangalore is 1/8th of that. The population of Kannada-speaking families outside the county is not known. Even if one makes the insane assumption that nobody speaks Kannada in Bangalore, there is no way that the language will go extinct. I also don’t understand how putting Hindi signages along with Kannada is the ‘imposition’ of the former language. In fact I refuse to understand how this, with its numerous hashtags, is a matter that requires discussion, especially when we have other topics to discuss about. Like how Delhi Metro managed to map nearly the entire city, ploughing through NCR within 8 years whereas Bangalore Metro took 7 years to merely connect the north to south and east to west, all the while leaving the airport & the main IT hubs disconnected. Or like how it takes an excruciating 45 minutes to travel 7 kms. Or like how it is a pain to walk on the roads in the city, unless one stays around Cubbon Park or Lalbagh. Or like how garbage lies at every corner of every lane in the city. Language and food are a part of our culture, and should be cherished & respected, but never enforced or imposed. It would do us all good to change our perceptions and focus on the issues that really matter instead of fighting over our languages and banning our food.


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