I sparred with a friend today on WhatsApp. We have known each other for six years now and have been pretty close at different points in time. She’s from Delhi and I’m a Bangalorean. We have always pulled each other’s leg on the cultural differences and even abused each other’s culture and languages, all in the name of fun. Yet, we have always shared and gained a lot of knowledge about each other’s region.

Today was different. For some reason, the jokes crossed the line. At one point, it was as if our linguistic differences were building into a wall. Did it end well? Not sure. I have assured that language wouldn’t come between us, but have also supported my own leaning towards the idea of being a Roman in Rome, to learn the language of the land.

These are different and difficult times. The sentiments around language are rising. Karnataka is seeing a sort of linguistic social movement. There’s still time before it turns I to a full-fledged movement, but it’s brimming. Neutrals like me are being pushed to take a stand on the issue because of unwanted imposition of languages. In the age of social media, people are becoming more and more aware of such problems that existed always, but went unnoticed. 

“I have always distanced myself from these things. I don’t believe in cities, states, languages etc” my friend said. I respect her views. I don’t believe in discriminating people based on their language, religion and cultur. Caste based discrimination is one of the worst problems India faces to this day. Yet, I believe every caste, every religion, region, language and culture has the right to preserve their forms and fight a foreign imposition even if the term foreign here doesn’t mean that belonging to a different nation. Remember Unity in Diversity? I already talked about it here.

So is it a crime to love one’s own language? Certainly not. We should ensure that languages survive and are propagated down to future generations because languages are more than just means of communication. They hold vast amount of indigenous knowledge and wisdom, they define cultures, they add flavour to people. A ghazal in English or Kannada is not the same as a ghazal in Urdu. A bhavageethe isn’t the same in Urdu as it is in Kannada. When a language is under systematic attack, it’s important to protect it. And to propagate it in a non-violent manner. Even if the cause leads to a wall between two people. It’s my right and duty to ensure my language stays alive when my grandson and his granddaughter are in college.

My mother’s mother was a Marathi. My father’s mother’s mother was also a Marathi. But the dialect they spoke was significantly different from that of the common Marathi speakers and since the family had long migrated to Karnataka. Although we talk about mother tongue, it’s the patriarchal language that propagates in our societies. We transformed into Kannadigas in a matter of a century. Today, even though I am interested in learning that dialect, there’s no one to teach me.

Kannada culture itself is cosmopolitan in the sense that some of the biggest contributors to the language have been non-native speakers. From Nisar Ahmed to Masti Venkatesh Iyengar. It signifies how these migrant populations learnt the language and assimilated with the Kannada culture. So why is it difficult for a Delhiite or a Bengali to even make basic efforts to learn the language. The answer is : mindset.

Learning languages (or not learning) is a mindset problem. People with one mindset make efforts to learn it. Those with the other mindset don’t. And then there’s the superiority complex, elitism and entitlement exhibited by many Hindi speakers who’d want to have things their way and get the job done in their own language.

Speaking of mindsets, I have just befriended a stranger. We have only exchanged three emails. He’s an American who had expressed difficulty in picking up Hindi. I put across the idea of learning Hindi through textual conversations and that’s how the email chains triggered. Now, I’m helping him fine tune his Hindi – a language whose imposition I’m fighting in my own city.

That’s the irony of being Indian. Unity in Diversity indeed.