The beauty of India is that it may be a country of hundreds of languages, each so varied and unique, but it still is united by people who more or less believe that those speaking a language other than theirs are complete morons.
This is why we repeatedly have language controversies. The recent one is over the attempted imposition of Hindi by Central government agencies through various means. This immediately took me back to Tamil Nadu’s tumultuous days of anti-Hindi protests in the late 60s, a period of time I distinctly remember as one that I was not born in.
But I have read a fair bit about those student agitations, about how youngsters, cutting across every other divide, joined forces, and in a collective show of protest against Hindi imposition, stopped attending classes and ended up seeing Aradhana, which is how that film became a hit even in these parts. In the early 70s, too, they turned up in good numbers to watch Bobby, thereby proving to the world that Tamilians never hold grudges and can rise above language barriers if it meant watching a young Dimple Kapadia in bikini.
Okay, jokes apart, the anti-Hindi stir had a lot of moral force and, importantly, it stopped the then government of the day on its tracks from forcefully thrusting Hindi down our collective throats. It is not as if Tamilians hate Hindi. Many of us, who have come through the CBSE stream, have learned Hindi formally at school, because of which we, of course, hate Hindi.
But there are also those who have enrolled themselves in institutes like Hindi Prachar Sabha to learn the language. How do you explain these individuals? Why did they go out of the way to learn Hindi? Where did their inspiration come from? What was their driving force? Exactly, they all had extremely beautiful North Indian neighbour girls to impress.
These people who came through the Hindi Prachar Sabha system, however, became from being people who were the butt of jokes for not knowing Hindi — this is the beauty of learning a new language — to being the people who are the butt of jokes for their poor pronunciation of Hindi words. The thing is, no matter what, North Indians will ridicule us, which is surprising because it is something never do. By that I mean as Tamils we never make fun of Tamils. We, of course, target Northies no less.
And then there is a huge cross-section of people here who got acquainted with Hindi thanks to the Doordarshan of the 80s, which — many youngsters of this generation may not know — was a hugely popular television channel that was basically a radio station available over picture tube.
In those days, there was Chennai Doordarshan that beamed Tamil programmes. Then there was Delhi Doordarshan that put out stuff in verbal italics. Those of us away from Chennai, never got to see the feed from Chennai Doordarshan. We had to make do with things that Delhi DD aired. As youngsters, we were curious to know what kind of technology was at the disposal of DD that allowed it to beam stuff from Delhi to Madurai but couldn’t Chennai to Madurai.
Anyway, while people in Chennai were wasting their time watching Vayalum Vazhvum, we in the districts were enriched by Krishi Darshan. After watching Krishi Darshan for a few minutes, many of us youngsters felt calculus lessons to be more entertaining and switched over to them. That is why we were able to crack the engineering exams. When the history of 80s-90s engineering college boom and the IT sector explosion in TN is written, the role of Krishi Darshan has to be given a pride of place.
Overall, India, with so many people and so many tongues, cannot avoid language controversies. The sensible minds behind the Indian Constitution were aware of this reality and that is probably why right from the start they wrote the whole manual in a manner that rises above linguistic barriers and be practically incomprehensible to everyone alike.
Seriously, for long it was believed that Hindi was the national language of this country. But only in the last few years it has come to light that Hindi is just one of the many official languages. This means the statute book is either impenetrable or nobody reads it. So the need of the hour is to make our laws and every other official material in a language, ahem, that is actually understandable to all.
If the government does so, we Tamils wouldn’t mind saying Dhanyavad. Don’t think I am lying. Why would I? After all, Jhoot Bole Kauva Khate, which we Tamils know to be, well, the first line of that song in Bobby.