Tongue Twisters

The UPA, over the last 10 years it was in the saddle, made a complete mess of almost everything it touched. And now that the Modi government is in, it has wisely and correctly read the mandate it has got to be one for avoiding the problems that the previously dispensation created, and hence is steadfastly working towards creating totally new controversies.

Cue: The language row.

The Home Ministry’s official language department has apparently issued a note asking all ministries and departments, public sector undertakings and banks to give prominence to Hindi on official accounts in social media. But before you people get alarmed that this is a move to ram down Hindi down our throats, the sobering fact could be that the circular (to push Hindi) itself had to be in English for a large section of the Central government staff to decipher its meaning. Also, in the long run, the government would realise that it is actually easier to make the general people learn Hindi (through whatever means) than it is to make its own babus understand social media. Twitter and Facebook, in general, lend themselves to the working style of Indian bureaucracy as much as a pair of Kolhapuris do to the mobility of a boa constrictor.

Of course, India, with so many people and so many tongues, cannot be a stranger to language controversies. The creative minds behind the Indian Constitution were acutely aware of this reality and that is why right from the start they probably guaranteed to write the whole manual in such a manner that defeats the very purpose of language and make it practically incomprehensible to everyone alike. Seriously, for long it was believed that Hindi was the national language of this country. But only recently it has come to light that Hindi is just one of the official languages. That means the statute book is either impenetrable or nobody reads it.

The Eighth Schedule of Indian Constitution has a list of languages that can be used for official purposes, and one of them is Nepali. If you think allowing a language that is not India’s for official use is a bit bizarre, then wait for this: English is actually not included in Eighth Schedule as it is — this is an inspired discovery — a foreign language. But, of course, the Constitution itself resolved, right at the start, that English will be used for important official purposes such as parliamentary proceedings, judiciary, communications between the Central Government and a State Government. Reading both in conjunction, the simple conclusion we can arrive at is: Constitution could be violatory of the Constitution.

Anyway, the beauty of India is that it may be a country of hundreds of languages, each so varied and unique, but it is still united by people who more or less believe that those speaking a language other than theirs are complete morons.

That is how passionate many of us are about our language. And that is why when persons from another State take effort to learn our language and speak it, most of us are able to spontaneously warm up to them by making complete fun of their accent. Whether Hindi is the national language or not is debatable. But what is beyond argument is ridiculing accents has to be our national pastime. Just see our films: A character from another State or one that speaks another language is more often than not a crude caricature.

Closer home, in Tamil Nadu, which is home to probably the oldest language in the world, the matter of big pride among Tamils is — a parenthesis has been brought up here to milk the moment before getting to the purported joke — we speak better English than those from other parts of the country.

It is no surprise that the biggest backlash to the Home Ministry’s Hindi move has come from Tamil Nadu. For this State has seen spirited anti-Hindi agitations in the late 60s and early 70s, exactly the time when Bobby out ran almost Tamil films to be the biggest grosser, clearly proving that Tamils always get their perspective right: Bobby may have been in Hindi, but the more important point was Dimple Kapadia was in miniskirts.

Anyway, all those harried over Hindi taking roots here in Chennai, the simple message is, worry not. We have a big weapon stationed quite close to the Hindi Prachar Sabha. Just two buildings next to it is— wait for it — T Rajendhar’s house.

Needless to say, nobody can ‘suppress and oppress and depress the views of a Tamilian’.