Monday, September 1, 2008

Revival of a language

धिस इझ व्हौट मच ऑफ बॉम्बे लुक्स लाईक दीज़ डेज़ऑल शॉप्स हैव गौट मराठी साईन्ज़वन फील्ज़ हैप्पी दैट लैंग्वेज इज बीन्ग प्रिज़र्व्ड! फ्रॉम "बेचलर्स" आईसक्रीम टू "गैस सिलीन्डर्ज़", "टैक्स्टाइल्ज़" एंड अफ कोर्स "फास्ट फ़ूड", ऑल धीज़ आर नाओ क्लिअर्ली एक्सप्रेस्ड इन लोकल लैंग्वेज - विच इज फाइनली बीन्ग रिस्टोर्ड टू इट्स फौर्मर ग्रेट्नैस.

वी मस्ट गिव आर पौलीटिशन्स क्रेडिट फॉर दिस अचीवमेंट!

P.S. I regret not being able to express this posting in a form accessible to Devanagari-challenged readers, and hope they will forgive me this one time!


DJain said...

Devanagari text when read sounds like:
["This is what much of Bombay looks like these days. All the shops have got Marathi signs. One feels happy that the language is being preserved! From "BACHELORS" icecream to "GAS CYLINDERS", "TEXTILES" and of course "FAST FOOD", all these are now clearly expressed in the local language - which is finally being restored to its former greatness.

We must give our politicians credit for this achievement!"]

Sorry Prof. Mukhi, couldnot bear the plight of Devanagari-challenged readers... Hope you forgive me this one time!

Rahul Basu said...

So what's new. All signs in Chennai are in English and Tamil (English words in Tamil script including 'McDonalds'!!!).

Get real, man! Mumbai has no monopoly on chauvinism.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Rahul: Perhaps you missed my point. I have no objection to signs being in Marathi and English, or only Marathi. My point was that the signs currently sprouting over here are not in Marathi, nor translated into Marathi, but merely written in the Devanagari script (just like my posting to which you are responding). That is not at all the same thing. And by the way while Marathi is over 13 centuries old, the Devanagari script was imported into it (from North India, no less!) only in 1950 according to Wikipedia.

The political party/parties who forced "Marathi" onto signboards by violence take their nourishment from middle-class Maharashtrian voters and it is these people who should be more concerned than me about the stuff that is now being passed off as their language.

The end product of the current political movement will be Devanagari signs that are just absurd and incomprehensible to anyone who's not fluent in English (yesterday I saw a sign that said "Xxx Broking, Truly Personalised" in Devanagari!). This is the expected result from a movement that is misconceived and fascist in nature.

A genuine movement for important things to be accessible in Marathi (e.g. be able to get admission for your children in any school by filling in a Marathi form, or being able to get the police to take your complaint seriously if you only speak Marathi) would be a totally different and highly desirable thing, but that's beyond the scope of our current leaders I'm afraid. Sadly most Maharashtrians appear to be content with the present setup.

The French (my current heroes) actually have a committee that decides where and how and how much the language needs to be used, and while their recommendations are occasionally oppressive and annoying, they at least address the role of the language and give it due respect. In contrast here it is the sheer tokenism and lack of concern about language (or even understanding of what is a language) that gets me.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Mukhi: I cannot but agree with all of your reply to Rahul Basu's comment. However, don't you think that the local language be made compulsory is schools (one of the points being advocated by the political party in context and of course not by resorting to violence) ? In this manner people who live in the city and benefit from it will learn about the local language and culture. Whether people decide to speak in it or not should be entirely left to an individual's discretion.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Colonel West: I agree with you totally.

However I must point out that teaching a language in school appears to have two different meanings at least in India. One, which we would all support I'm sure, is that a teacher interacts with students and imparts to them basic conversational skills, a feeling for the grammar, and some knowledge of the history and geography of the region where the language grew up.

The other meaning of "teaching a language" - which was followed in my otherwise very good school, where I was supposedly "taught" Marathi till the age of 14 - is that we memorise a dull textbook and spit out the contents on demand. I can still repeat the book's essay on "Fulapakhru" (butterfly) but was never trained to converse in the language. As for the glorious history of Maharashtra including saints like Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram, activists like Tilak and Jyotiba Phule, musicians like Kumar Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi - this was all totally absent from our Marathi classes.

In short, when making local-language teaching compulsory in schools, the emphasis should not be merely on "compulsory" but also on "teaching".

Ajit said...

Hi Sunil, agree entirely with your sentiment that the language issue be seen as a means to empower the powerless and not in terms of the cultural chauvinism it has come to represent.

BTW Wikipedia is wrong in claiming 1950 as being the year of Marathi being written in Devnagari. In older times the 'Modi' script (which is itself related to Devnagari) was in use but was abandoned a long time ago thanks to the Brits.

Shanth said...

This seems like a surreal take on Balraj Sahni's idea of Romanising Hindi :)

However, hilarity aside, this does not surprise me much. The revival of the Marathi language, and is being carried out along the lines of the Sangh's revival of ancient Indian glory. Not for them a nuanced understanding of actual glorious achievements in science and the great literature of our past. The limit of their intellectual capabilities is reached within Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan which is why they need to protest against AK Ramanujan's essay being included in a JNU course on ancient India.

Only when we, the people of India, educate ourselves about what is our heritage and our history, can we stop populist "leaders" from hijacking it.