Message from the Emirates: Modernize Kannada or Die

Faisal al Yafai writes on Al Arabia how the Arabic language needs to become "cool" in order to survive, and not just remain the language of "angels" or the language of lovers' whispers:
Arabic – brace yourselves people of the Arab world – is not considered cool.

To know why we have to look away from Arabic speakers to those who aspire to learn it. Students of Arabic approach it mainly for professional reasons: for academic purposes, for political or literary understanding. That is not the case with English – all across Asia and Africa, across Europe and Russia people are mouthing along to episodes of Friends or singing lyrics from the latest pop hit. As popular as Nancy Ajram and Amr Diab are, there are not many non-Arabic speakers itching to understand their words.

Perhaps that is not surprising, given the pedigree of the language. Arabic carries the weight of faith, a weight it will never lose. It is the language of the Quran and, in the language of the inexpressible, it is hard to express simple, even base, emotions. Arabic sometimes seems like a language destined to be sung by angels or whispered by lovers, not to be the language of the boisterous street.
There are important lessons for Kannadigas here, especially for the kind that thinks that the FM stations mushrooming all around Karnataka are doing disservice to Kannada because of saying "sakkat hot maga" instead of "atishayavaagi shaakhajanakavaagide putrane". This very kind of Kannadiga would rather play down on even "tumba bisi maga" which in reality is no less "cool" than "sakkat hot maga".

On the contrary, it's the FM stations which are keeping Kannada alive in the popularity-vacuum created by heavily Sanskritized Kannada literature which the common man had rather not touch. Old-school writers resorting to Sanskrit words at every opportunity are the ones who are diminishing the usage of our language, not the likes of Urban Lads who are doing great service by modernizing Kannada (either with or without the intention of service) - much to the agony of English-haters.

With Kannada, the problem is not that it lacks the faculties to express "simple, even base, emotions". In fact, it's already the language of the boisterous street. The problem with Kannada is that all these advantages are themselves considered base for not being Sanskritized enough. Languages - if left to themselves - evolve taking in the best aspects of all languages within their reach, like how Kannada is now taking the best aspects from English ("sakkat hot maga" and "table mele idu" are Kannada phraes which lend longevity to Kannada).

It's only when the worshippers of anything old enter the scene that evolution is stifled. And they never get the point that letting Kannada be what it wants to be is not hate of Sanskrit. Even less so is it the hate of spirituality - of which the Sanskrit language has an abundance of, and which Kannadigas can imbibe through Kannada translations. So, while the spirituality in Sanskrit is welcome, the unscientific feeling that Kannada is best when it starts resembling Sanskrit - or that Kannada is best when it's strictly limited to existing old-school poetry and literature - is unwelcome.

Developments such as the Urban Lads, contemporary Kannada film music & our Kannada FM stations are a celebration of Kannada, of democracy, of the future, of liberty, of vibrancy, of youth, and yes, of life.

The RSS needs to "learn with the times", or else India will.

We hear that the RSS chief K. S. Sudarshan went to Pune and...
lamented the continued domination of English in free India and asked parents to insist on the children's education in mother tongue while promoting Hindi as a link language.

The Macaulay-led imposition of education system during the British India was still in vogue to the detriment of Indian languages, strengthening the misconception that the path of progress lay in pursuit of English, he told a gathering of 'Swayamsevaks' here on Sunday night.

"One can learn English just as any other foreign language. But do not harbour the notion that progress of nations depends only on knowledge of English."

Countries like France, Japan, Italy, Spain and Germany were some of the most advanced in the world without dependence on English, he pointed out.
We'll come to the issue of Hindi later; let's start with English.

Anti-English feelings stem from inability to elevate Indian langauges

It's outright ridiculous that a so-called think-tank still takes refuge in pre-independence arguments about English, as if to advertise the fact that the thinking in the tank has stagnated for at least 60 years now.

The problem with Mr. Sudarshan's message about English is that it still remains anti-English. First of all, it's an irony of fate that the RSS - an organization which was supposedly born with the intention of uniting India under a positive agenda (as opposed to the negative agenda of being anti-English) is today continuing to call English names in order to unite India!

Really, there's no need to rake up anti-English feelings in order to make Indians feel proud about their own language, especially when day-to-day experience tells them that anti-English is really anti-bread. What needs to be shown - if at all the RSS has what it takes to show it - is that Indian languages can overtake English in its ability to provide a good life to Indians.

Both Indians who love their mother-tongues as well as those who don't have a choice are fed up with the long lectures on the beauty of their own languages, the culture embedded therein and stuff like that. Indians need a good material life.

Can Indian languages provide that? Yes, of course. Does the RSS have the stuff to make our languages actually provide a good material life? We don't think so, and one of the reasons why we don't think so is Mr. Sudarshan's hypocritical anti-English message which betrays the RSS's inability to elevate Indian languages to the status of bread-winning ones. Mr. Sudarshan's lament displays that inability, too. It's only the incapable that lament. The capable just work.

Hindi destroys inter-state relationships

In saying that Hindi needs to be used as a link-language in India, Mr. Sudarshan again displays RSS's pet pre-independence anti-English feeling. There's really no other reason why English should not be the chosen link language in India, if at all one were to agree that a single link-language is necessary (Europe is a glaring example against this thinking).

All the RSS-talk of the need to prefer an "Indian language" to be the link language has resulted in dividing India more than integrating, and creating a holier-than-thou feeling in Hindi speakers which has ruined the relationship between Hindis and non-Hindis in India. It has left non-Hindis as second-class citizens in their own states - just like it was in the days of the British whom we now see Mr. Sudarshan hate so much! If it has helped anyone feel like first-class citizens in India, it's the Hindis. None else.

The very move to establish a Hindi presence outside the few Hindi-speaking states of India was a mistake. The problem with the RSS's adherence to the Hindi idea is that it fails to fathom the Idea of India, and ends up degrading the spiritual unity of India to a few symbols which too are unacceptable to most of India. The RSS fails to realize that India's spiritual unity is destroyed by moves which try to impose false this-wordly unities such as a move to promote Hindi.

There's nothing more "Indian" about Hindi than there is about Kannada. There is no reason why Kannadigas should use Hindi as a link language when talking to Marathis (we should use either Kannada or Marathi instead).

The very idea of filling stress-lines between the different linguistic states of India with a third language - Hindi - has destroyed the natural tendency of the people from those states to learn each others' languages and give due respect to each others' languages. Instead, neighbouring states have now nearly started hating each other's language and culture. And the imposition of Hindi hasn't done anything to help that or help develop a "more Indian" outlook. It has only destroyed it further.

One only hopes that the RSS can really demonstrate its learning skills; for otherwise India will - by losing hope in the RSS.

Mukhyamantri can't. Only Mukhyamantri can.

While we appreciate the stern reply given by Mukhyamantri Yeddyurappa to Lalu Prasad Yadav in the bullet-train episode, he has fallen short of walking the "Kannada implementation year" talk.

One cannot but pity the second and perennial Mukhyamantri of Karnataka - Chandru - for being powerless in checking the real Mukhyamantri's failure in getting any real Kannada implementation done (after all the fanfare). Here's a fresh non-compliance report of Yeddyurappa:

Kannada Development Authority (KDA) chairman Mukhyamantri Chandru, has demanded action against officials of BBMP for not printing SAS applications and brochures in Kannada. “I will give six days time to the government. If action is not initiated against erring officials, I will decide my future course of action," he said.
The problem is, of course, all the talk of "future course of action" is just rhetoric; nothing will happen in the next six days, and there isn't any action of any considerable magnitude that Mukhyamantri Chandru can take unless there's a serious revision of the powers of the KDA. And the responsibility for such a revision rests on the real Mukhyamantri, not his namesake.

We believe Mukhyamantri has done his job. Now will Mukhyamantri show that he's the kind that walks the talk?

Train, train, go away! Come again another way!

Chief Minister Dr. B. S. Yeddyurappa has put a bold foot forward in pushing back Central Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's Chennai-Bengaluru bullet-train project proposal:
Chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, in a letter to Lalu on Tuesday, said his government will participate in the project only if the Chennai-Bangalore High Speed Rail Link is extended to Mumbai via Hubli, with an additional link to Mysore.
Consider this, and you'll have reason to believe Karnataka is coming of age on the Indian political scene - largely due to the efforts of Kannadiga organizations such as Mr. T. A. Narayana Gowda's Karnataka Rakshana Vedike:

“If our suggestions are not taken into consideration, it would be difficult for Karnataka to support the projects envisaged by the Railways.’’
And the reasons quoted are in line with facts, too:

“Such projects will help only the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala come to Bangalore and not the people of Karnataka”
To be fair to Lalu, there's no reason why Kannadigas should not use the same trains to go to Chennai, settle there, form Kannadiga colonies, hoist Kannada flags, urge Tamils to talk in Kannada and slowly contest municipal / state elections. But the problem is - and this is a fact - that kind of cultural invasion is not present in Kannadiga blood. Hence the need to be protective is all the more important, and Yeddyurappa is to be congratulated for his stern reply here.

Now, is the lack of this or that in Kannadiga blood Lalu's problem? Of course, it ought to be. Being a central minister, Lalu ought to make sure that the bridges built between the participating states in the Indian Union don't cause cultural invasions - such as what his own state indulges in. It's only then that a central minister becomes truly centred.

URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE U.K. - 'Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad'

Hold on. We're not getting delirious. Nor is that a core-dump from a dysfunctional computer program. That's Welsh, and it means "Wales! Wales! O but my heart is with you!" - lines from the Welsh National Anthem. In case you didn't know, it's one of the languages of the United Kingdom - better known as England. And you thought the whole of UK speaks English and nothing else? Come on, it's time to shake yourself up and take stock of the amazing linguistic diversity of the world! It's time to recognize efforts all over the world to maintain the linguistic diversity of the planet.

Wales, which is a nation within the UK, is slowly but surely realizing the importance of promoting the use of it's own language - the Welsh langauge - in day-to-day usage as well as in education. Surprisingly, though, the Welsh language is more famous among children than among older people. Writes Jennifer Woods in the Gair Rhydd:

In fact, the highest percentage of Welsh speakers were found to be among children, with 40.8% of children aged five to fifteen being fluent in Welsh. Surely if such a large majority of children speak the language, this makes it far from out of date?

If you ask me, the main problem surrounding Welsh is that not enough of the older generation speak it.
The message from the UK is loud and clear: We won't let Welsh down.

Here are some questions for you to ponder over: Why is the language of the land more popular among children than among elders in Wales? Why do we see the seeds of an opposite trend in Karnataka? What are the long-term implications of our children being led away from Kannada while linguistic peoples across the entire world are realizing the importance of their own languages?

You get an award in Tel Aviv too, but it's somewhat different

Kannada Prabha editor H R Ranganath had the following lament to share with the audience at a function organized in Bengaluru by the Kannada Abhivruddhi Pradhikaara to award good Kannada medium students:
...the status of Kannada language is such that we have to give awards to Kannada students to encourage them to study Kannada.
The question that immediately comes to mind is, of course - has it ever been any different with any other language? Don't the Israelis give Israeli children awards to encourage them to study Hebrew? Don't the Japanese give their children awards to encourage them to study Japanese? Don't the Germans give their children awards to encourage them to study German? Everybody does the same thing.

But the awards are somewhat different. Well...let's see...hmm.....in those countries, the awards aren't trivial sums of money from the goverment, but the award of a better quality of life! Parents the world over send their children to study in their own languages because there's an award waiting for their children - an award in the form of a good career in a competitive environment.

We need the Kannadiga mind to go through two paradigm shifts before we can give children in Bengaluru the awards which are given out in Tel Aviv.

Firstly, we need to recognize that Kannada won't survive in the absence of the award of a better quality of life for using it. The 15,000 rupees are welcome, thanks, but that just won't count as a real award. We need something which can promise say Rs. 1,50,000 to every Kannadiga of employable age every month. We need to revamp our Kannada-medium systems to get there. We're not even close to it right now. Some think English education and employment systems will get us there, but that's stupidity. Naïveté.

Secondly, we need to recognize that a better quality of life can never become a reality if Kannada is sidelined in education and employment. In recognizing this second point, many have fallen short of themselves since they explicitly assume that English is the passport to a better life for all Kannadigas, not Kannada. Wrong. Terribly wrong here in Karnataka.

While most people understand the first point, many of them do so only in a fatalistic sense since they don't see the second point. Kannadigas have started seeing the merit in the second point only now because of exposure to different cultures around the world which are using their languages in linguistic registers which we've traditionally thought were reserved for English alone.

Are you one of them? Get in touch with us. We're on a roller-coaster ride, and we need company.

Also read on KARNATIQUE: (1) Why the Koreans and Israelis are Twenty Times More Productive, (2) What the Medium-of-Instruction Ruckus Betrays, (3) Karnataka's "linguistic inferiority complex" must go

Chitte, n: a butterfly from Karnataka which doesn't want to fly

The Hindu reports efforts of a "group of Bengaluru youngsters" to promote Kannada greeting cards brandnamed Chitte (Butterfly). Says Mr. Kiran, one of the members of "the group":
“We found that most greeting cards were available mainly in English, while cards that were in Kannada, did not cater to all occasions. Hence, we formed this group with the help of contributors”
These guys have all the right things in mind - ranging from popularizing greeting cards in Kannada to keeping the greeting card tradition alive.

But we believe that this group will soon run out of steam. Why? Not because the guys are not capable. And definitely not because there's no market for these cards. But because they just refuse to look at this as a profitable business:

Mr. Kiran said the intention was not to make profit, but to popularise the concept of Kannada greeting cards.
Unprofitable enterprises don't last long. Why do Kannadigas (wrongly) think Kannadigas won't buy anything Kannada other than novels and poems? Why do we still have the thinking that there's something unethical about business itself? Why do we still feel that a good intention cannot be pursued by its promoter if there's monetary gain? Kannadigas seem to have missed the first principle of Business: Business is the noble profession of monetizing noble intentions.

While it's obviously not wrong for Chitte to give English credit card companies like Archie's a run for their money, the problem is that the Chitte doesn't want to fly at all! How can Archies not win in the end?

What have the Lithuanians got that we ain't got?

In the last month or so, democratically elected governments of two linguistic peoples from two different corners of the world have ruled that their respective languages shall not be neglected on signs and display boards in their own lands. The first people are the Lithuanians, the people of Lithuania in Europe who are a trivial 3.35 million in number:
A Lithuanian court ordered the removal of street signs not written in Lithuanian, dealing a blow to minority rights campaigners in Polish- and Russian-speaking areas around the capital. The ruling capped a yearlong legal battle rooted in a far older debate. Swaths of the Lithuania, including the capital, Vilnius, were Polish until World War II. When Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, Russian was the dominant language in public life. After independence in 1990, Lithuanian was reinstated as the official language, creating tensions in areas where the majority speaks Russian or Polish. Local authorities have one month to remove the offending signs.
Second - are the Kannadigas of whom there are 55 million to count (nearly 16 times the number of Lithuanians!). Reports the Indian Express:

Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had announced last month that all shops and offices which don’t display their nameboards and other signboards in Kannada will invite a penalty of Rs 10,000. This move was also recommended by the Kannada Development Authority (KDA).
Whether it's Lithuania or Karnataka, and whether it's removal of non-Lithuanian signs or a fine for not displaying Kannada signs, this is an expression of the world's need to maintain its linguistic diversity. It's a different matter that the Kannadiga expression pales in comparison to the Lithuanian as an expression of authority: removal is stronger than a petty fine; the Lithuanian expression carries a stronger will than the Kannadiga expression.

However, while the international media looks at the Lithuanian case as an expression of its freedom and need to maintain its identity, the Kannadiga case is simply overlooked by it likely because of the prevalent feeling that all of India "must be speaking Hindi". That's the story of Hindi Imposition, and we don't want to get into that method of linguistic oppression in this article. Or perhaps it's the general neglect of anything Indian or whatever.

The point we'd like to make is that the English media houses in India - even ones operating in Karnataka itself - look at the move by the government at as something anti-development, anti-business and anti-India. Here's an example from the Indian Express which talks of the Government in the following light words:

Owners of shops and offices, those of you who are still not displaying their names and signboards in Kannada, beware. Because it is not just the activists who are out to get you, even the state government is not on your side.
We humbly ask: why are we like this? Why do we talk of a legislation which protects our own language as something that's "out to get us"? Why do we expect our own government to be on the side of those who display disrespect and neglect towards our own language?

Will Kannada Computing Always Remain Virtual?

Here's news on more software localization. Microsoft is now coming up with virtual keyboards and language interface packs in lots of Indian languages, including Kannada:

The company's research team is building a set of language interface packs which will be available in about two months to help users type text via a virtual keyboard in Indian languages including Kannada, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Gurumukhi, Hindi, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil and Telugu. A total of 45 additional soft (virtual) keyboards, which are freely downloadable from the Microsoft website are being fine-tuned for launch.
Well - we wonder how long we can survive with virtual keyboards. Don't people need real keyboards which have Kannada keys? We've seen people stick stickers of Kannada letters on keyboards, and some manufacturers (notably TVSE) also have physical Kannada keyboards. But when will these really take off in a big way?

What's that killer-app which can bring physical Kannada keyboards to the limelight? Where is Kannada computing going? Will Kannada Computing remain just a hobby for software enthusiasts with a weak corner in their hearts for Kannada? When will Kannada Computing revolutionize Karnataka at large? What's missing today because of which Kannada Computing seems to be only virtual? What's missing today because of which Kannada Computing is just limited to Desk Top Publishing?

Also read:
Microsoft and Yahoo go Glocal

India's non-central non-government

R Jagannathan of the DNA argues that the Indian Constitution needs some serious re-sculpting in order to rectify the "inverted pyramid of power" which gives the states so little power that some of them resort to dirty tactics at the Centre in order to lay their hands on power, thereby rendering the the Central Government neither central nor government:
Thus we have a Lalu Prasad running the railways to impress voters in Bihar; we have a telecom ministry that is run from Chennai.
Jagannathan proposes "serious constitutional amendments" in order to "end this charade" and have state-level leaders "be happy running states rather than using central ministries to run local agendas":

[...] sooner or later we have to build a truly federal India. We are currently a union of states rather than a real federation, and this is simply unworkable. While political power has devolved to the states, economic power is at the centre. To send state politicians back to the states and keep central politics central, economic power has to be substantially devolved. There is no alternative to serious constitutional amendments for the same.
He echoes the thoughts of BANAVASI BALAGA on how to run India, and how power must be divided between the Centre and states:

First, we need to invert the economic pyramid by making states the primary entities of taxation and economic policy. All taxation, barring customs, should be state-led, and the finance commissions should decide what share of state revenues should go to the centre and not the other way around. The centre should control defence, currency and monetary affairs, communications, citizenship and national assets (highways, waterways, etc). The states would thus run their own economies, much like the countries of the European Union.
Jagannathan goes on to argue that article 356 of the constitution (which allows the central government to sack state governments) can be "safely abolished", and that the states must be empowered to sack the central government. Article 370 (which grants special status to J&K) can also be safely abolished according to Jagannathan, since all states would have powers over and above what this article grants J&K today.

It is heartening to see mainstream media come out of the rut and make attempts to understand the problems ailing India from a fresh and scientific point of view. The question which now needs to be asked is - how do we make sure that these most sensible thoughts echo in the parliament at Delhi ...errrr.... the Vidhana Soudha at Bengaluru?

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