Bengaluru’s “Kannad Gothilla” Problem, And What Can Be Done To Resolve It
As more and more people turn away from Kannada in Bengaluru, there is a need to figure out how we can move from “Kannad gothilla” to “Kannada mathanaduva”.
On the sixty-second anniversary of Karnataka Day, perhaps it’s a thought to ponder.
Whenever I greet a fellow ‘Kannadiga’ in Bengaluru, they ask “Niwu Mangaluru navara? (Are you from Mangaluru?)” This is not just because my intonation is different but because there is some Kannada still left in Mangaluru. And this, when Kannada is not my mother tongue, like is the case for most Mangaloreans—Tulu and Konkani are the mother tongues of most people on the coast.
People in Mangaluru still do speak Kannada, unlike where I reside currently, the capital of the state that was formed on this day—Bengaluru, Karnataka.
I miss Kannada. Not because Kannada is dead—it’s not—but Kannadigas don’t seem bothered enough to keep it alive. Especially Bengalureans, who wouldn’t wait to pounce on an “outsider” and threaten him or her if they say, “Kannad gothilla (I don’t know Kannada.)” That phrase is in Kannada, all right, but by saying it, the person is admitting not knowing the language. Worse, they are expressing indifference at not knowing the language.
Bengaluru, The Capital Of Karnataka, Not Kannada
Maybe in the corridors of the Vidhana Soudha and its precincts, where often some self-proclaimed language warriors parade their ‘love’ for Kannada on store signboards, can one find Kannada. Else, Kannada is what was once spoken in this city that used to be called ‘Bangalore’. Yes, I say Bangalore because that was the English-language name of the city. It was ‘Bengaluru’ in Kannada. But now the name, too, is lost in translation—it has turned into “Bang-a-luru”. So much for puritanism.
Like medical and heritage tourism, soon there will probably be language tourism, too, because this city has many such pockets, and the ‘guide’ can take people around Basavanagudi, Malleswaram, and other such parts of what is referred to as ‘Old Bengaluru’, and tell them that once upon a time, those who lived in Bengaluru spoke Kannada. All the proud ‘H loves S’ engravings in Kannada on a monument here or a rock atop Nandi hill there can be seen today as ‘inscriptions’ from a bygone era.
Like we have little left of what made Bengaluru ‘Garden City’, it wouldn’t be long before most of the city spoke English only. The economics of English education has been debated and written about for long. In a large section of the third-generation families living in Bengaluru today, the children converse largely, if not only, in English, and acquiring any other language is seen as a tool to meet ‘lucrative ends’.
Language is not just a skill, it is a tool. It is a key that opens up an entire worldview. Language pride sustains a culture; the lack of it leads to its death. Code mixing is one thing, but when a language like English begins to replace even the basic core vocabulary of a language, it is indicative of a shift—of pride, of loyalties, of emphasis, of the basic understanding of the native language. Every time I say, “Ondu cha/Ondu kaapi” at a darshini (a characteristic local eatery), and plenty of them (only) in “old Bangalore”, the person at the counter shoots back, “One tea na, madam?” And he is talking to me in Kannada, mind you.
I never felt this orphaned linguistically in Mumbai. In fact, I spoke more Kannada in Mumbai than I do in Bengaluru. Maybe it is the bonding-of-natives-in-a-foreign-land syndrome, but then again, it is still assuring. The Department of Kannada and the enthusiasm for courses in Kannada offered by the university always filled me with hope. But the only ones who are overly enthusiastic about learning Kannada in Bengaluru are those at the Parappana Agrahara.
Nearly every local auto driver I encounter in Bengaluru has spoken to me first in Hindi. Not like there is anything wrong with it. It is a question of his livelihood, after all. They speak in Kannada only among themselves at auto stands, with a photograph of Shankar Nag overlooking them.
When I once penned a political party song in Kannada last year, the first thing people asked me was, “So you can write Kannada?”, and answering that in the affirmative with an expression that showed more pain than pride led me to another question: “But did you not go to an English-medium school? How are you able to write in Kannada?” How are the two mutually exclusive, exactly? Knowledge and proficiency in any one language should only enable acquisition of additional ones.
Moreover, languages facilitate daily life. This is a reality that the poor hawker, the auto-rickshaw driver, the carpenter, and all those who may or may not have had any basic education have realised, but not many of those who turned Garden City into Silicon Valley (it’s more a plateau, actually) seem to understand. This is a fact that resulted in languages—the need to communicate, the urge to connect, the desire to know the other and the basic human characteristic of being a ‘social animal’. Unlike animals, which can only speak in that one single ‘language’–a cow can only moo, a bird can only chirp–humans are endowed with the innate capacity to learn and speak in as many languages as they can. But, sadly, not many seem to realise that.
The simplest solution for “Kannada gothilla” is “Kannada mathanaduva (Let us speak Kannada.)” Corporates can encourage employees to acquaint themselves with the local language, like they would expect those going to Japan or France for work to learn Japanese or French; the same effort can be made to learn Kannada. There are enough apps that can help people learn the language, like kannadagothilla.com.
Those who come to this city for education can be encouraged to pick it up as a skill with credit-based certification courses. The Education Department can offer papers along the lines of “communicative English” or “effective English communication” that is part of most graduate courses, and help people pick up basic Kannada. Incentivising the learning of any language will seal the deal, something similar to a tradition in certain public sector banks to learn ‘One Hindi Word A Day’.
If the cafeterias in all the corporate offices put up white boards that display ‘One Kannada Sentence A Day’ and encourage Kannada proficiency competitions and language games, it would be a smooth way of ensuring linguistic acculturation. Imposition results in knowledge, probably, but not learning. And it is imposition that begets opposition. Acculturation doesn’t. And knowing and speaking Kannada would help with not having to bear the burden of the “outsider” tag.
The simplest pleasure would be that the next time you are at a Raghu Dixit concert, you can not just sing aloud the chorus with others but also know what the words mean.
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