Recently attended a talk by Prof. Neelam Mansingh (Padmashri Awardee, theater artist and Professor at Panjab University), found it very inspiring and informative, and would like to share the gist of it with you.
Prof. Mansingh started by talking about how studying or spending time on “art” might not get you a job or stop a war, but can lead you to appreciate and understand the finer elements in life and ultimately make us all better human beings. She probably explained it all much better in much better words, but that was the gist of it 🙂 🙂 However, what I found most interesting in her speech was that she spoke later on about the relevance of Indian languages and the second-hand treatment they get from us Indians, compared to English. I have been thinking along the same lines for some time and found it very interesting that she chose to speak about it.
She has been active in promoting Punjabi language and theater and has received many accolades for it. She recounted about how she had organized a play in Amritsar long back for her friends, most of whom happened to be convent educated like her and was taken aback to find them embarrassed that the play was in Punjabi rather than in English. Most of us won’t find this surprising because we happen to be more proficient in English rather than in any other Indian language. That’s fine because English is the most lucrative language to learn from a career point of view.
However, what’s really upsetting is that many of us are taught to look down upon Indian languages or consider them inferior. For example, in my school, we were strictly forbidden to use any mother tongue during breaks. It was done with the intention of encouraging kids to speak English, but many teachers would poke fun at kids who spoke in Kannada or Telugu etc. This attitude has damaging implications because language and culture are totally inter-related and inseparable. When you treat a language as inferior, you subconsciously also start to assume a culture as inferior. By that, you are depriving kids of the immense cultural wealth and literature that come with knowing a particular Indian language.
We Indians are not the only ones who are guilty of this attitude towards our own languages. When I read Tolstoy’s novels, was surprised to learn that many elite Russians of his era spoke in French to each other because they assumed French to be a culturally superior language compared to Russian! Of course, we must continue to learn and excel in English, because it gives us a competitive advantage in many ways, no doubts about that. But I think it’s equally important to stop having a derogatory view towards Indian languages.
And, it would be great if we could encourage our kids to excel in at least one Indian language (whichever is most convenient, depending on where you are), because it will enrich them and make them proud of their roots, by allowing them to experience the great culture and literature. I feel bad at times that I can only read Telugu (my mother tongue) with difficulty and cannot write in it 😦 That’s because growing up in Karnataka made it compulsory to study Kannada and Hindi in school, and learning Telugu separately would have been too tough. But, I feel so much the better for knowing Hindi and Kannada, and feel that much more enriched. So, it was really wonderful to see an accomplished artist and academic like Prof. Mansingh speak up for Indian languages (in perfect and impeccable English). 🙂 🙂