Sunday, October 4, 2009

Marathi Asmita and me

A distinguished blogger in a recent post has deplored the attitude of some lumpen parties in Maharashtra like the MNS and Shiv Sena of trying to force-feed Marathi down the throats of unwilling residents of the state, using extra-judicial methods. In a Parthian shot he has accused me of being a fellow traveller and linked this blog to that statement.

When I clicked on that link it took me to my previous post on NCERT textbooks, leaving me totally mystified. Surely I had said nothing offensive in that post? I read it again carefully and could find nothing that would give offense to even the most thin skinned of non Maharashtrians in Maharashtra.

And then the penny dropped! (I have always been rather slow on the uptake, a trait commented on often by many of my friends and relatives...). He was referring to a long ago post of mine, which essentially defended the actions of local governments whether in Maharashtra or in Tamil Nadu, to promote the use of the local language in signage and communication. (Presumably out of laziness, he had just linked to my blog rather than to that particular post). This along with a couple of comments in the distinguished blogger's posts had been construed as defending the use of sticks and stones, fists and knuckles and other extra-judicial methods, (favourite of the above mentioned parties), as a means of forcing local culture and language on the hapless and recalcitrant non locals of the state ("North Indians" in their derogatory phrase). And it was this that had earned me the appellation of a "fellow traveller".

Tendentious reporting and conclusions are common amongst our numerous news channels and newspapers, and more so in the blogosphere, but it now seems to have affected some of our distinguished bloggers too.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Apart from his swipe at you, Sunil's post doesn't even make any sense. Translating world literature into Marathi is good for Marathi speakers, and should be encouraged, but will not persuade others to learn Marathi. For that, Marathi literature should be translated into other languages. People know that translations are inferior to the original, but without seeing the translation they won't even know what to expect in the original language. People learn Spanish to read Lorca, Neruda, Marquez in the original -- having already sampled them in translation. They don't learn Spanish to read Dickens in translation.

Abi said...

That was a low blow from Sunil. Shame on him.

That, and what RSid said.

AmOK said...

RSid - WellSaid!

RBasu - Intellectual Narcissism and attempts to spice up a bland blog would have fueled the errant fellow-traveller's shameful swipe. Forgive - he will not do it again, as his silence herein will testify.

Rahul Basu said...

Perhaps the distinguished blogger was upset that in that post of mine, I had explicitly pointed to his posts as an example of excessive hand-wringing over and over-reaction to what I felt was really a local language issue. One could differ on such an issue, but after all these years, to be called a fellow traveller of the MNS and Shiv Sena is not just objectionable, but downright offensive.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

One can agree with a goal while disagreeing with the methods or the ideology of the proponents. One can agree with supporting/promoting local languages without supporting thugs like the Sena. It is a distinction that seems to escape Sunil.

Another example is Bombay->Mumbai, which still upsets some people. For example, Andrew Sullivan wrote this (quoting an ill-informed Hitchens who attributed it to religious fanaticism). He later published some dissents. I myself mailed him pointing out that Madras->Chennai was done by a Dravidian "rationalist" party and Calcutta->Kolkata by a communist party, so these things cannot be attributed to religious fanaticism but only to a desire (misguided or otherwise) to erase traces of British history; he didn't publish that, however.

There, I've said it: I see nothing wrong with calling the place Mumbai. Let Sunil now club me with you as a Sena and MNS fellow-traveller...

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul S: As you might guess, I know a few Maharashtrians (who, let me hasten to add, are not fellow travellers of the MNS or Shiv Sena) who have always called it Mumbai when speaking in their local tongue long before Bombay became Mumbai. It's always been the local name. Similarly, I recall in my early years in Madras/Chennai, when I had just picked up the script, I noticed many long distance buses wrote 'Chennai' in Tamil and "Madras' in English. So when Madras officially became Chennai it was hardly a bolt from the blue - it just seemed that the local term had taken precedence and it didn't seem to be an issue worth worrying over. (Mercifully there were no blogs those days and I don't recall what the newspapers said).

I therefore find it surprising that apart from the local language issue, there is still so much discussion about Bombay vs. Mumbai which by now, one would imagine would be a non-issue. But many people still can't seem to come to terms with it. Just a month ago I had to correct an NRI friend of mine who insisted on explaining to our foreign friends that Mumbai was an artificial name imposed by a local fascist party on the city whose real name was Bombay.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Chennai seems the opposite of Mumbai in this respect: the English-speaking crowd have embraced the "new" name, but when I overhear Tamil-speakers (at railway/bus stations, etc) they often seem to say "Madras" even today... Chennai was the official Tamil name, but not actually used a lot in speech.

Niket said...

Being a Marathi in Chennai, let me add to this discussion. When we speak in Marathi, the city was always and is always "Mumbai"; in Hindi, its "Bambai"; in English with Indians, its "Bombay". The only thing changed since the renaming is that I refer to the city at "Mumbai" when speaking to my non-Indian friends.

Coming to this city... it does sound odd to say I live in Chennai and work at IIT-Madras.

I disagree with RSid. Except for the unfortunate swipe, Sunil's post make sense to people who have lived in Bombay. Thackreys have said that they will implement Marathi chauvinism by force (of law or "knuckles"). Last year, when my aunt and uncle were visiting, we had a fairly passionate argument... while not endorsing MNS's means, they do endorse their idea that "Marathi manoos" is getting marginalized due to influx of these "Biharis". The fact that their son is an immigrant in UK and that they were making these comments in my house in Chennai didn't make any difference in the vehemence of their arguments.

Ironically, Thackrey is not a Marathi name. :-)

Rahul Basu said...

Niket: None of points I made contradict yours. Indeed Mumbai is not a 'new' name coined by the Thackereys. My basic point has always been, now and earlier, that one can and should oppose the MNS and Sena brand of implementation of policies - whether of language or religion or any other. However, this slight over-reaction to any signs written in Devanagri (and all the posts of the eminent blogger scientist are mostly about signs) is somewhat infantile. It seems to me that the allergic reaction of the Thackereys to any sign in English (or Latin script if you will) seem to be matched by the allergic reaction of the non-Maharastrians to seeing any sign (no matter of what level of absurdity) in the Marathi/Devanagri script.

As you point out, many Maharashtrians have a sneaking sympathy for the Thackerey viewpoint though few of them endorse the strong arm tactics of the Sena and MNS. This is of course an unending debate between locals and immigrants, whether in the UK (South Asians), Germany (Turks) or Mumbai. It's just that Mumbai being part of the Republic of India, every Indian citizen has a right to settle there without needing a visa.
But you cannot stop the locals from grumbling.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Niket - I didn't understand your disagreement. Are you saying translating world literature into Marathi will encourage non-Marathis to learn Marathi? Because that is all I talked about, I believe.

To add to what RB says -- any time people who speak the "local" language feel crowded out by "outsiders" in their own city, there will be problems like this. It's happening in Mumbai and Bangalore; it hasn't really happened in Chennai perhaps because the long-time immigrants (Marwadis, Telugu speakers and others) do speak Tamil fluently.

Also, there has never been much anti-English sentiment in Chennai: perhaps because of the anti-Hindi movement, people realised that you can't be against every possible "link language". I suspect that in Bangalore and Mumbai, the resentment against Hindi becoming the "lingua franca" is spilling over into English too.

Visitors in Paris and Berlin will expect to get by without needing to learn French or German, but if you live there for more than a year, you would be expected to pick up the local language. I don't think that is an unreasonable expectation to have in our country, either. The unfamiliarity of the Kannada script may be a stumbling block in Bangalore, but there should be no such problem to the majority of Indians in Mumbai.

Anant said...

A parthian shot in the opening paragraph? I thought a parting shot should be in the last paragraph. But then I decided to think hard and the penny dropped. I lookedup "parthian shot" on google and discovered it means something quite different. You OLO are the true successor to the late William Safire. Perhaps you will start another blog where you will enlighten us on the use of the English language, bereft of politics, a la William Safire? As always in reverence and awe, this is your humble student.

Niket said...

RB/RS: I agreed with you in my first para. For me, nothing changed with Bom --> Mum. With most of my friends now (very few Maharashtrians), I call my home-city "Bombay" not "Mumbai".

I, however, disagreed with RSid in the second para. When I composed the reply, I quoted his statement (I think HTML tags ate it up): "Apart from his swipe at you, Sunil's post doesn't even make any sense". I was responding only to that statement, not to the rest. Sorry for the confusion.

What I meant to say is that Sunil's post (except for the unfortunate swipe), is understandable because Sena tried to force Marathi down people's throats.

I like the more subtle way I am learning Tamil: in order to converse with maid, bicycle repair guy and so on. (Though my Tamil sucks because my maid speaks broken English).

Niket said...

'Parthian Shot'
Hmmm... I learn new stuff every day! FSM bless the interwebs.

AmOK said...

Indeed the Parthian shot is well expressed, OLO. Thanks for pointing that out, Anant. I was thinking more in terms of my friend Partho and his shots of vodka.

However I would classify this "bloggerian shot" more of a Ben Hur type of "shot". You have the white horses, OLO, and the final scenes are being played out in these comments :).

Sunil Mukhi said...

"I sometimes think you chauvinists of the other variety provide oxygen to the likes of Raj Thackerey. I am not quite sure what message you are trying to convey."

Thus quoth Rahul Basu on my blog on June 15. The posting which had elicited this bizarre response was about how good I found life in the city of **mba*.

My recent retaliation was indeed a low blow but please note that calling someone a "chauvinist of the other variety" is just as low, and was moreover completely unprovoked.

As a technical aside, mine wasn't a Parthian shot, which is a shot fired while retreating. I wasn't retreating but retaliating in kind.

As for my post not making sense: I agree the connections were not totally manifest but I was referring to the planned "Marathi language conservation fortnights" which I did mention, as well as other stuff that's currently going on in The City I Dare Not Name about starting Marathi classes etc, which I failed to refer to in the blog. So the connection was more evident in my mind than in what actually came out on the blog.

I would like to remind people that I started using the old name of the city of my birth on my blog as a protest against attacks on freedom of speech. I had made my stand abundantly clear in this posting. My views have been morphed by you Rahul, into a supposed allergy to notice boards in Devanagari. My own house door has for decades had my name in Devanagari first and then in Latin script. You even know that.

Speaking of freedom of speech, I hope you heard about Karan Johar being pressurised to apologise for the use of the B word in his recent movie. If I fear that politicians will rule our personal and artistic spaces, I can't be faulted for fearing this in a vacuum.

AmOK said...

OLO, you must be gracious and accept the abject Parthian apology. Such rare and expressive humility must not go unrequited. Appreciate that it must have been excruciating to render for a person of such high stature.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sunil, you do realise that one can link directly to a comment? You are referring to this one. If you had linked to it in the first place, some mystification and speculation could have been avoided.

Not that this makes it very much clearer. RB was not calling you a chauvinist: he was calling your habit of calling Mumbai "Bombay", over a decade after the renaming, chauvinistic. I seem to have missed that discussion, though I did see your follow-up post on the same topic.

My point of view on Mumbai/Bombay is, call it what you like; I certainly disagree with Raj Thackeray's strongarm tactics and clearly RB does too. The point is this sort of strong emotion seems to occur only in Mumbai. Why is that? Nobody will run after you in Chennai with pickaxe in hand if you call it Madras: as I said above, a significant fraction of the Tamil speaking population seems to use the old name still. (Tamil newspapers also report the temperature in Fahrenheit: I suspect Tamils are conservative in many ways.)

Anant said...

And distance in furlongs!

Rahul Basu said...

Come, come Sunil, surely you are being disingenuous. Indeed, your name is spelt in Devanagri on your door, but then, I have never said you are against Devanagari per se but only in the context that it also happens to be the script in which Marathi is written. In fact, the whole discussion has been in the context of attitudes towards local language and culture, and I would have thought that that would have been obvious by now. And there, I do feel, rightly or wrongly, that the attitudes of local non Maharashtrians towards Marathi language, culture etc. most definitely do not help. (If you feel 'chauvinistic of the other variety' is too strong an expression you can find a better expression.) Let me stress for the 754th time that that does not imply I approve or endorse the strong arm tactics of the Thackereys. But it also shows a somewhat strange attitude to continue to use the name Bombay a decade or so after the name has changed, even as a protest measure. And this, IMHO, is symptomatic of the general attitude -- as RS points out that many of you are unable to come to terms with the change in name even now -- of a general insensitivity to the local culture and language. I have heard innumerable people (not you) speak sneeringly of 'the locals' and such attitudes most definitely do not help.

Neelima said...

All this is to forget at an important point. MaNaSe had no standing or support till it started the anti-Maharashtrian rhetoric. So as long as any rhetoric finds votes, there will be a political party which adopts it. Note that the Shiv Sena toned down its rhetoric at one point (presumably for electoral reasons),
thereby vacating space for the MaNaseites.

As to why does this rhetoric find votes, Mumbaiites of both stripes are more insecure about their city than most others, including other cities in Maharashtra (think of Pune!). This may be for demographic and historical reasons. A bit of talking across the divide would help. It could start in a mundane place, e.g. the TIFR bus!