Airport: what ought to be and what shall be

Let's take a peek into a couple of International airports before coming to the point. Here's a typical advertisement hoarding from the Beijing Capital International Airport which hasn't found it either embarrassing or non-International to display Chinese characters (and yeah, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsing a Chinese product):

And here are typical signs inside the Munich Airport which hasn't found it embarrassing to use the local language - German - on anything printed:

The question now is - what ought to be the status of Kannada in the Bengaluru International Airport? No points for answering this one: "Similar". But what shall be is a totally different ballgame.

What ought to be

BIAL should adopt measures to make all such services available in Kannada as it would like to offer its customers. Be it parking tickets, or flight boarding passes, media inside the airport - printed or visual, entertainment at the airport, and even inside the flights, or announcements made in the airport premises - each one of these should predominantly be offered first in Kannada. Every service in the airport should be available in Kannada. The airport's webpage should also be completely in Kannada.

Obviously, we don't mean English should be nowhere. English should be the only other second language used inside the airport. No other language (e.g. Zulu, Hindi, Sinhalese, Afrikaans, Punjabi, Tamil) can have a place in the Bengaluru International Airport which is not enjoyed by, for e.g., French in the Munich Airport.

Any guesses on what shall be?

Remember, we live in a special country where French (Hindi) has constitutional and extra-constitutional rights to take the place of German (Kannada) in the Munich (Bengaluru) Airport. In our special country, French (Hindi) is not only declared as the official language but is taught as the National Language of Germany (Karnataka). It is only in India that people shall land into the Munich (Bengaluru) Airport thinking the Eiffel Tower (Taj Mahal) is a minute's walk and that the Oktoberfest (Hampi Utsava) is breathing its last in another country whose people are becoming evolutionarily extinct. It is only in India that airports can completely warp the past, present and future of the people and language of the very soil on which they are hosted and make it seem like a desert of under-achievement. It is only in India that the language of the land can be openly treated like the language of an inferior tribe. It is only in India that a whole linguistic people can be deemed constitutionally inadequate for not speaking a language foreign to their tongue.

Ah! What shall be is anybody's guess. Do we have any of those true men left who stand by what ought to be and stop not until what threatens to shall be shall not be?

India: a fine idea with implementation flaws

After the unfortunate events of Mumbai earlier this month, popular media is ablaze with articles describing the events as against the Idea of India and pretty much what it calls as the triumph of regionalism over nationalism. Popular rhetoric, which wrongly labels any attempts at the development of and/or protection of the rights of any particular linguistic people as parochial, quickly snowballs into labeling the people and organizations involved as against the Idea of India.

It's a pity that those who think of themselves as the saviors of the Idea of India have no clue what India is all about. No wonder they haven't cared to clarify. These folks have no clue how a correct federal system works, have no clue what to do with all the linguistic and cultural diversity that lives and thrives in India. For them, diversity is but an unnecessary evil, an extra parameter to contend with amidst the "already many". Unknowingly, such people are trampling under their own feet the very India we all treasure.

We will show in this essay how it is not the Idea of India which linguistic organizations oppose, but merely one flawed implementation of that beautiful idea.

The Sublime "Idea of India"

Let's face it. As a political unit, India was carved out as a mechanism for bringing under the same banner hundreds of millions of peoples suffering under British oppression. Before independence from the British, there was no single India as a political unit for any reasonable amount of time under one ruler ever. We have always fought with our neighboring states over things all and sundry. Then what exactly is the Idea of India? Is there anything to India over and above being the sum total of its states? Is there anything naturally common to the different linguistic peoples of India over and above the fact that the constituent states are geographically contiguous and had a common enemy 60 years ago?

Sure, there is. There is no denying the fact that the very diverse cultures and languages of India have a common thread running amidst all the mind-boggling plurality, though there is a large variation in the level to which the thread has found acceptance in the different cultures and languages. Such was the universality of appeal of that common thread that it was received by the various linguistic peoples with open hearts, or sometimes even unawares, with hardly any opposition. Notwithstanding the large variation in acceptance, the common thread basically comprises of religious and spiritual scriptures, cultural customs and common linguistic features - which we will together call as sublime cultural aspects.

In short, the Idea of India at inception involved (a) a common enemy, and (b) sublime cultural aspects as the two adhesives binding us together. After sixty years of independence from the British and the coming of globalization, however, the adhesive property of the common enemy of the recent past has already diminished so much that India is left with only the more sublime common thread of cultural aspects as the only existing natural adhesive.

Flaws in the implementation of the "Idea of India"

Of the two adhesives above, the first one, viz., the existence of a common enemy before independence, had pretty much single-handedly defined the Indian system of governance and the definition of political India. It is an irony of India that the exact same system continues to exist even today as if in defiance of changed ground realities and external circumstances.

The positioning of the Hindi language as the only "official (Indian) language of India", as well as the absence of true federalism and consequent disproportionately high stakes for the central government in internal matters of the subscribing states - both constructs ill-begotten in a hurry - have polluted India.

Hindification has destroyed the very idea of unity in diversity and accorded a higher status and undue advantages to the speakers of that language. This, together with the constitutional right of all Indians to work and settle anywhere in India, has placed speakers of Hindi (and close-by languages) at an advantage over and above other linguistic peoples. When once you declare the knowledge of Hindi as a prerequisite for any central government job, it is natural for the speakers of that language to fill those jobs.

The states subscribing to any federation of states do so for personal material gain and for not any spiritual reasons. It's as simple as that, and India is no exception. In an environment which does not treat the subscribing peoples as equals but instead accords a higher status to one people over the rest, songs of the sublimity of the Idea of India start to sound like the harsh calls of a predatory bird! Who can care to appreciate the beauty of the common sublime thread of culture when the harsh reality is that you are not being treated as an equal? How long can anyone continue to sing the praise of the Idea of India from his heart when the harsh reality is that he is being considered as a second-grade citizen when it comes to employment?

In short, although the Idea of India is fine, there are flaws in the implementation of that idea. It is these implementation flaws which linguistic groups oppose, and not the sublime common thread of culture.

Confusing the idea with its flawed implementation

Most commentators on the Mumbai incident earlier this month in particular, and any event spanning only one linguistic people in general, share one common confusion. That is the confusion between the Idea of India and One flawed implementation of that Idea.

Their intellectual bankruptcy forces them to fail to recognize the two as different. Whereas it is true that the different linguistic states of India are struggling to survive and flourish, it is untrue that an assertion of their rights is against the Idea. It is only against the flawed implementation of that idea which considers them an inferior people who need to change in order to become true Indians.

Among these commentators exist such jokers as can stuff into their Idea of India symbols such as the constitution of India (forgetting that it is amendable), the national flag, the national anthem, as well as the national bird! They argue that because these symbols exist, and because there exists an implementation of the Idea of India (albeit with faults) all diversity should be ironed out. They argue that Kannadigas should be happy for Biharis who take away their jobs because they are Indians too, because both Kannadigas and Biharis have a common constitution, anthem, flag and bird!

It is high time they start appreciating the difference between ideas and implementations. It's high time they start appreciating Maslow's hierarchy of needs: food, clothing, shelter and employment have to come in before sublime theories can be appreciated - especially theories which profess that you have to give up your food, clothing, shelter and employment!

The road ahead

India has a great future. But to get there, quite a few systemic wrongs have to be corrected. The rhetoric that anything related to Kannadigas or Marathis alone is "parochial" does not help us get there. It only hurts. The whole dialogue needs to consider that every state is in the federation expecting a win-win. We the different linguistic peoples of India have many common challenges to overcome. We all have to solve problems of corruption, of bad governance, of education, of employment, of poverty, of developing our own languages. When steps are taken to wipe out diversity, unity itself tends to be threatened in a federation of states which has been formed with the promise of unity in diversity. There is much synergy possible when diversity is celebrated and not ironed out. There is much synergy possible when the good practices in every state are replicated across India.

The Idea of India is in line with this. But is today's Implementation of India?

Mumbai in question

If not anything else, the anger-spurts of the Marathis against North Indians in Mumbai this week would have had Abraham Lincoln sit up in his grave with a twinkle in his eyes and utter his famous words once again:
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
There was a time when all non-Hindi speakers were fooled. Even to this date, many of them remain fooled. But we now have proof that you can't fool all the non-Hindi speakers all the time: they hit back.

No doubt the recent events are unlawful and not worth writing home about. It's also being argued that the need for Raj Thackeray to survive in the world of politics is behind them. However, is that all there is to all this? Is this just about a set of barbarians attacking innocent hawkers on the street driven by the political ambitions of Raj Thackeray? Nobody seems to go beyond this. Nobody seems to even bring to memory the slow but certain wiping off of the Marathis and their language from Mumbai. The pain of the Marathi people is no longer questioned today; indeed, that pain has become an unwritten law.

The sad state of Marathis in Mumbai

While the Constitution of India accords the status of "official language of the union" to Hindi, its uncontrolled and unwarranted imposition on innocent speakers of the language of the land outside the walls of central government offices is perhaps on an all-India high in Mumbai. Over time, the Marathis have been made to give up their own identity as speakers of a separate tongue called Marathi which is the lawful heir to the throne at Mumbai. Instead, Hindi has usurped that throne.

Bollywood itself - the Hollywood of erstwhile Bombay - has no traces of the Marathi language left in it. The word Bollywood which should ideally denote the Marathi film industry is famous world over as the Hindi film industry. Hindi imposition seems to have worked such magic on the Marathi people that they seem to have given up hope of elevating their mother tongue to be the entertainment language of choice.

Due to all this, the Marathis see that their language has been thrown into the dustbin. They see that their own people are not getting jobs in Mumbai. They see that the interests of their own people are neglected. While Mumbai is no doubt providing employment to millions of people, they are forced to ask -- "what's in it for us, the hosts?". The answer manifests itself as an undisclosed pain in the hearts of millions of Marathis.

Obviously, this can't go on for ever. No people desirous of furthering their tribe can afford to yield to the rhetoric that they, and they alone need to be altruistic in an environment of reckless predators, however much the rhetoric be sugarcoated and temporarily fooling.

Flawed rhetoric

There is no dearth of flawed rhetoric about all these events being "against the spirit of India", "parochial" and "politically motivated".

These events are admittedly unlawful and leave a bad taste in the mouth. However, to call these as "against the spirit of India" is going overboard. In truth, these events are against the spirit of only that India into whose definition one permits an undemocratically higher status to one language and its speakers from North India called Hindi, an India which is stuck up with the task of synthesizing unity by way of Hindification, an India struggling to iron out diversity as opposed to celebrating it. It is Hindification which is against the spirit of India. These events are merely unlawful and uncivil.

The correct India is that in which unity is practiced by way of upholding diversity as opposed to destroying it. The correct India is that in which subscribers to the Federation of States are looked at as equals as opposed to unequals . The correct India is that in which the subscribing linguistic states have a fair representation in Delhi as opposed to unfair. The correct India is that in which the subscribing linguistic states have the right and duty to protect and develop their own languages, cultures and peoples. The correct India cannot impose Hindi all over India. The correct India cannot look at the people of any language, their culture and their rights with abandon.

Those who think all this is "parochial" must first understand that the scope of events pertaining to the sustenance of any linguistic populace is far from being narrow. This particular time, it is about a People called the Marathis -- close to 65 million people! That's not a few people, mind you, and the protection of the rights of millions of people of one tongue is not parochialism. If this were parochialism, our cries as a united India in the community of nations in the world is parochialism too. Why shouldn't one call as parochialism India's need to protect its borders from Pakistan? Isn't the protection of India from Pakistan too "narrow in scope"?

Now, all those who are sticking to the single-point rhetoric that the recent events are "politically motivated" have also the obligation to ask themselves as to what it was which has motivated the imposition of Hindi on Marathis, what it was which has motivated the uncontrolled migration of Hindiwallas to Mumbai to the total detriment of the Marathis, what it was which has motivated the feeling that Marathi is the language of a lesser God inside Maharashtra itself! Wasn't that motivation also "political"? It is utter foolishness, nay hypocrisy, to expect a spiritual response complete with fasts-unto-death from people at the receiving end of decades of neglect.


Thus, while the sad events in Mumbai this week appear on the surface to be "parochialism" or simply "politics", one just needs to scratch the surface to understand that they are the bitter fruit of decades after decades of disrespect towards the Marathis, their language and their land. We need to understand the reasons for such outbursts without sacrificing reason to hackneyed rhetoric, set right historical wrongs and march forward. That is the right path for the progress of every Indian state, and thereby of India.

And now, it's Kannada Rap!

Something is completely right with the way the usage of Kannada is increasing in register after linguistic register. The doomsayers are being proven wrong again. Yeah, we've now got Kannada Rap, a new form of music to most Kannada listeners.

A band called "Urban Lads" based in Basavanagudi, Bengaluru, has come out with an ultra-cool "Kanglish" rap album which is making waves all over the world even before the album is out for sale, before the lads have a website and even before there's more concrete proof than the circulating mp3 that they actually exist. You could listen to the song in the player below:

To those who think "these fellows are destroying the beauty of Kannada", our message is that the whole philosophy that the Kannada tongue needs to be "protected" from other languages unto death is flawed. These experiments are what keep the language alive. These experiments are what keep the language current. No language can live in isolation. Kannada is no exception. And the rise of Kanglish rap is a positive, not negative development.

As Kannada Rap evolves, and evolve it will like the now absolutely hip Kannada film music, the Englishness of Kanglish will evolve towards more Kannadaness. One remembers Dr. Raj's "If you come today, it's too early" as an early example of the thinking that anything hip around Vidhana Soudha needs to be in pure English -- a thinking which Dr. Raj himself never shared, but was led to make believe by directors (according to his own words). Now, Kannada songs are whole lot hipper, and the hippest of 'em a whole lot Kannada-er.

To the brand of purists who are convinced that rap itself is a degradation of music, our message is that they've probably reached a wrong blog post thinking we talk about the fineties, subtleties and otherties of music. We don't.

The number of linguistic registers in which Kannada is being used is on a steady rise. We got Kannada TV channels, putting an end to the Hindi drudgery we went through during the days of DD. We got FM radio after putting up with a brief period of lapse of reason in the programmers' camp. We got good newspapers who have finally started breaking loose of the clutches of the purists and are coming up with catchy headlines. We've started to get ads on electronic media (although they remain cheap translations of Hindi or Tamil). And now, it's Kannada Rap.

By the way, the first Kannada Rap number was Auto Soori, not this one from the Urban Lads. Take it down as a history trivia question for 2020!