Friday, November 19, 2010

Languages-lost and found



I have always been surrounded by storytellers. My parents were excellent storytellers, so were my two sisters and even my husband.  No wonder on most important issues of life, I cannot think without thinking of a parable. Today when I plan to write about the languages, their purity, their extinction and use…some of the most memorable tales of my childhood come to my mind.

I will narrate the one I love most . Gunadhyay was a minister to satvahana king Gautamiputra Sātakarni (also known as Shalivahan) in first century AD. One day young king was playing in water with his wives. The queen pleaded with him not to throw any more water on her (modaikah), which the king in his ignorance of laws of verbal conjugation in Sanskrit took for request for sweetmeats (modaka). The queen laughed at his ignorance . King’s ego was badly hurt and he decided to master Sanskrit at the earliest. Gunadhyay promised him desired proficiency in 6 years but Gunadhyay's rival Katantra came with a proposal for 6 months to master the language. Overconfident Gunadhyay vows not to use Sanskrit, Prakrit or any vernacular ever again if the deed is done.  But the King masters Sanskrit language under Katantra's tutelagee and Gunadhyay leaves the city of Pratishthan (present Paithan) and wanders disconsolate in Vindhyays. Later he meets Kanabhuti and learns a lesser known Paishachi language to write his stories. He sends a collection of his stories to his king. The king , now a master in Sanskrit, insults the language in which it is written and sends it back without reading . Heartbroken and insulted , Gunadhay started reading his stories to the animals and then burning them . The legend goes that the animals listened to those stories and were mesmerized, they stopped eating and moving . The news reached the King who rushed to save the stories. By the time he found Gunadhyay, 6 lakh stories were lost in fire . The remaining today forms Vrahat katha- a compilation which inspired katha sarit sagar and many such compilations. As a child I wondered how powerful this Paishachi language would have been. Today Paishachi - a form of prakrit , is an extinct language. It is mentioned as a medium of debate and literary expression in various Theravada Buddhist sources, and in Prakrit and Sanskrit grammars of antiquity. But still, we lost it , perhaps forever .

I resist from telling other equally fascinating stories about birth of a new Sanskrit grammer or about lust for learning a puritan language – stories of Panini and of Kalidasa. The point I am driving at is about our languages- old and new, changing with the times, losing their original character- developing in few cases, losing identity in most others . How our tradition tells us about people who loved them, preserved them, revered them and passed them on to next generations. Then somewhere we lost this penchant . Our languages world over are losing their strength. Some are lost others are in a process of being extinct.

Languages are much more than just a medium of expression. They tell you so much about the people who spoke them. They are a mirror of people’s perception. In my class of Philology in the University , we learnt about the relations of different languages , their history and development. It was extremely enlightening .

Now that I try to recall , it must have been in middle school that I first  thought about the delicate matter of languages- the impact of not getting them right  . It was when I came to know about Harappan Script and how it is yet to be deciphered . I looked at those pictorial alphabets and wondered what people who wrote them were trying to convey. In all probability, they narrate daily transactions and instructions. This is unlikely that the authors had any intention of spreading their word for  times to come .But then, what is so tough in those signs, those symbols of daily life that we are unable to find meaning behind them . Why we could not try all permutations and combinations to break the code behind these symbols.  It’s not that no one ever fell in love with these undeciphered languages and their mystery. I can think of Iravadan Mahadevan , a former IAS officer of 1954 batch who dedicated his life for study of Indus script and Brahmi. I can also think of one of world's greatest experts on the Indus script, Asko Parpola, who has been studying this undeciphered writing for over 30 years at the University of Helsinki in Finland. But despite some such people , despite our advancement in technology and our power of computing , we are unable to get back the tougues of the past. We are unable to do so, because the link of passing them on was broken. May be no one was interested in knowing them anymore. May be they were tougues of people who lost the war. Of people who do not mattter anymore. Of people whose thoughts and expressions were not considerred important to be understood . And it happened everywhere on the earth .
    Sometimes I feel that my generation is ungrateful. We do not respect what we inherited- be in monuments, skills, traditions or anything else. But then, perhaps each generation was like that ….and who knows how complete our inheritance was in case of languages. Till James Princep conclusively deciphered Kharoshthi in the middle of 19th Century, we knew little about 600 odd years of our history. Many pre-biblical scrolls are yet to be read . Very few are interested in them. Leave aside them, very few care to learn languages just for the love of it.
Once I heard a story of Pt. Sakal Narayan Shastri, an upcountry Brahmin who came to Kolkata looking for employament. Someone suggested him to meet the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University – legendary lawyer Ashutosh Mukherjee . The VC asked him what all he has read. The answer was simple- “Published-I have read all, unpublished- whatever I could lay my lands on.” It took the university administration sometime to decide in which department such a person can be placed. He knew many languages, arts, philosophies and more. One hears about many others of that generation, who painstakingly learnt and mastered the languages .
Then we also know how like everything else the love for languages is also politicised in today's world.Langauges are looked upon as a political tool. They are imposed on people in tthe packaged deal for education, employment etc. While I appreciate the sentiment that people consider language as such an important ingredient of their identity, I can never appreciate why they need to compete .e.g. the biggest disservice to hindi was done when it was made rajbhasha and was imposed on people. IT harmed the language , made more people resist it, made more people against it. It nearly killed the literature of the language. Knowing Hindi become a profession after all. At the end of it - we have hundreds of Hindi Officers, Hindi academies, Hindi Directorates, Hindi Pakhwaras  but very few Hindi lovers. Even those who speak it as their first langauge - do not feel proud of it. Do not know it too well. I wonder how many of us would be able to recall the old devnagari script in which hindi was written just about a hundred years back. And yet, no one learns by this experience. Each regional language and its speakers only think of making institutions to spread their tougues- no one really cares to spread the love for the languages- all of them. Going this way , we might just  turn more people away from the languages - fom the joy of it, the thrill of understanding the symbols and scripts and the history they carry with them.

7 comments:

reetu said...

९ फीसदी की जीडीपी ग्रोथ के पीछे भागते हमारे राजनीतिग्य और लाखों के पैकेज के पीछे भागती हमारी हाईटैक जैनरेशन के पास भाषा जैसी आउटडेटेट चीज के लिए तो बिल्कुल समय नहीं हैं। हालांकि हिंदी बोलने वाले अंग्रेजी सीखकर एक क्लास का हिस्सा बनने के लिए आतुर हैं। ऐसे में प्राकृत और संस्कृत यह कौन सी चीजें हैं। माफ करिए भाषा को मैंने चीजें लिख दिया है लेकिन यकीन मानिए समय के साथ खोती इन भाषाओं को बचाना या फिर सीखना तो बहुत दूर इसके बारे में सोचना भी हमारे लिए मुश्किल है। वैसे भी हमारे लिए हमारा इतिहास, ऐतहासिक धरोहरों एक बोझ की तरह हैं उस पर फालतू की बहस करने के लिए हमारे पास बहुत समय है लेकिन उनको बचाने के लिए कुछ करने के बारे मे सोचने का समय हमारे पास नहीं हैं। लेकिन फिर भी शायद आप जैसे ही कुछ लोग आगे आकर हमारी आने वाली पीढी को विरासत मे कुछ अनमोल तोहफे दे पाएं।

Gautam Kumar Kutariyar गौतम कुमार कुटरियार said...

Would like to recommend two posts by one of my favorite bloggers. One is a hilarious account of learning a south Indian language for love of a girl ( एक दूजे के लिए movie जैसा) and another gives details of how the author inspired others to learn Hindi in his Kolkata office (probably a Public Sector Bank). I hope you would like them.
वॉट ऐन आइडिया सर जी!! and the other one is
एक (अ)हिंदी प्रेम

MARCH said...

Languages are just a medium of expression but it’s our emotional attachment to it that makes us resist learning other languages and declare one’s own language as superior to other’s. Anyway each language has a quality of its own and is worth preserving and learning because each one of them is an invention. Some have the perfect set of alphabets to be able to express all the kinds of sounds human mouth can make (like Hindi), some have the honour of being the native of the regions where modern science and technology were born (english etc.) thus making the other translations of names of those inventions e.g. Train, Bus etc laughable. In today’s market oriented world it’s not the Government’s policies or propaganda that is going to help a language spread. If you want to spread a language you need to have excellent cultural products like literature, films and whatever developed in it apart from popularity. It’s not the language but the subject matter of a product developed using this language that attracts people.

I don’t know if you have paid your attention to this or not. The recruitment policy of Government where candidates could apply for vacancies in any part of India regardless of their state or mother tongue was helping in strengthening of inter-cultural tolerance and understanding. But lately, particularly banking sector has come up with the idea of regional vacancies where the candidate is required to be proficient in the regional language of the vacancy originating state. The condition of learning the regional language had to be fulfilled earlier post recruitment but now has been imposed at pre-recruitment stage which discourages people from outside the region to apply for the post. This is resulting in closure of an excellent path that could serve national integration well.

In this age of Information Technology, geographical barriers have lost their force and the earlier protectionism that used to work for languages is not working. People will definitely go for what’s convenient rather than what’s expected of protecting their mother tongue. No wonder no one from Hindi heartland calls trains as लौहपथगामिनि and utters sorry instead of क्षमा करें. Though tools to type conveniently in hindi using the roman script have been developed but they are still lacking that much of popularity to replace Roman script which is being used to email, scrap and message even if the matter is in hindi. I think a book can be written if we want to discuss the reasons of all of these aspects responsible for development or extinction of any language. But I firmly believe that the language (whatever it is) which is the best quality wise and is open to inclusion of any word from any language to remove it’s shortfalls will ultimately win. However, we must preserve the languages that may become extinct in this process as they are the fruits of a long process and toil of our forefathers.

MARCH said...

Languages are just a medium of expression but it’s our emotional attachment to it that makes us resist learning other languages and declare one’s own language as superior to other’s. Anyway each language has a quality of its own and is worth preserving and learning because each one of them is an invention. Some have the perfect set of alphabets to be able to express all the kinds of sounds human mouth can make (like Hindi), some have the honour of being the native of the regions where modern science and technology were born (english etc.) thus making the other translations of names of those inventions e.g. Train, Bus etc laughable. In today’s market oriented world it’s not the Government’s policies or propaganda that is going to help a language spread. If you want to spread a language you need to have excellent cultural products like literature, films and whatever developed in it apart from popularity. It’s not the language but the subject matter of a product developed using this language that attracts people.

I don’t know if you have paid your attention to this or not. The recruitment policy of Government where candidates could apply for vacancies in any part of India regardless of their state or mother tongue was helping in strengthening of inter-cultural tolerance and understanding. But lately, particularly banking sector has come up with the idea of regional vacancies where the candidate is required to be proficient in the regional language of the vacancy originating state. The condition of learning the regional language had to be fulfilled earlier post recruitment but now has been imposed at pre-recruitment stage which discourages people from outside the region to apply for the post. This is resulting in closure of an excellent path that could serve national integration well.

In this age of Information Technology, geographical barriers have lost their force and the earlier protectionism that used to work for languages is not working. People will definitely go for what’s convenient rather than what’s expected for protecting their mother tongue. No wonder no one from Hindi heartland calls trains as लौहपथगामिनि and utters sorry instead of क्षमा करें. Though tools to type conveniently in hindi using the roman script have been developed but they are still lacking that much of popularity to replace Roman script which is being used to email, scrap and message even if the matter is in hindi. I think a book can be written if we want to discuss the reasons of all of these aspects responsible for development or extinction of any language. But I firmly believe that the language (whatever it is) which is the best quality wise and is open to inclusion of any word from any language to remove it’s shortfalls will ultimately win. However, we must preserve the languages that may become extinct in this process as they are the fruits of a long process and toil of our forefathers.

Atoorva said...

@gautam: thanks for links. Have u read this one of my earlier post http://atoorva2.blogspot.com/2007/02/mother-tongue-n-cheek-rajbhasha-racket.html
@ march- thanks , as always you give me so much to think about .

Gautam Kumar Kutariyar गौतम कुमार कुटरियार said...

Yes Madam. I had read it long back (late 2007 months) but had totally forgotten about it. Please view my comments there.

Gautam Kumar Kutariyar गौतम कुमार कुटरियार said...

Some people are hell bent on Anglicization of Hindi for reasons best known to them only. Strangely the same people these days take so much pride in naming their children using most difficult Sanskrit words. During my college days, one of the judges (a sahitya academy winner) of an event in Hansraj College had raised a question “What do you think of headlines in a hindi newspaper (Nav Bharat Times) which wrote “अब दिल्ली की होटलों में शराब सर्व की जाएगी” instead of “अब दिल्ली की होटलों में शराब परोसी जाएगी”. What’s wrong with the word परोसना? Why do you expect someone who barely knows how to read Hindi to understand this English word and make him put aside the newpaper branding it to be made for Bade Log? Aren’t you mocking at his lack of resources to learn English and discouraging him to learn more Hindi using them? The other judge Sudhish Pachauri was advocating for use of English for making Hindi more acceptable to people and gave example of Pepsi’s ad Yeh Dil Mange More and how television advertisements are now prominently in Hindi rather than English in contrast to earlier days of television. My young mind got confused and is confused till date on where to draw the line. (By the way, I have read your interesting post on difficulty faced by your father in teaching English to a villager who could not relate with the poems about things so remote to his imagination.)
You may view my thoughts about Hindi as a language in the google group meant for the same (By the way, Anupam sir too is its member.)

I would like to end with one of my slogans (an entry in rajbhasha slogan competition, pdackol which is displayed at the north side entry gate for first floor):
उधार की भाषा के सहारे नहीं हो सकता सम्पूर्ण विकास, बिना हिन्दी के गाँव गाँव को लगी रहेगी विकास की आस।
Sorry for the length of the reply. I am not so much experienced to speak on these serious matters and any mistake committed while replying to you may please be perceived as my ignorance.