Let me start with an interesting scene in a Malayalam film which I saw recently.Though the film is in Malayalam,the characters who appear in the scene I am going to describe are Tamilians.
The scene goes like this.There are two powerful Dons in a area.Each has his army of mercenaries willing to do anything for their boss.There is a long standing dispute over a particular tract of land which is claimed by both dons.Now the first Don Pandithurai decides to settle the score and comes along with gang of people all wielding long knifes called ‘arivual ‘in Tamil .He challenges the second Don Karuppasami for a fight .
At the height of the loud quarrel among both,Karuppasami’s daughter comes out of the car where she is sitting and gets involved in the quarrel. She knows the best strategy to calm down the opponent Don Pandithurai.You know what she does? She starts quarrelling in English! She shouts “What bloody 30 acres you are talking about,man ?” ! Now the great Don Pandi is shattered ! He does’nt know, how to reply in English!.He feels ashamed and taken over by her by the act..All his valor,courage,anger everything subsides in a minute.Now what can he do? How can he reply? Taking advantage of the situation,the second Don Karuppaswamy challenges Pandi’ Come on ,man answer my daughter ,you fellow ! “(speaking in Tamil,of,course!) Pandi feels humbled and looks for some one in his gang to help him out.To his surprise,one young assistant comes forward and replies to Karuppasmi’s daughter in English ! And so the story goes .
I am sharing this scene to illustrate to you, the inherent power of speaking in English. in even rural TamilNadu! Why cant Pandi tell the girl to shut up and speak in Tamil? Why does he himself feel that someone who speaks English is superior to him? Is Pandi an exception or does he represent the average Tamilian’s feeling about English and its superiority?
The Roots Of The Pride !
The basic reason and the strong desire for gaining knowledge in English language was, that English was a ruler’s language.By learning it ,one can enter the corridors of power and palace .But the question is ,the rulers have left the shores of India 66 years back.Why haven’t their language leave the shores?
It’s very interesting to have an insight on this question.Before the British stepped into India,India was ruled by the powerful caste system which,of course, still rules India.In the pre-British India ,Sanskrit was considered to be the ruler’s language.It was considered to be a God’s language as well. This language was not taught to non-Brahmins and if a Shudra listens to Sanskrit chanting ,the penalty prescribed by the Hindu scriptures ,was as high as pouring molten lead into his ears for his offense . So every Shudra was dreaming of getting a opportunity to learn the prohibited Sanskrit language but it was beyond them. Brahmins ,through their ingenious Gurukul system made admissions fool proof so that no Shudra can ever get to learn it. Dr.Ambedkar could learn it through the English translations of Sanskrit words by the Western scholars.
It is in this background the popularity of English grew in Tamil Nadu while Sanskrit was prohibited for study,English, another rulers’ language was freely available for anyone to study! So there was lot of enthusiasm among Brahmins as well as Non-Brahmins to acquire proficiency in English language which served as a passport to success.Government jobs were filled by the British with people who had proficiency in English.Since the British did not discriminate between Brahmins and others, they gave equal opportunity to everyone to become Government servants.The moment one becomes a Government servant,he enjoys the status of Government official which prevented discrimination based on caste to a certain extent. This does not mean discrimination was not there.But it was less and personal assaults or attacks based on caste on a Government servant, were totally eliminated.But discrimination still prevailed in areas like entry into hair cutting Saloons etc.
In a way,English education and speaking in English catapulted one’s position into the ruling class.The moment one replies in English,his ‘caste’ or’ position’ in the eyes of the others stands elevated.People who cannot speak in English start feeling low and scared in front of the people who can speak in English.Getting entry into posh areas,prestigious clubs,Star Hotels all become easy the moment one speaks in English. I remember a Union negotiation where I was on the Management side unable to handle the tough Union Secretary .The moment I switched to English in front of his deputies, I could sense a kind of unnerving fear creeping into him !
Now this clamor for English has become so bad in Tamil Nadu,people have started using at least a few words in English ,while speaking in Tamil,to show that they are ‘somebody’.This has resulted in spoken Tamil being adulterated with around 20% English words . This is not a desirable trend for the Tamilians..With the liberalization and globalization in place,this trend has gained further momentum.
Now people crave for English medium education and little kids now take pride in using English even while they are playing hide and seek.The Government does not seem to take adequate measures against this trend ,as they feel that it will go against the popular sentiment.An awareness about the implications of this damaging trend needs to be created to save Tamil from dilution and adulteration with English words.To a certain extent,the trend is catching up in Hindi speaking people also. Media seems to play a major role in this trend with all Tamil programs aired containing 20% to 30% English words.
Some TV channels even name their programs in English or mix English with Tamil.There is one Tamil TV Channel named ‘Peppers’ in English ! Yet another factor that fuelled this trend is the ‘sms’ culture.English was the preferred language for ‘sms’ as there was no vernacular options in the beginning.People got used to little English and got used to it.Now though vernacular options are available,yet people prefer texting Tamil with English letters
The trend needs to be arrested to save dilution of our mother-tongues.
By Alvaro Hans