Language = Culture?

Came across this article today – http://caravanmagazine.in/essay_song_unto.asp about the Indian National Anthem and its interpretation and significance. The author tried to capture what the significance of the anthem is and what it means in today’s world and what Tagore meant when he wrote the article.

The Court finds nation-ness to lie not in territorial boundaries and cartographic particulars, but in a non-material shape that is unmistakably delineated by the nation’s own poet, Rabindranath. However, just because this outline of the republic is abstract doesn’t mean that it is any less worthy of being defended than are the physical borders of the nation-state.

“In a sense because the idea of India is given priority over the fact of India, a place doesn’t have to be named in order for it to really be a part of India, and conversely, if it happens to not be named it doesn’t mean that the place is in reality not a part of India! This non-literal conception of what belongs within India is absolutely genius, because it allows anything we think is India to already always be in India, and for there to be no logical way in which to signify non-inclusion”

These two graphs caught my attention the most. I perhaps can’t explain my reasons so clearly but…

India was created on the basis of religion and language, divided so it would be easier to rule. Yet, the over all “India” was supposed to be seamless. And the national anthem, among other things, is supposed to remind us of this.

Nation-ness is fast disappearing in this generation. India is living based on the exclusion of everything. You define the self by what you exclude and what not what is included. You exclude people who have not grown up in the same region, who do not speak the same language, who do not dress the same, do not have the same cultural background. You exclude new cultural values, new traditions and development. Everything is divided and subdivided.

And these divisions grow stronger with progress.

Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai are fighting for their linguistic identities. The linguistic identity is merged by certain people with cultural identity, creating an illusion in people’s minds that it is important to speak a language to retain the cultural identity. Therefore, we renamed Bombay as Mumbai, Bangalore as Bengaluru and we insist that “outsiders” have ruined the city and the only way to restore it is by having every person there speak the same language and that language has to be the regional language.

Does this work? My linguistic identity and cultural identities are two completely different things. Some of the people I interact with everyday… like my cab driver… speak kannada. Infact, they speak multiple languages. Yet they consider themselves “kannadigas”. Ironically, they have no idea about the kannada culture – which is what the ‘certain people’ are trying to protect. The very people speak in telugu, tamil or any other language and they have no more affinity to any particular language. They define themselves by where they were born and grew up.

So how does one really define a cultural identity?

A European friend of mine learned to speak kannada in the few months he spent here. He also learnt more about Indian and kannada culture than most of the people who speak the language at home. He says he wishes he were kannadiga. Should he be awarded an honorary ‘kannadiga’ status or does his French blood line and blond hair exclude him from the group?

This perhaps has nothing to do with the graphs I quoted above… but it just reminded me of all the issues we face currently – the demand for a new state by the Telangana party, the Shiv Sena in Mumbai stating Mumbai is only for Marathis and everyone having to prove their heritage, even if they were born and raised there. And I fear Bangalore, which always had been laid-back and cosmopolitan, is headed the same way.

Cannot we retain the cultural identity despite the influx of new cultures? Isn’t evolution the only way to keep something alive? Literature is important to keeping any language and culture alive. But the literature and art of any culture needs to be accepted, to be in tune with the mindsets of people… not forced down their throats.

Banning other movies so kannada movies get more space to run (like people would go watch it! Probably encourages piracy), insisting all public boards be in kannada… they merely stop progress. and increase resentment against a language. Not help it grow.

So why are the culture pundits harping on this?

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