It was interesting to note that after the outcry in the South over clumsy efforts to impose Hindi by Amit Shah and a group of misguided Bollywood stars, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself tried to appease the rage saying that all Indian languages are worthy of respect and should be honoured. That’s fine, but the real problem is this: Hindiwallahs just can’t understand why, if South Indians want a linking language, it should be English, a foreign import according to them, and not their beloved Hindi.
I have tried, in many articles and speeches (including a few times in Hindi), to explain this to them very simply: all Indians need a liaison language to deal with the administration. We all need government services and therefore need to easily understand what our government is telling us. When the government does it in our mother tongue, it’s easier for us. But when he does it in the mother tongue of someone else whom we know less well than our neighbour, our misunderstanding is compounded by our resentment. As I have asked before: why should the Government of India speak to Shukla in the language which comes most easily to him and which he acquired with his mother’s milk, but not in Subramaniam?
The solution to this question is practical: use Hindi where it is understood, but use English everywhere, as this puts all Indians from all parts of our country at an equal disadvantage. Hindiwallahs keep saying that Hindi is the language that expresses their soul. I agree that English doesn’t express Subramaniam’s soul any more than Shukla’s, but it serves a functional purpose for both, and moreover, it helps Subramaniam understand the same as Shukla. It is impossible for some Indians to receive a linguistic privilege that others do not have; hence English over Hindi for us in the South.
But today, I’m going to take the argument one step further, thanks to my brilliant friend Joseph Zacharias, who occasionally sends me such ideas: if our government wants a liaison language other than English, and that he thinks it must be an Indian language, so why Hindi, whose gender rules and expressions are unfamiliar to a majority of Indians? Indeed, go further: why not Malayalam?
I know North Indians find Malayalam difficult to learn, but many South Indians wonder why common objects in Hindi take on a gender identity: why, for example, in Hindi is table woman and man bed (or is it the other way around)? Not only does Malayalam not have such a troublesome gender issue; it is the perfect blend of Sanskrit and Tamil, the two ancient and classical languages of our country. Indeed, Malayalam’s descent from the two makes it all the more appropriate, since Sanskrit and Tamil are unquestionably the two languages from which all major languages of the Indian subcontinent are derived. Some linguists, in fact, argue that Malayalam is a perfect 50/50 blend of Sanskrit and Tamil. Why can’t it be promoted as the perfect linking language for the country on this basis alone?
Malayalam is a perfect blend of Sanskrit and Tamil: our children can say “vidyaarambham” and “vazhakola” with equal ease.
Indeed, Malayali children capture the imagination of the nation through their performances in popular television shows such as Sony’s ‘Super Star Singer’ and others. Some astonished friends from the North have asked how can children whose mother tongue is not Hindi sing so perfectly in this language? The answer probably lies in Malayalam’s unique quality as the perfect blend of Sanskrit and Tamil: our children can say “vidyaarambham” and “vazhakola” with equal ease.
Some northerners might complain that our Malayalam script is too complicated to learn. In this case, the link language can be implemented in a three-script avatar – in the original Dravidian script, Devanagari and Roman script, which was Subhash Chandra Bose’s recommendation to promote Hindustani written in English! This could be the perfect compromise, argues Joseph Zacharias, between Hindiwallahs and Dravidian objectors. One thing proponents of a national liaison language should think about?