Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

A moment of pride, a moment of triumph, a moment of accomplishment, a moment when all Telugus must feel honored. Yes! Our beloved language ‘Telugu’ was conferred the status of a ‘Classical Language’ (Praacheena Bhaasha) by the Union Culture Ministry on October 31, 2008, the eve of ‘Raashtra avataranotsavam‘ (State Formation Day). The Union Culture Minister, Ambika Soni, announced the approval of classical status to the language. It will now be regarded on par with Sanskrit and Tamil, the only two languages that have thus far boasted of the classical status. Tamil was the first to receive the title, in 2004 followed by Sanskrit in 2005. Kannada has also been granted classical status along with Telugu. The four year wait for those vouching for the two languages, has finally ended. Both languages have met the criteria for being graced with ‘classical’ status – antiquity and usage of more than 1500 years, original literature at least 1000 years old.

The panel of experts that convened to evaluate the claims of Telugu has been presented with substantial evidence which establishes its history of more than 2,500 years. The earliest Buddhist Prakrit inscriptions from Bhattiprolu in Guntur district, dating back to 400 BCE, contained several Telugu words, names of places, proving that the language of the natives was Telugu, while the rulers spoke Prakrit. The earliest inscription written entirely in Telugu was found in Kadapa district and dated back to 575 CE. By then Telugu had already evolved into a highly developed and sophisticated language. Although the earliest literature in Telugu can currently be traced back to the 9th century CE, many scholars and linguists believe that earlier literary works must have existed but were either lost or destroyed. Among the various reasons stated for the loss, one stood out – the revival of Hindu beliefs after a long hiatus of Buddhist domination in the region.

Telugu and Kannada did not branch off from an earlier form of Tamil, contrary to popular belief which was advocated by the likes of Periyar, Karunanidhi and other pro-Dravidian secessionists. However, it is true that all the three languages share the same linguistic base, the Proto-Dravidian Language. Tamil, which is considered the purest off-shoot of the Proto-Dravidian language, was the first to branch off and develop independently, while Telugu and Kannada split a little later. Tamil isolated itself and retained the corpus of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary and was less influenced by other languages, whilst Telugu and Kannada were greatly influenced by the tongues of the North, esp. Sanskrit and Prakrit. But all three languages still retain the basic grammatical structure and rudimentary vocabulary of the Proto-Dravidian language (PDL) – the children of one mother. Also, the PDL gave birth to 21 Dravidian languages which can essentially be classified into three groups – the Northern, Central and Southern group. The Northern branch consists of languages like Brahui (spoken in Baluchistan province of Pakistan), Malto and Kudukh (spoken by certian tribes in Central India). The Central group consists of eleven languages of which only Telugu developed into a civilized language with a literary repertoire. The other ten remained tribal languages. Finally, the Southern group consists of Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu, Kodava Takk, Toda and Kota. Five of these languages evolved into modern languages spoken by large populations, while two remained within sylvan confines. Therefore, Tamil and Telugu don’t even belong to the same group to suggest that one branched off from the other. All three languages developed independently.

The great Tuluva emperor of the Vijayanagara empire, Sri Krishna Deva Raya, extoled Telugu in a poem which ends with the line ‘Desha bhaashalandu Telugu lessa‘ (the title of this post) meaning ‘Of all the tongues of the Land, Telugu is the sweetest’. The Italian explorer, Nicola Di Conti, called Telugu the ‘Italian of the East’, since all of its words end in a vowel sound (although I would prefer calling Italian the ‘Telugu of the West’, nevertheless.). The great Tamil poet, Subrahmanya Bharati, sang ‘Sundara Telunginil pattisaitthu‘ meaning ‘Sing in beautiful Telugu’.

This post neither has a structure nor a purpose. It only voices my excitement over the fact that my mother tongue has been declared a classical language. Well, to me Telugu has always been more than just a medium of communication. To me, to speak in Telugu is worship, a divine tongue that it is. It is as important to me as it is to breathe. I have savored its honey-like sweetness and the thirst is insatiable.

This post is my tribute to Telugu! To its antiquity. To its unparalleled poetic beauty. To all those great people who have contributed to it and who have died for its cause!

Jai Telugu Talli!

Swasti!

Image courtesy: www.teluguone.com/…/jaitelugutalli/index.jsp

Who is to blame?

Posted: July 24, 2008 in Culture
Tags: , , ,

It is just another hot summer’s day in the sleepy town of Hapur in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh, a few hours drive east of the nation’s capital. A young, soft spoken South Indian woman hires a rickshaw (cycle-rickshaw) from the local Durga Mandir to her home. The ride begins and the rickshaw-wala listlessly tries to strike a conversation.

Having noticed from her accent that she wasn’t a native Hindi speaker, he naively queries, “Behenji! aap kahaan ke ho?” (“Sister! Where are you from?”)

Ji, hum Hyderabad ke hain,” (” We are from Hyderabad”) the lady politely informs him.

Snap! comes another naive question, “Hyderabad? Pakistan ka Hyderabad ya NTR ka Hyderabad?”

Startled, and also slightly offended by the question, the woman tries to fend off a frown and replies, “NTR ka Hyderabad”.

Achha! aap ‘Madrasi’ ho!”, the rickshaw-wala concludes.

Now, how do you think the poor young lady retorted to this uninformed conclusion? Incidentally, the woman in the story was my mom, a few months before I was born.

Well, my mom, like many other southies, was lost for words. She didn’t know what to say. She thought it best not to argue with him and left it at that. She thought to herself, “the guy knows Pakistan’s Hyderabad, he knows NTR, but doesn’t know that people from Hyderabad are not called ‘Madrasis’, tikkavedhava (Telugu for dimwit, dunce)!!”. To this day, after twenty plus years, when my mom recalls this incident, she thinks the rickshaw-wala’s conclusion mirrors what most North Indians typically think of the South. A teacher that she is, she wanted to do what all teachers do to kids – tweak his ears real hard and teach him the proper demonyms for all the southern states. The poor rickshaw-wala meant no harm, but his sheer ignorance seemed to have scarred my mother’s well-guarded and much treasured sense of cultural and linguistic identity.

This story dates back more than twenty years. Now, let’s fly back into the present. Even today, little has changed in terms of the North’s perspective of South and vice versa. People have started to move across the vastness of the Indian subcontinent and cultures have blended. But a large number of people are still hung up on stereotypes. Why? Is it a lack of exposure to these cultures or the failure to understand them? Who is to blame for the misconceptions? Well, attempts to answer these questions only spawned new questions and answered none. Questions like – when fellow countrymen can’t understand each other who else will? Are people being grossly inconsiderate in taking stereotypes literally rather than just as humorous cultural hyperbole? I understand that not many are affected by the attribution of stereotypes, but for some it doesn’t actually strike the right chord and they end up taking offence. But can anyone blame them for being offended or lock horns with those who are ‘guilty’ of mortifying a fellow countryman?

Now, playing devil’s advocate!! How can we hold anyone culpable for creating a stereotype of a South Indian? (all in good humour, at that!) For a person from the North of the Vindhyas, a southie is someone who utters the interjection ‘Ayyo’ at the drop of a hat. How true!! Who can deny that? South Indians, regardless of the language they speak, hold the sole copyrights to interjecting with an ‘Ayyo’!! Next, a Southie is someone who speaks ‘Taaamil’ (as most Northies call it) or a similar sounding dialect. “Ok! This is true of those from Tamil Nadu, but what about the rest of Dravida Nadu?”, one might ask. Most Northies can barely distinguish between the Dravidian tongues. To them Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Tulu or Malayalam – all sound the same – like Tamil (again ‘Ayyo’ being a common expression)! Now, now! Before we sling mud at anyone, let’s be true to ourselves. How many of us from peninsular India can actually distinguish between the tongues of the North of the Vindhyas – Gujarati from Marwari or Marathi, Assamese from Bengali or Oriya, Hindi from Maithili or Bhojpuri, Haryanvi from Punjabi? Let me conveniently establish that the number is not huge. Also, their addressing us with the demonym ‘Madrasis’ has to do with the fact that most of the South barring Mysore, Travancore (today’s Kerala) and Hyderabad came under the jurisdiction of the Madras Presidency until the states took shape, one after the other. For us Southies, however, everyone from beyond the borders of Andhra or Karnataka are North Indians. We have pulled down the frontiers for ‘North India’ from the Vindhyas to the Godavari! But believe me when I tell you that a Maharashtrian or a Bengali will punch you in the nose if you call him a Northie!!

So, the misconceptions and ignorance are ubiquitous – whether in a Hindi speaking person scoffing at a South Indian for his pronunciation of ‘thoda’ or in a native Telugu speaker cracking up at a Northie saying ‘anti’ for ‘enti’ (meaning ‘what’). Who have we to blame in all this but ourselves? As Indians, regardless of where one is from, we have failed to understand our own compatriots. We need to open up and broaden our horizon of thoughts. The ultimate solution? Well, just let me know if someone comes up with one!! On the top of my head, I can’t think of any!!

Post Script: This post is inspired from the various rants I’ve read from other fellow bloggers on the North Indian preconceptions about those from the South of the Vindhyas. I thought it was time I voiced my thoughts on the subject. I intend no offence whatsoever to anyone whosoever, through my ramblings!

HINDI – MADRASI BHAI BHAI!!

Here’s to a clash of civilisations!!! Enjoy!!

The darkest times in Indian history were not when the Harappan civilization faded into oblivion, not when Alexander crossed the Sindhu, not during the Kalinga battle, not during the first Muslim conquest, not even when the British dug their fingers deep into the Indian soul, but in the last sixty years of independent India (1947 – 2007). The ‘Goras’, having gone bankrupt during WW-II and having drained the Indian exchequer as well, found no use for India any longer. So, they left it to us Indians to build a nation from the ruins they left behind. We the people of India, then broke it into two and gave unto ourselves India (for the Hindus and ‘secularists’) and Pakistan (for the Muslims). Of course, the British were undoubtedly the henchmen in this task – in fact they were guilty of fueling the growing mistrust between the Indian leaders. After all, their principal dogma of governance was to ‘Divide and Rule’. Ultimately, the independence did indeed rid us of a 200 year long British nightmare, but it also ushered in an even grimmer, more sinister period.

India during and after Partition

With the country split in two, more than ten million people were forced to relocate, sparking the largest exodus of human population the world has ever seen. Their lives turned upside-down overnight. Mutual hatred kindled fires of religious violence. The inferno raged across the two new-born nations and only ashes remained of more than a million souls. The seamlessly woven Indian fabric was torn apart, beyond repair, never to be the same again. This was the ominous beginning to the building of the two free nations of India and Pakistan. The Partition of India still remains one of the bloodiest chapters in human history. The survivors still retain harsh vivid memories from the time. The scars are too deep to heal. The two neighbors have since had to face hostilities from each other over a disputed paradise which both claim propriety over. They have fought three major wars in less than 53 years. They still look daggers at each other and neither shows any signs of relenting. All the bitterness has been pushing the divinely beautiful Kashmir valley (the disputed paradise) far from being the utopia it once was. Kashmir being a Muslim dominated region, the hostilities have driven the Kashmiri Hindus out of their homes and made them refugees in their own country. The Muslims aren’t living in peace themselves. Often suspected of fanning terrorism in the valley, Kashmir has become a living hell for the innocent Muslim. We the people of both countries are now crossing fingers hoping that Kashmir does not turn into a ‘Paradise Lost’!!

Both countries have had their share of political upheavals through the years. India, for its part, has had to face the challenge of reorganizing itself politically, and building a democracy. The multitude of languages spoken throughout the land lay the groundwork for the political reorganization of the Union. This was in the face of secessionists from certain regions demanding sovereignty for their respective provinces. The secessionists sometimes made their presence felt through extreme violence. India even had to acquire certain provinces like Goa (also called Gomantak) and Pondicherry (also called Puduchcheri) from other European colonists – the Portuguese and the French respectively, who wouldn’t let go easy. The consolidation of India into a Union was by no means an easy task and it was certainly not innocent of the people’s blood. The Union had to pay an insufferable price to stay united.

The politics of post-independence India could not have been murkier. Even the British Raj would be put to shame with the levels of corruption that have crept into the system. Almost the entire political spectrum of the country is now infested with corrupt, reprobate leaders who have the word ‘Bhrashtachari’ etched on their foreheads. The dirty politics of caste, ethnicity and religion have plagued and crippled the country. The declaration of Emergency in 1975 is a grim reminder of the disrespect for democracy shown by our so-called ‘leaders’. Riot-mongers have ripped the nation apart on more occasions than the land had ever seen throughout its long historical legacy. India has also been labeled a ‘soft target’ for terrorist attacks. The partition was a harbinger for further animosity between the two neighbors and also amongst the communities within the country. Some catastrophic events still remain fresh in the nation’s mind while some have been forgotten. These incidents today only play around as nightmares in the memories of the survivors. The 1984 Anti-Sikh attacks that followed the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, are one such less-remembered incident where man has tried to play God. In a period of less than three days, in Delhi alone, more than five thousand Sikhs were either burnt alive or hauled to death. My parents themselves bearing witness to a few of the atrocities. Most other killing sprees across the country went unreported. The guilty still roam around scott-free, because their political clout made the best use of all the loop-holes in the Indian judicial system. One reason why many Indians have lost their trust in the judiciary is because it still sells itself to political pressure. The judiciary has become the underdog of India’s democracy. India is today considered one of the worst countries to fight a legal battle – the feather in the cap of 60 year old Indian Democracy!! Corruption, inept leadership and utter pandemonium in the political system had almost drained the National Treasury to the point of bankruptcy in 1991. If it weren’t for the few remnants of wisdom in the nation, only God knows what the chaos would have pushed all of us into!

Acts of God have also done their part in ravaging India in more ways than one. Cyclones, earthquakes, famines, droughts, spates, tsunamis and other forces of destruction have all chipped in on behalf of Mother Nature to the devastation of the land. Although these are inevitable and in most cases unpredictable, it is still painful to admit how powerless we humans are against such forces. Several unforgettable disasters have left an indelible imprint on the Indian psyche. The Bengal Famine of the 40s claimed three million lives. The Great Cyclone of 1970, named Bhola, ripped through most of the Eastern coast of India and East Pakistan (which went on to become Bangladesh in 1971) and washed away more than three hundred thousand lives. The Latur, Gujarat and Kashmir Earthquakes of 1993, 2001 and 2005 respectively buried more than a 100,000 people. The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 built another fifty thousand watery graves. More such calamities will occur in the future with unquestionable certainty. We humans are not bestowed with the power to control Nature, but we are definitely bestowed with the mental faculty to be prepared for the worst.

This preparedness for the worst, a visionary outlook, a harmonious and responsible society, a stable and clean political system are not fragments of unrealistic hope, if only we as the citizens of the country assume as an obligation the salvaging of India from the quagmire we ourselves have pushed her into. As the ancient strategist and politician, Chanakya (Kautilya) quoted ‘the downfall of a nation is most importantly due to its irresponsible citizens’. Hence, the panacea to all the maladies is responsibility and action. The last two decades bear testimony to a changing India. We have shown significant progress in these two decades, but this is only the first step to a long journey. We have just begun a process of change that spells a mightier India. The sleeping giant is beginning to hear the melodies of the dawn of a glorious era. The phoenix is beginning to rise from the ashes of time. Let us turn the wheels of India’s fortune and restore its past splendour.  Let India soar, high in to the skies of glory, where it once was and where it rightly belongs. Our National Anthem extols the ‘Dispenser of India’s destiny’. Let us not forget that, ‘We, the people of India’ are the ‘Dispensers of her destiny’. Let victory be ours!!

JAI HIND!!!