Girish Karnad, Amitav Ghosh, and all of us
While the fetishizing of the three-language policy in the new Draft National Education Policy has caused a storm, it must be understood that the protests have been against a rigid central prescription for how diverse states should deploy their resources, not against multilingualism as such.
Actually the encomiums that have poured abundantly over the past week, since the death of Girish Karnad, emphasize how much the knowing of multiple languages can help one know the many cultures of India and stand all the taller in the world for that.
Karnad’s mother tongue was Konkani, his English impeccable, his Marathi comfortable, and of course the language he chose to write in was Kannada – writings for which he won the 1998 Jnanpith award, the highest literary honour in India.
But another thing that happened last week was that an English language writer got this award for the first time ever. In his Jnanpith acceptance speech Amitav Ghosh emphasized, however, that his work has been “shaped, formed and enabled by the linguistic diversity and pluralism” in which he grew up.
He also said that it is not just in India but in the entire subcontinent that writers, no matter what language they write in, have to “contend with multiple currents of language, many of which flow across the borders and boundaries that divide us from our neighbors.” And even more interestingly, that this reality had existed long before the arrival of English here. “For thousands of years, literate Indians have been expected to be conversant not only with ‘Languages of Place’, or desabhasas, but also with at least one language that transcended place and region.”
In what could be a dictum for our times, Amitav Ghosh underlined that communication between languages “always requires humility, patience, and a willingness to listen.” Everyone concerned with the health of India should cherish these qualities and help grow them.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.