English: India’s National Language?
Session : K R Meera, Urvashi Butalia, Ashutosh Potdar, Manu S Pillai
Moderator: R Sivapriya
The talk was about whether one should accept English as a National language of the country as it is widely used by various authors and the session included writers from different part of the world, such as Ashutosh Potdar- a Marathi writer, Urvashi Butalia- a Punjabi writer, K. R Meera – Malayai novelist and Manu S Pillai , a Malayali who writes in English. The session included thoughts upon:
Whether English should be considered more by the writers for a wider reach?
For this KR Meera’s reply was ” It is as if you ask me to leave my child and take care if the Queen’s Children, why should I do that?”. She says every child’s first word is “Amma” which is a term used for mother in our language.
She says that she is very proud of her native language and refuses to move to any other language for her books to be read. Further she says that there are no equivalents for some Malayalam words in English language. She recalled the struggle she and her Novel “Araachar’s translator Devika had to undergo to find an equivalent word for “Adheeshatvam” which was the very soul of the novel. She continued that a novel to succeed, it must have elements that stands apart from other works, which she can only produce in her own language. She says that essays and short works could be written in English, but novels, that has many layers in it, she cannot write in English.
Manu S Pillai, agrees very much with KR Meera’s statement and says that it is true that Malayalam cannot be truly translated into English. A lot of artificiality enters into it as it is converted into another language and the problem of not finding equivalents is real. He further says that he comes from a family where his paternal grandfather was an illiterate farmer and his maternal grandfather was a fluent English speaker. He has got both backgrounds in his family. His father when was admitted into an English medium school, had to struggle as his primary education was in Malayalam medium.
He says that the global power of English makes even our parents think that their children must learn in a good English medium educational institutions.
He says that he grew up in Pune, and hence speaks much better Marathi than Malayalam. He writes mostly in English and English has eventually become his first language in many ways. But he says that whenever a translated work is read, there’s a yearning to go back to its roots. He recalls reading MT’s translated work and wishing to read the original work. He says though English is the most influential language in their lives, there always remains a desire to go back to the roots.
Urvashi Butalia says that language is organic. We think of our own language with the authenticity that it does not have. She recalls the Pakistanis Calling her works the authentic Punjabi, whereas in Punjab the Punjabi of Pakistan is considered authentic. She says that sometimes we don’t find equivalents in English, but the opposite can also happen.
Ashutosh Potdar says that it is not just about spoken text, its is much more, it is about a larger culture.
Is English an Indian Language?
Manu S Pillai says that language has evolved from many languages. Even the elite English has the influence of Persian. Hence the purist is sometimes influenced from outside. He is of the view that to write in other language will not take away the Indianness. He compares it to Ambedkar wearing a coat, and still being an Indian citizen. English did come from outside, but it is a part of India now. It is a part of Indian thoughts and Indian History.
K.R. Meera continues that she has two worlds of readers, one those who read her in Malayalam and those who read the translated works. Her translator Devika takes it as a task to set free the writers to the vast world of readers. But the culture representation is important. She says that, rather than any other, regional works stand apart. She believes in staying rooted in Indian language which will nourish the world and translating a work from its native form will have more culture in it than writing it in another language.
Ashutosh Potdar says that English is an Indian language simply because it is spoken in India. He says that there are different Marathis spoken in different parts of Maharashtra. If one doesn’t speak Marathi, it doesn’t mean that he’s not a Marathi. He says that in his plays, the characters speak Marathi, but they speak multiple Marathis. All there Marathis are legitimate and bringing the unknown words into the dictionary is a part of our job.
Urvashi Butalia says that she does not have a straight answer to this. This is not a question to be even asked. What English is ,according to her , a language that came along with the colonizers but also it is the weapon that we used against them. For Dalit writers, English is a weapon that claims the Knowledge that they attained which was denied to them. We should recognize the language for its social mobility. We should own it,use it, twist it, and drop it when we want to. There’s no need to wonder it it is ours.
The Imposing of Hindi as National language
Urvashi Butalia says that there’s no problem in Hindi being “a National language” but it cannot be “the National language”
Ashutosh Potdar says that why should something be called a National language, it can be an official language, it cannot be recognized as National language in Indian context where we have such diverse languages and cultures.
Meera says that she particularly has a problem in using the term “National”. A language should be used in accordance the comfort of a speaker, and there’s no need if such a label.
Manu agrees with Meera and says that the only thing to highlight is that migration is becoming beyond anybody’s control. A migrating person will have to learn the local language to converse with the local people. He says that Language is organic and things will evolve as they have always evolved.