Friday, June 01, 2007

Get offended

The last few years have seen numerous cases of people getting offended for weirdest acts of crime; be it the offense over Ravi Shastri eating beef, Richard-Shilpa kissing, Saching cutting tricolor cake, or even Narayan Murthy playing National Anthem musical. There are many more cases of these kind, but the ones listed above are definitely representative of the ones dominating public memory. While the first one was seen as offending religious sentiments, the second one was about culture and the latter two were about national symbols. What is peculiar about these cases is that not only is there no hint of intention to cause offense, but the offense reported seems to come more out of the insecurity and inferiority complex of the people getting offended. What else can explain people getting offended on a thing like cutting a tricolor flag. I love my motherland, and if I had independently come to know of a person cutting a tricolor flag, I would have admired his love for India.

But the people directly involved are also not the only ones to be blamed for this. Unfortunately, our socio-cultural upbringing lays more stress on looking up to the west than being pride of our own culture. So when we see a person aping west by eating beef, paranoia reaches its peak as we start feeling insecure that someone our own has deserted us for the west; ditto for an Indian women receiving a kiss in public. Also since we look down at our country's past when compared to the west, we are again quick to take offense at something remotely offensive. Something that happened in 2002, should have actually taken place in 1947.

Moreover, it should be the intention that should count and not the end result. There are many things we see and experience regularly that would technically amount to religious (or national) blasphemy if seen with a different perspective. When a potter or sculptor makes giant Lord Ganesh statues for Ganesh Chaturthy, they have to invariably step on the chest (or sometimes the head) of Ganesh to make it perfectly. When Diwali arrives, every other local newspaper publishes a full page Goddess poster which ends up in the waste paper bin or the raddi-trolley. Ever visited a primary school? Just see the children singing the National Anthem and you will start rolling listening to the mistakes they make. Think yourself as perfect? Just sing the Anthem yourself. If it is even a second longer or shorter than 52 seconds, it would be my pleasure to sue you. Of course, there is a good possibility that once that I have pointed these out, some people would have already begun their hunt to get offended.

The only way I see out of this to start taking pride in our own culture and stop teaching our children that we Indians are inferior to our western counterparts. What was started by the British to save their crown seems to have been dutifully followed by our countrymen even after independence. While nearly all developed countries do official business in their native language, India still clings to English.

Interestingly, I quizzed myself on what would come next: the BIG thing of taking offense. My search did not last long. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you this video to take offense to.

Needless to say, this video is an insult to our country. Not only does it distorts the way our National Anthem is sung, it even has regional dialects thrown in. What is more, this one has big names involved (Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, A R Rahman, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and many more), enough to get you good publicity if that is your sole motive. Grab this opportunity before someone else does.

I can hardly wait to see a news coverage on this video controversy.


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Jinal Shah said...

I am not sure if you are being sarcastic in this post or if you truly mean it. You express surprise over the fact that India clings to English. What may I ask, in your opinion, should India's language of choice be? And before you say hindi, you perhaps might want to consider as much as we think Hindi is spoken nationwide, it is not. Esp. in the Southern States in India.

Also, I would ask you - what is so wrong in India 'clinging' to English? Each country is shaped and continues to reflect its history. Would it be fair then to say that America should revert back to doing business in the native Indian languages? There is a time and place to shed the weight of the 'way things were' and grow up to 'way things are."

Lastly, again, I am not sure if you are being sarcastic - but what is so wrong about this beautiful rendition of our national anthem? Does it not still exude respect and pride for the country? What India and Indians alike cling into to is not English, but the notion of what India was prior to the British occupation - nevermind that majority of us have grown up knowing nothing else but the "now."

Btw - I landed on your blog after reading your insightful comments about education on Rashmi Bansal's blog.

Ambuj Saxena said...

@ Jinal Shah

Before anything, I WAS being sarcastic about the National Anthem offence, if it isn't clear from the article.

I think you have slightly misunderstood me on India clinging to English. I don't blame you, because it is a very complicated issue and I had written just about one sentence on it.

English may now be a natural choice of national language, but that is mostly owing to many of us looking up to English as "Language of the west" and aping it, rather than it actually being a good choice. What the USA did was totally different. In fact when they got independence, they over-reacted to everything colonial: driving on the wrong (right) side of the road, using different electrical system, etc. So their use of English as a national language has been because of much more practical consideration than looking up the colonial British. Just think about it, how many Americans spoke Cherokee when they got independence?

If the attitude of Indians was different when we got independence, Hindi would have had far richer literature and much better penetration among the masses. I am not blaming the politicians here, they probably did the right thing by making Hindi as the National Language. But pride is something that can't be imposed upon. It pains me to see that there are people who think speaking Hindi is below their standards. This is not to say that Hindi would have become a nationally accepted language. I am very well aware of the conflicts in a multi-cultural society as ours. But there is an element of pride as own langauge that's missing especially among Hindi speakers, who form the majority language group in India. Having lived in West Bengal for five years, I can give their example having found that Bengalis in general are very proud of their language. Irrespective of their location of residence, they always teach their children to be proficient in Bengali. The case is true for many other languages in India. I haven't got a very reliable way of ranking prides, but one representative way is to see how many Wikipedia articles exist for every million language speakers. Telugu ranks top among Indian languages with 589 articles per million speakers. Other languages are: Marathi (288), Tamil (227), Bengali (105)...and finally Hindi at dismal 57. English on the other hand is at 1678, and if you include only native speakers, the figure shoots to 8137. Chinese wikipedia, even though being banned in China, is at 233. I am not very sure how accurately these figures represent patriotism as there are many other deciding factors as well. I request you to go through the link I posted in order to get a deeper understanding on my stand. Fortunately, just today, Nita posted another good article on the subject.

Unfortunately you can't change the past, and you can't change people. I am not denying the role on English in developing India. But I am saddened by the attitude of Indians (especially Hindi-speaking people) towards their mother-tongue which has made their native languages languish. It is perhaps for this reason that this post of mine is in English rather than Hindi.

I know I have left many more questions open as have answered. But this is a tricky issue and there are lots of grey areas. But I am not suggesting to go back and try to correct the wrongs. Allow me stop the argument here.

Again, there is nothing wrong with the song. In fact, I love it. You make me feel like Matt after commenting that he hated Canadians.

Ambuj Saxena said...

Just for clarification, I am talking about individual language Wikipedia articles. My sources are: For Speakers; For Articles