Mind your lingo

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Sep 1 14:06:58 UTC 2008


Marathi, Marathi everywhere… not a word to miss. Speak up! Hands up!
Who wants Marathi and more Marathi and nothing but Marathi in Mumbai?
I love Marathi — it is, after all, my mother tongue! But that does not
mean I want to force it down reluctant throats and indulge in dadagiri
if my neighbour's nameplate is in English or Latin. Or the shop down
the door does not display a prominent enough signboard in the state's
official language. Laws and rules are fine. But what about common
usage? Popular communication? Does language (any language) 'belong' to
a particular community/state/nation/individual? Can it? Should it?

Language is like a mighty river which flows on. It changes and evolves
constantly… it is fluid and mercurial. Which is what makes language so
beautiful. We can create our own lingo. Nobody can claim an absolute
right over language. Nobody can appropriate it, either. Or dictate
that all people should stick to one particular language. There is
nothing official about it. Language is nobody's private property. And,
any attempt to politicise it, must be resisted. Taking pride in one's
language, even linking it to heritage, is one thing. But imposing it
on people is anti-democracy — it amounts to manipulation, mischief and
pressure tactics.

To begin with, the famous spirit of Mumbai is fast disappearing. Do we
want to hasten its demise with language issues? Let those who choose
Marathi go ahead and enjoy it. By all means recommend dual language
signage if that makes the life of ordinary citizens simpler (frankly,
it definitely does, since a vast number of citizens do not know
English). But for God's sake, back off from employing muscle power.
This sort of a self-appointed vigilante approach, is despicable.
Vandalising store fronts, destroying property, beating up shopkeepers
and similar acts of violence are more an indication of goondagiri than

Mumbai is done with that approach. Isn't it immature to think that
signs can change what is in people's hearts? Their mindsets? That a
person has to prove loyalty/commitment to Mumbai via such superficial
gestures? That you automatically become a better Maharashtrian if you
display Marathi signboards? Or the converse? It is laughable and
juvenile to point fingers at other states and say that's how it works
elsewhere. Mumbai's character is unique. It cannot be equated with any
other city in India. That is the way it has always been. It is
Mumbai's strength… and now politicians want to weaken it? Retailers
and traders in the city are being systematically targeted, even though
a writ petition on the issue is pending in the High Court.

Raj Thackeray is an intelligent man. His family name has been taken
from an illustrious English writer. Perhaps his followers aren't aware
of that. It shows that his background was free of parochial hang-ups
and the assumed surname itself is an example of progressive, liberal,
intellectual thinking. Has anybody questioned the Thackerays about
their right to adopt a surname of their choice? Or requested them to
change it? Has anybody doubted their 'Maharashtrian-ness' for even a
moment on account of that? What's in a name, right?

Raj and his militant followers seem to have seen good sense for now
and backed off. The world is changing at such a dramatic speed,
language has become a mere tool for effective communication. Language
in itself has no political hues. Why taint it? Marathi is a rich and
beautiful language. Its origins go back centuries. One just has to
read the Poet Saints of Maharashtra to appreciate the richness of
Marathi. Expose people to its wealth and poetry in a positive way. Let
them be attracted to Marathi on their own. By beating them over the
head with it, all you are doing is generating hostility and driving
away those who may otherwise have been interested in learning and
loving Marathi.There's a charming greeting that is exchanged during
the festival of Sankrant, ''Til-gul ghyaa aani god god bola.'' Raj….
shall we start?

31 Aug 2008, 0123 hrs IST, Shobhaa De


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