Today is Obama’s swearing in. I am eagerly looking at the clock to when the ceremony will begin. Browsing news sites for the exact time of his address I stumbled upon Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention address in 2004. It tied in with a question I had in mind when I listened to Jayant Kaikini’s talk at his poetry launch in December, 2008. That day the World Cultural Centre in Bangalore was packed with lovers of his writing. Jayant talked of how his songs in Mungaru Male, Milana and other movies had struck a chord with those people who are being increasingly left out of Bangalore’s progress. The cab drivers, the workers of the city who did not get 80 percent marks and who could not get BPO and call centre salaries now felt proud to walk into PVR and see a movie in their own language.
I recognised Jayant’s point about pride for native language and wanted to ask him what should someone like me do? I write but I do not think I belong to a language. Will I ever have a hall full of people on my book launch? I remembered Jayant’s hard days and was happy for this proud moment. But, I wondered if I will ever have people in my audiences who would share the sensibilities of the crowds Jayant had attracted.
I posed the question to Smita Kaikini, Jayant’s wife. She replied: My mother studied in a convent in Goa when the Portuguese were in power there. My mother had struggled for Goa’s independence. She was firm that she will educate her children in the vernacular medium. Our mother tongue is Konkani but Konkani does not have its own script. Marathi is closest and since we were in Bombay, she put all of us in a Marathi medium school.
She further said: Having studied in a Marathi medium school, I had a complex about my English. I did not want it to happen with my kids. So when it came to putting my children to school, I was not ready to put my kids in a vernacular medium school. When my kids sang English rhymes, I knew they did not understand them as we do not speak English at home. I had to explain the meaning of each word (if the rhymes were in the mother tongue they would have been understood without effort). I was uncomfortable, but I did not want my kids to fall behind just because they were not educated in English. If that is the case, what will be the status of regional languages in some years?
This is so right. Maybe I was harking back to an earlier time when people were known by their languages and writers were embodiments of those who had harnessed the language and pushed its envelope to find new meanings. I am sure we will always have language enthusiasts but the reality of more people in the future will be that they will be bi- or multi-lingual. My generation and the next generations will be of those who will struggle with rhymes they do not understand but have to learn and with languages they love but can not use in the bigger world. Maybe writers should, going forward, define meanings irrespective of languages.
Barack Obama’s convention speech is the epitome of such a mixed future. Guess what will remain important is not a language or a regional identity but values. Writing will be about right and wrong, good and bad choices. It will not be about who we are but about what we think and believe in.