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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Story of a 'Madrasi'!


I wrote this originally in Hindi thinking that if an article which in principle disagrees with the recent note from the Government of India to ensure primacy of Hindi as a language of governance were in Hindi, it would be quite cheeky and in principle, apt. Those who missed it may check here!  However many friends, especially Mr. Husain Sadar of Canada suggested that if the same may be translated and posted, it would be useful for people who cannot read/write Hindi but are equally interested in this issue. So here goes! Thank you Mr.Sadar.


A few words about me to start with! My mother tongue is Tamil and despite this, I am not a foreigner. I am an Indian and possibly as much an Indian as you, whose mother tongue is Hindi. If you are confused with my above statements, I don’t blame you as this discussion leaves me in such a state too. You would have noticed it often and this was making headlines recently too that Hindi language should be given primacy in all government work. You would have also noted various views expressed on this subject, some in its favour and some otherwise, some in civil words and some…………………sigh!

Our history is witness to the importance Language or Languages have in our society. From Linguistic based reorganization of states to pro and anti-language agitations, we have seen all. People have sacrificed their lives on this issue and from the looks of it would seems that they are quite willing to sacrifice as well as take a few lives too. This is reason enough to ensure that whenever we have a debate on such issues, we do it sanely and objectively sans emotions. “Unity in diversity” is one mantra which is taught right from our primary schools the way a mother would feed her new born. Our Constitution is primarily based on celebrating this diversity. Among the various instances of diversity in this country, Language possibly takes the first and most important position. They say, in India “कोस कोस पर पानी बदले, चार कोस पे वाणी", meaning  “Taste of water changes every mile, and the language every four”! In such a social cauldron, it is imperative that any decision which can jeopardize the plurality of our society should not be taken with narrow political gains in mind.

It has often been said of people like me especially by the folks up in the northern part of India that we ‘Madrasis’ don’t know Hindi and we take special pride in being ‘Anti-Hindi!’. “’Madrasi’ doesn’t know Hindi, has no enthusiasm to learn it too, should someone be interested they wouldn’t permit it, even if he knows Hindi he would deliberately feign ignorance of it!” I am sure most of you would have used the above lines or heard the same being said some time or the other in life. I for one am tired of it! Very very discriminatory indeed! I mean have you ever heard a ‘Madrasi’ on reaching Delhi complain, “This ‘Hindiwala’ doesn’t know Tamil, Doesn’t want to learn Malayalam either, If someone wants to learn Telugu he is discouraged, even if he knows Kannada he would deliberately feign ignorance of it!” (My dear countrymen: Did you just notice the diversity that exists even within what you think is a homogeneous ‘Madrasi’? Welcome!) And this is not restricted to ‘Madrasi’ alone. My other friends who subscribes to Bengali, Oriya, Ahomiya, Gujrati, Marathi etc as their mother tongue are feeling the same way!

I am not only a South Indian whose mother tongue is not Hindi but I also reside in South India where the usage of Hindi is not very popular. The primacy of Tamil in Tamilnadu or Marathi in Maharashtra is after all expected and should be so too. Despite this handicap, today my children study Hindi in their school. Do you know why? Because it is a voluntary decision and not because Hindi is being imposed on us. Our belief is  we will anyway end up learning our mother tongue/regional language, with the International language English being mandatory, knowing Hindi opens up for us opportunities in those parts of the country where this language dominates! In short for economic gains and opportunity, not for any special love that we have for Hindi. While you keep debating emotional appeal of Hindi, we ‘Madrasis’ are already learning the language and it is but a matter of time when we will swarm all over the Hindi heartland. The moot question my friends though is when will you learn ‘Madrasi’!


Q: Do you know which institution has rendered yeoman service to popularize Hindi in Tamilnadu?
A: ………………………………………………………Bollywood!

Madrasi: An term used to describe South Indians. The present day South India was one administrative unit called Madras Presidency during the days of British Raj in India!

Thank you @atiyaz for "कोस कोस पर पानी बदले, चार कोस पे वाणी"!


  1. Why do we become a purist when it comes to language (yes we do become one for other reasons too - largely inconsequential). One perspective being that language is one medium of communication, as long as one is able to express and the other able to comprehend, what more do you need? Why does one need to conform to purity or a kind of language? Shouldn't we be thankful that we have a voice and an ability to hear, those who do not have this and communicate through sign language do not facethese language issues, do they communicate any less? For them at least one less discrimination - they are not dissected on language.

    My mother tongue is Hindi but have many friends from other regions whose mother tongue is not Hindi but they express much better than me in MY mother tongue. Shame on me...I cant reciprocate the same to them. But I make serious effort to learn.

    1. Dear Vijay,

      Agree with you on Language being a tool for communication. However Language has an economic dimension as well as an emotional connect. And hence any imposition of a language leads to dissonance. Tamilnadu has moved on from its 'Anti-Hindi' days to learn Hindi ones purely on this basis. I am well aware of your skills with Telugu so I presume the 'barb' to learn 'Madrasi' is not directed at you. Thanks for reading.

  2. One of the thoughts which is always tucked away when reading the opinion of others is this: Am I asking the right questions? And if I am asking the wrong question will I end up with the wrong solution?

    While agreeing with the broad stroke on the palette, a different brush is required when discussing language tools and governance. The work of governance requires the dissemination of policies, regulations, and a vast communication conduit to do her work. So there must be an official and primary language which is recognized as the means of communication for official business. This is not so much an issue of a particular ethnocentric pride in mother tongue, rather based on the need to adhere to standard business practices in an effective manner.

    Recognition of a language to be used in official capacity for the work of government is more practical than political. The beauty of this unfolds when noting that the establishment of this benchmark pushes the citizens forward to master the mechanics of two languages, and in many nations, the mastery of three languages.

    Sanskrit is considered to be an ancient form of communication which was cherished for use in diplomatic circles because of the difficulty of the average individual grasping the nuances of meaning of the language in spoken form. I am grateful that in my own nation English is the official language. It is a soft language and fairly easy to grasp. As we also have many Spanish-speaking citizens I am also fluent in Spanish. I have an acceptable working knowledge of French. Every one of these applications is for practicality.

    Mother tongue is very, very important because our generations and our history are passed along via oral tradition. So it can and should be retained as the primary means of communication within the home and regional community. But as government must meet the needs of a vastly diverse population, an official language for the work of business is desirable.

    Nice commentary and I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thank you for letting me add my own.

    Tammy Swofford

    Daily Times, Friday page
    Economic Affairs, senior writer

    1. Dear Tammy,

      I agree in principle with your assertion that convenience of communication should decide the use of any language for effective governance. The situation in India however is quite different and may I add unique. The federating units manage the governance in the regional language and the 'Link' language between the regional units and the federal govt is English and has been so for more than 100+ years from the Raj days. Imposition of any one language or primacy to any one in such a scenario leads to disturbing the hornets nets. English by the way is no longer an alien language in India. The present arrangement of Regional languages in the regions and English as the 'Link' is ideal and should continue. India is quite different from most countries as the sheer size and the diversity doesn't permit homogeneity and hence kudos to the makers of India's constitution who recognized this facet. India as we know would not have existed but for the celebration of its diversity by its people.

      Also the fact that almost all Indian language are ancient and rich. Tamil for example is a 4000 year old Classical language with one of the most developed grammar and its ancient literature a veritable treasure trove of history of Mankind. As are most other Indian languages. Such heritage will suffer if only one language is promoted.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.