Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eternal struggle of the Tamil Mind

I wrote the following as a 'comment' in a Churumuri discussion on the Classical Language fracas between Tamil and Kannada.

1. What has Tamil achieved by this classical language tag? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We have always had “Long live classical Tamil” kind of boards in TN. Getting the union government to ‘recognize’ this, was just a massaging of the egos and cheap politics.
2. That criterion for classical languages was originally drawn by Prof. George Hart who occupies the Tamil chair at UC Berkeley. He would obviously have his biases. That list should not be taken seriously.
3. As for as I know Kannada today is in a better shape than Tamil. Our versions of Ananthamurthies and Girish Karnads, have no voice whatsoever. The number of Gnanpith awards and Sahaitya Akademi fellowships lay witness to the better shape of Kannada literature.
4. We Tamils have always claimed credit for the collective heritage of all south indian langauges. Even Tamils know that claims like oldest Tamil book discovered being 2500 years old are false! Kannadiga’s should only be amused and not feel insecure about our theatrics!
5. Its funny that Kannadiga’s are being urged to feel insecure for not being insecure already! Tamils espouse their language more out of insecurity than any notions of superiority.
6. People often confuse Tamil’s fight with itself for survival as supremacy! Everyone in TN has heard of the phrase ‘Mella Tamil ini saagum’ (Tamil will slowly die). Kannada may not be having such problems. So just ignore us.

Some examples of this Tamil fight for survival.

a. 300 BC - Brahmi script brought by Jains to south India is adopted by Tamil. It could either mean that Tamils had no script prior to that or the existing script lost space to Brahmi.
b. 300 BC - 700 AD - Mainly Jain/Buddhist/Ajivika literature is available from this period. What happened to the Hindu (rather native-Tamil) literature? Were they lost or simply did not exist?
c. 1200~ - 1800 AD - Grantha script and Sanskrit words overwhelm Tamil. Thats essentially Sankritization. Later, few people including Christian missionaries from Europe helped to rediscover Tamil.
d. 1800~ - 1950 - Sanskrit words again assault Tamil since printing press was in the hands of Brahmins. Another movement was launched among others by Periyar to recover ground. Roughly in the same period Carnatic Music bypasses Tamil because Nayaks were ruling TN and also because Tamil being quite rigid in the kind of sounds it can make, was not suitable for Carnatic Music.
e. 1950 - 1970 - Having just fought Sanskrit, Tamils panicked and fought Hindi tooth and nail.
f. Today we are fighting against English because most Tamils find their own language to be too difficult to communicate effectively. Even I cannot speak few sentences in a row without using English words.

So much for Tamil supremacy! Kannadiga’s should be happy that you guys are not as insecure as we are!

16 comments:

ரவிசங்கர் said...

balaji,

u r trying to be practical but i am disappointed that u gave lot of chances for misunderstanding for the other side. they r only too happy 2 receive a வாக்குமூலம் from tamil.

1.tamil is a classical language and we know and feel it whether others accept or not. we need indian government's recognition just for the money involved. There is nothing wrong in lobbying in national or global scale for a deserving candidate. to say that we got nothing out of this announcement is wrong. central fundings are alloted and research centres are being setup in TN.

2. I don't think that professor' berkley's letter was the most important deciding factor. any body would be stupid to decide based just on one letter. besides, he is also an expert on other classical languages including sanskrit. his list is just a common sense listing of what a classical language could be. A language's present status doesn't have anything to do with its classicness.

3. I don't the reality of use of kannada in karnataka now. If it has widespread use and has a thriving literature now, I am only glad to know it. I am language enthusaist and would only be happy to know that every single exisiting language in the world is saved. but there is no need to trash or speak less of another language and the race following it.

To say tamil is a classical language we speak on our own merits not on the basis comparing and crying regarding another language.

loopholes in ur argument:

1. u say the claims of tamils having books dating 2500 years before is false. please don make such sweeping statements. ofcourse we don have physically existing books., what about tholkaappiyam? it is a grammar book dating to beginning of AD. anyone would know that writing grammar follows only after a language has evolved which takes hundreds of years..

2. 300 BC - 700 AD - only jain literature?? i don care why hindu literature is missing or was it there first hand? but ur statement seems to mean that the only existing literature is jain literature..we have lots of non-religious literature during this time.. புறநானூறு, திருக்குறள்..to name a few..

ரவிசங்கர் said...

to say we too act out of insecurity most of the times and not of supremacy (though we have the merit but we are generally accommodating for all cultures, languages, religions) is fine. but the references, arguments au have put forward are flawed and could make others under estimate tamil. that's my concern

Balaji said...

haha, I knew this would be coming!

>> we need indian government's recognition just for the money involved.

why? If the central govt spends money on Sanskrit which is a dying language, we can understand. If it spends money on Tamil, won't other languages demand the same?

The classical 'recognition' may help more western univs to establish Tamil chairs. But I wonder why TN govt itself could not work with such univs to get such chairs. Union govt declaring Tamil and then Sanskrit as classical could have only caused heartburn for others. Thats what it has achieved.

>> any body would be stupid to decide based just on one letter.

I didn't say the govt did so. But the list could only be called Hart's list. Its more like the 'seven wonders of the world'.

>> To say tamil is a classical language we speak on our own merits not on the basis comparing and crying regarding another language.

I think when a government of a country which has so many languages declares just two in some list, such comparisons are inevitable.

>> what about tholkaappiyam? it is a grammar book dating to beginning of AD.

I think there is a general tendency among Tamils to over state the antiquity of Tholkaapium and Thirukural. I'm not saying Tamil works didn't exist before then. Just that we haven't found them. As I had recently pointed out in my tamil blog, Iravatham Mahadevan doesn't think Tholkappium is older than 3rd century AD. Some Kannada books are only few centuries behind that.

>> 300 BC - 700 AD - only jain literature??

I didn't want to mean only Jain. But most literature of this period is either secular or Jain. So I was naturally curious about what happened to Hindu literature. We might have lost them. Literature cannot be great without a script. If Tamils didn't have a script before they adopted Brahmi brought by Jains, its probable that Tamil had no literature before their arrival.

I don't know how you claim Thirukural is not a Jain work. Jains are atheists. So I would suspect any secular wisdom literature to be Jain, unless I know otherwise.

To conclude, will we Tamils ever reconcile to calling Hindi as the 'national language' of India? Never!! So we should also be not demanding unnecessary titles for Tamil.

ரவிசங்கர் said...

//why? If the central govt spends money on Sanskrit which is a dying language, we can understand. If it spends money on Tamil, won't other languages demand the same?//

If the government can draft a plan to spend equal money on par with what it spends for sanskrit for all indian languages, i would welcome it. Until then, going through the classical language status route was one option for us. ஒரு வரிக்குதிரையைக் குதிரை என்று சொல்ல தி.மு.க தன் செல்வாக்கைப் பயன்படுத்தவில்லை. ஒரு குதிரையைக் குதிரைன்னு ஒப்புக்க வைக்கவே இவ்வளவு செய்ய வேண்டியதாப் போச்சு..இப்ப மற்ற மொழிக்காரர்கள் செய்வது என்னவென்றால், they are trying to redefine how a horse looks like :) so they can also be called a horse

//The classical 'recognition' may help more western univs to establish Tamil chairs. But I wonder why TN govt itself could not work with such univs to get such chairs.//

The TN govt needs to do a lot fpor tamil, let alone these..there needs to be done in the grass root level.

//Union govt declaring Tamil and then Sanskrit as classical could have only caused heartburn for others. //

i would say that this is just immaturity and inferirority on their part. though we have a tradition of keeping away from sanskrit we do not deny its merit and don feel offended by it. why should others?

I am not well read about brahmi-jain-atheist-literature theory so i don want to argue just arguing sake. but i accept there are contradicting research findings on tamil's antiquity and scripts.

but i am amused how u r daring to put all atheist literature under jain category? couldn't our ancestors think anything outside religuion.? புறநானாறு, அகநானூறு எல்லாம் வாழ்வியல் இலக்கியங்கள் தானே? இதில் சமயப்பார்வையோடு மட்டும் அணுகத் தேவை என்ன? first of all thirukkural is not atheist literature and it accepts or hints at the existance of god.

--

i just wanted to register my views..not interested in continuing the debate without having well read..i would request that atleast when u voice ur opinions in other community forums try to be as balanced as you can. no research finding has been 100% accepted yet, so if you present only what u believe, then it could very well be taken as a confession by all tamils..which is not true

Balaji said...

yeah, obviously I'm no expert either. But Tamils have earned a very bad name among others. Who is to be blamed for this is beside the point. So I just commented in Churumuri to offer a Tamil or rather my perspective.

I didn't say Thirukural was atheist, but its definitely secular. I would love to know more about what ancient Tamils wrote on the five Tamil gods or Shiva. Things like this

In another setting I would also talk about how Sanskrit was an elite language even in north india and how it may not have had a script until it came to India!

Arun said...

ofcourse every language will fight (itself) for existance and only the language which is simple and widespread will eventually win(english). I dont see anything wrong with that.
what the use claiming supremacy of a language. I mean, come-on its just a language - it doesnt have life. Im always surprised by the attention/number of language debates.
I only wish whole world has a single language such as English and all other languages shud die,instead of having gazillion languages and its associated problems.
Preserving things like this in the name of culture, is only hampering growth of humanity.

Balaji said...

yeah. ofcourse, I don't agree with anything you have said!

Arun said...

yeah, bcos watever i said is truth and its not abt atheism.

Anonymous said...

>> "Eternal struggle of the Tamil mind" ?

True because Tamils in general are innocent (atleast in worldly affairs) and don't exactly know what they want or where they are heading to. But this is also valid not only for Tamils (sometimes).

>>I didn't say Thirukural was atheist, but its definitely secular.

Agreed. Not just secular but it has excellent universal thoughts. U will agree that it is definetely not atheist if u recollect the very first kural. BTW Tamil is definitely a classical language, atleast for true Tamils like me ....:)

Disclaimer: I didn't borrow this kind of diplomatic words from Karunanidhi. I also don't want to point out & cherish only the extra-marital affairs kind of old Tamil script like him.

>>I only wish whole world has a single language such as English and all other languages shud die.

This is something like saying everyone should become color-blinded so that everyone will only see black-and-white.

FlyingHigh said...

Oh we (kannadigas) are insecure alright! Non Kannada movies was banned for a while coz no one watched Kannada movies. People are trying to make kannada as the medium of instruction compulsorily in schools because people don't want to study the language. We don't listen to Kannada music and we don't read kannada literature anymore. I think we do have reasons to be insecure. Its only that we don't take right steps to promote the language. The only difference I guess is that there are lesser people here who care.

-Shradha

Balaji said...

ah, a race to feel insecure!

I would welcome Tamil medium instruction in all non-cbse schools of TN! i mean, something like, (a) all subjects in Tamil upto say 8th standard. (b) science, cs, geography etc in English from 9th std.

Sudhir said...

With my limited knowledge of Tamil, this is what I feel.

In the world of art where continuity/flow etc is valued Tamil is well suited. It allows poets and authors to express themselves beutifully. I am pretty sure
that Kannadasan or Vairamuthu would not be able to pen equally captivativating poems in English, even if their English was as fluent as their Tamil.


In the world of Science/Business where precision and conciseness is valued, English holds its own. It is good that English has become the language of choice for Business, across the world. It is easy to pickup and is well suited for commercial purposes.

Having said that here is clip on you tube that I liked

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s56X2jVy0Ls


Sudhir

Anonymous said...

"I would welcome Tamil medium instruction in all non-cbse schools of TN! i mean, something like, (a) all subjects in Tamil upto say 8th standard. (b) science, cs, geography etc in English from 9th std."

Let that be optional. Meaning, if someone wants to read Geography in Tamil, let there be schools be there for that kinda reading. But if you meant all non cbse schools should convert to tamil as their medium of instruction, thats the crappiest idea I've ever heard. How easy do you think converting to English medium after studying till the 9th standard in Tamil, will be ? And how do you think these people should continue their higher education in Tamil, meaning how many colleges offer BE CSC in Tamil , for example?

-deepak.

Balaji said...

some 70% of students in TN (mostly from govt schools) who study upto 12th standard in Tamil do enter colleges which teach exclusively in English. How are they coping today?

your optional thing already exists. and most 'Tamils' in cities prefer to study in English! isn't that the whole problem that we are trying to address here?

and no I'm not saying CS should be taught in Tamil (i'll love that too!) but am just saying History etc can be taught in Tamil at all levels.

Vijay said...

the govt now has made telugu and kannada as classical languages

Balaji said...

yeah. Kannada is acceptable. Telugu is laughable, I think.