Friday, April 07, 2006

Kannada vs Tamil, English vs Hindi

Ever spoken in Kannada when asking for a film ticket in one of the theatres in Bangalore's M G Road area? If you have, you might have experienced what I did; a slight sense of embarrassment resulting in an immediate switch to English.
I think this is part of the Tamil vs Kannada, English vs Hindi syndrome in Bangalore, and it affects just about everyone.

You probably have felt something like this too; if you've lived in Bangalore for a while. You've probably either been the initiator, or have been at the receiving end of a sort of parochialism, like in the Oscar-winning film Crash.

Let me put down something before I proceed further - I'm a Bangalorean in the sense that I am a Kannadiga and grew up in the city until I left at the age of 21. That was about 6 years ago. I was your typical 'mannina maga', somewhat scared of asserting my roots when I was younger and have in the last 5 years or so, begun embracing Kannada.

Being Kannadiga

There is a simmering discontent among Kannadigas here; after all they are a marginalized lot in Bangalore. Some surveys peg the Kannadiga population at 31 percent in Bangalore. Add to this the fact that Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka or 'Kannada Nadu', and you see where the anger is coming from. Forum in Koramangala, Garuda Mall in Margrath Road or Bangalore Central near Mayo Hall are the preferred hang-out zones for many in the city these days. Walk down the aisles or up the escalators in these gleaming steel monsters and you will not hear much Kannada spoken.
I believe there are two major reasons for this: native Bangaloreans (Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, etc.) still prefer to shop in a Jayanagar 4th block or a Malleswaram 8th cross, so most people in malls are usually 'fresh of the boat' and almost always from the North of the Vindhyas. Two, Kannadigas still tend to speak in English in public. There is some sense of shame, embarrassment or some other emotion at work here.

Tamil vs Kannada

For most Bangaloreans this issue is, as they say, as old as the hills. Kannadigas and Tamilians have been fighting in public and have been friends in private for many a decade in 'nammooru'. I've had many friends, but for some quirky reasons, all my close friends in Bangalore have been Tamilians.
During the Cauvery riots in the early 90s we didn't have any issues. Yet, this is one struggle that I expect will go on for a while, because there appears to be historical reasons behind the divide. Janaki Nair's excellent piece Battles for Bangalore: Reterritorialising the City sums it up rather neatly:

"More striking were the linguistic and cultural distinctions between the zones, since the Cantonment had attracted a large number of camp followers from Tamil speaking areas of the neighbouring Madras Presidency. Consequently, the Kannada language's restricted presence in the city was only altered in two decades of somewhat spectacular demographic growth, the decade of 1941-1951 when the population grew by 100 per cent, and the decade of 1971-81 when the city grew by 76 per cent. The city drew more migrants from districts within the state after the 1950s, significantly altering the linguistic map of the city"

So Tamilians can claim to have as much a right on Bangalore as Kannadigas. It is true though, that many Tamilians prefer to speak in their native tongue, even while talking to Kannadigas.
Try asking for directions in Frazer town. But equally, Kannadigas lose no opportunity in clamouring for the city to 'swept clean of Tamils'.
I actually think the whole Tamil vs Kannada issue is not such a big deal. Some people (not all of them politicians) tend to manipulate the residents of Bangalore to suit their own purposes.

English vs Hindi

If there is one issue that unites all Bangaloreans, it is the sight of someone from the cow belt, clamouring for directions in Hindi, and expecting to be answered back in their tongue. I was once tempted into asking a couple of slightly rude teenagers on a bike to speak in English. These days, Hindi is spoken pretty much everywhere in Bangalore. The prevailing feeling here has been more elegantly paraphrased before, but let me interpret it rather plainly: 'just because Hindi is the national language, it doesn't give anyone the right to expect a South Indian or Bengali to speak Hindi in Bangalore.'

Make no mistake, I don't think anyone wants a polarized world. As for me, I certainly don't dislike Hindi; after all I work in Delhi and have picked up Hindi. And like many Bangaloreans I like good Tamil songs, would love to be able to speak Telugu and Malayalam. In an ideal world, I'd like us Bangaloreans to be as we once were as kids. My mum would watch Mukta or Moodala Mane on ETV Kannada with as much enthusiasm as Kasauti Zindagi Ki on Star Plus. And I would proudly tell my cousins from America that only in Bangalore would you find people speaking at least three tongues!

Cross-posted (originally) on
P.S And yes, I'm back!