Tongue-twisters & twisted tongues

That ‘Rama’ and ‘Das’ are north Indian words is beyond dispute. In fact there was an ‘Aryan’ saint by name Ramdas, not to speak of more popular savants like Tulsidas and Kalidas. If anything ‘Ramadoss’ carries the unmistakeable imprint of Sanskrit, as do the words ‘karuna’ and ‘nidhi’. But with Sanskrit being the proclaimed bugbear of the Dravidian leaders and given the race to prove their Tamil worth to whomsoever-it-may or may not concern, how do these thalaivars now correct such politically incorrect infirmities wrought by parental indiscretion? Well, the Tamil equivalent of the letters ‘E’ or ‘I’ as a prefix is one all-purpose-solution. And with ‘J’ too becoming taboo, ‘S’ is the prescribed remedy. Indeed, several such quick fixes abound in rational TN.

Now, one can even pardon such ridiculous excesses vis-a-vis Sanskrit or other ‘alien’ tongues. And Ramadoss can also be granted amnesty because he has become Eramadoss or Iramadoss or whatever. But what is the big difference between ‘Rendu’ and ‘Irendu’? Are prefixes and substitutes needed to sanctify even widely accepted Tamil words in common parlance? Now, while it may not be difficult to ‘weed out’ the Aryan invasion into Tamil, who is to decide and what are the criteria for eradicating the un-Tamil words in Tamil itself? While such hair-splitting is doubtless comical it is quite often exasperating too. For, the hapless tongue – the physical one, that is – is not just twisted around in attempting to navigate through such imprompu, often unpronounceable, amendments, but also gets badly bitten in the process! Literally and metaphorically!

No questions, Tamil is one of the most ancient languages on Earth. Its antiquity, by all accounts – historical as well as legendary – is unfathomable. While its literature is profuse and profound, thankfully much of those literary treasures are still available in their pristine form. Again few languages can compare with Tamil in its wide array of dialects. There is one for every locality and even every community. Chennaiites too can take pride in their ‘Madras Bashai’, though both ‘Madras’ and ‘Bashai’ are not deemed Tamil words. But Tamil has, or rather had, another great virtue: It was also the fastest growing language in terms of vocabulary till the Dravidian politicians walked in a few decades back and put up a no-entry board!

Most spoken languages deem the accretion to their lexicon as growth. With globalisation and advancements in scientific concepts, there is a self-assured eagerness and a much felt need on the part of people to expand their verbal vistas. But alas, it looks that good old Tamil, the language that is said to pre-date even stone and sand, is fated to have no future. And worse, with the current all out efforts on the part of its champions to purge it of as many words as possible, the already stunted Tamil is shrinking too! The scenario is intimidating not just for Tamil speakers, but worse, for those who may want to learn the language out of interest or love. Clearly they are not welcome. What a slide, from Sangams to Kazhagams!

If that is the plight of Tamil, are Tamilians faring any better? While language as a cultural asset is to be cherished, it would serve its essential purpose as a mode of communication only if those who speak it benefit from it. But thanks to its protectors, Tamil, instead of being a vehicle of growth, was often put up as a roadblock to the advancement of Tamilians. In the name of guarding Tamil, a generation of Tamils was denied access to Hindi, an infirmity that many still rue today. With its near-to-nil Hindi awareness, TN remains in self-imposed isolation from the rest of India. While lingo terror is being unleashed in a few other States too, notably Karnataka, it is only after achieving a certain level of Hindi familiarity. And as if that confinement of Tamilians were not enough, has come this confusion over ‘Tamilising’ Tamilnadu and Tamil itself. For instance, the TN judiciary is truly confounded not just by the volume of translations but also over their acccuracy and possible mis-interpretations of case laws and certain legal terminology, which are best expressed in Latin or English. But who would dare incur the contempt of our champions?

But while Tamil and Tamils stagnate, their leaders have gone places, presently and posthumously, in flseh as well as in stone. Having mastered the art of rabble rousing rabid rhetoric and aided by an audience with an appetite for exactly that, the leaders have made fortunes for their families, besides making fruitful forays into foreign, read Aryan, lands. Their sons and nephews are the singular symbols of Tamil identity and Tamils’ success, though they can put Hindi pundits to shame. Indeed, Tamil has been sharpened as a potent political tool with issues like Tamil archanas, classical language status etc deemed surefire bets. To the extent, even the poacher Veerappan, in his last days, converted himself into a ‘Tamil militant’ and started mouthing the familiar Tamil issues! In all, these leaders’ so called love for Tamil is highly suspect. But they are smart. The slip of their mother tongue from the pedestal is quietly side tracked by a few flips of their forked tongues. An apt one-liner, with puns, punches and pauses – in Tamil only, stupid- would suffice to hoodwink the people and make them applaud instead!

The Economist says that even monoglot Britons, who till date were reluctant to learn an extra language on the pretext that the whole world is going English, may now have to shed their absolute linguistic loyalty, if only for survival. Proud Englishmen for whom the Queen’s tongue is a symbol of imperial superiority, are readying to give space with active encouragement from the Government. Why not our leaders too, having had their fill, treat the sons of the Tamil soil as they would their own sons and free them from the chauvnistic shackles? Tamil will not be any poorer by that. And Tamilians may even prosper … like those blessed sons!

But till that happens, we might as well occupy ourselves by dismantling our names, letter by letter, syllable by syllable and carry out the mandatory cut and paste with the E’s, I’s and S’s. For help, we can even tap into the experience of filmdom. But that said, I am dead alarmed at opting for the S instead of the J that my father whispered into my ear on the cradle. Just utter my nama with an S, and you’ll know why!

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Jawahar T R