Recently, a South Indian friend of mine spoke a line or two in Hindi. Immediately, s/he was pounced on by another friend, who asked him/her as to what language s/he spoke in and proceeded to dissect his/her accent. This brings me to the question- Was this necessary? Even in the name of friendship?
As you have noticed from my previous posts, I have begun to notice a bunch of prejudices among us Indians.The following is my summary of one such prejudice
The North-South prejudice: This can be noticed in the critical analysis of accents, classification of food as spicy South Indian and bland North Indian, the tendency to charecterize everyone south of Mumbai as "Madrasis" so on and so forth.
Some charecteristics of this prejudice are:
1. The "Hindi Issue": . Here's my take it- I learned Hindi in school. I went to a school which had students from all over India making it a mini-India in itself. I can read, write and speak Hindi and Urdu. I can't write my mother tongue- Malayalam and can read it with great difficulty. However, due to the diligence of my mother, I can speak it fluently (thanks ma!).
This makes me wonder- what if the school and CBSE did offer Malayalam? I mean they offered Hindi, Arabic, Sanskrit and French, why not Malayalam? The focus on Hindi succeeded in eliminating any chance to study Malayalam. Also, I had to learn a language that was not my mother tongue from the scratch, while my friends who had Hindi as a mother tongue had an easier path carved for them.
On the other hand, learning Hindi has enabled me to fluently converse with people throughout my travels in North India (north of Mumbai). I also learned to read and appreciate Hindi poetry as well as prose, which I love and continue to read.
On the flip side, there were a bunch of regional prejudice incidents associated with Hindi. The tendency to categorize me as a North Indian, just because I read Hindi well, the tendency to assume that I wouln't be able to read Hindi well when folks knew that I was a South Indian, the tendency of some of my Mallu friends to see me as not one of them, the tendency of some north Indian friends to view me as an interloper and my own tendency to think that Hindi was cool and Malayalam was not (this has changed!).
Going back to the subject of travelling,as I said, Mumbai and north of Mumbai, knowing Hindi should put you in pretty good stead. But in the "deep dark South", it's good to know Tamil. Now what if we had to learn two languages in school- one from the North and one from the South, say Hindi and Tamil? It would ensure that Indians were aware of both ends of the spectrum and it would definitely foster respect for diversity. Also as my mother constantly reminds me-" learning a new language will increase the acuity of your thinking".
Finally, back to people who criticize folks and their attempt to converse in a language other than their own- a kick on the rear to you! A person's effort to speak in another language symbolises his/her effort to respect diversity and be a part of it and this should be commended or at the very least respected, not critisized.
2. The "cuisine" issue: Common symptoms include- classification of all south indian food as spicy and north indian food as bland; the idea of South Indians as carnivores and North Indians as vegetarians; the idea that South Indian food is full of coconut and North Indian food is full of ghee. Now, of course, none of us bother to think of why we have fundamental differences in our cuisine. A possible reason maybe climate. North India tends to have winter, South India does not. Hence, there is a need for heavier cuisine in North India and a lighter cuisine in South India (which is closer to the tropics). Similarly, most South Indian states (Kerala,Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu) are coastal states and hence fish figures more prominently. The tropical climate also helps spices to grow and hence the tendency to use these spices in the cuisine.
Reasons aside, what we as Indians should be aware of, is that the above-mentioned symptoms are generalizations. Several North Indians eat meat and several South Indians do not. Some South Indian states use a lot of spice and some do not. There are huge differences across states in Indian. For example, Tamil food and Malayalee food is very different as are the eating habits. Kannada and Telegu food also differs. The same holds true for North India. It is important as Indians for us to be aware of these diffrences and to respect them than to make generalizations.
3. Colour: This refers to the tendency to classify dark-skinned Indians as from the South and fair-skinned as from the North. On a more extreme level, there is a tendency for some North Indians to exemplify light skin as an Aryan trait and the darker South Indian skin as Dravidian or native. With the whole issue of the fallacy of the Aryan invasion theory (read Soothsayer's post
on it: )this viewpoint may not even hold up. But more importantly, this an extremely petty and racist way of thinking.
That's all on this for now. I end this post with the hope and prayer that we learn to think of ourselves as Indians and respect the richness and diversity that is India.
P.S: I have tried to be unbiased while writing this piece. But of course, this is from an individual perspective, so I have only written about what I have seen or experienced. So anyone who has any comments or experiences to share is welcome to do so!