If you are a Kannadiga in a gathering of fellow natives, sooner or later the one topic that almost inevitably comes up is the apparent "death of Kannada".
The gist of these conversations is how the language and culture as a whole is slowly fading away.
Most people put the blame for this downward spiral on Bangalore, the great cosmopolitan capital of Karnataka.
The lament usually is - "People from all over India are coming to our city but they don't know Kannada and therefore Kannada is being made a 'secondary' language in our own state!"
As a Kannadiga, I have always found this convenient bypassing of blame to the 'outsiders' an extremely demeaning stand to take. Is my culture really so weak that it is dependent on ‘outsiders’ being forced to ‘learn’ it to survive?
When we, the natives of this land, are unwilling to build our own culture, what right do we have to demand that a Bengali or a Punjabi suddenly get new respect for a language and a culture that is essentially alien to them?
It only requires a revival which can be brought about by ourselves, in our homes.
Karnataka has a literacy rate of some 75%.
This is a slightly misleading figure because it just means the ability to read and write in any language.
Even if we assume that only 70% of our population speaks Kannada as its mother tongue and only 70% of them can read and write and only 50% of those people actually read regularly, we are left with a figure of roughly 1.5 crore Kannadigas. (Out of a total of 6.11 crore, 2011 census)
But how many of these actually go out and read something?
I have no statistics on hand for this, but whenever I talk to book publishers, I am told that if a few thousand copies of a Kannada book are sold, that can be considered a good sale.
We are not reading or creating anything in our own language, but we want our language to grow?
Language is an organic being. It is no good to be satisfied with the knowledge that Kannada has a great history of literature. We need new literature. Not the few books written by dedicated authors but books by the thousands and newspapers and magazines with millions of subscribers.
Only when authors, journalists and columnists are able to make a stable career out of their craft, will the language begin to grow.
Eight Kannada writers have won the Jnanpith Award, the highest award India gives for literature. But still, writing remains an obscure and minor career in Karnataka.
Why would it grow if no one reads anything?
We must encourage reading among our children by buying books and newspapers in Kannada. Just keep them in the house and your kids will start reading them just because they are there.
These children will grow up to become the next generation of patrons and so the circle grows.
While books are the first step, the real growth of culture in the modern world is through the entertainment industry.
The film industry is usually the main bastion of the culture of a people. Unfortunately in the last decade our film industry has completely dropped the baton on this front.
There are those who have dedicated their lives to the industry. There are those whose excellent portrayals onscreen have moved and thrilled audiences around the world. Personalities like Girish Kasaravalli come immediately to mind.
However, sadly, such people are few and far between.
Mostly between 1995 to around 2010 the industry has plummeted. The reasons are really simple –
Movies were churned out, one after the other, with little respect to a concepts like a good script, good narration, direction, production values and acting.
The idea seemed to be to make money as fast as possible. There was a distinct lack of the love and pride for cinema that was evident in the films of an earlier era.
The damage has been vast. Audience numbers have essentially collapsed and in an irony, the industry that calls itself ‘Sandalwood’ now demands the same amount of protection that the trees are given.
The industry as a whole needs a good shaking up. Culture and entertainment are a heavily consumer driven market and the consumer has spoken – they do not like your product.
We must jolt these people out of their complacency. We must strip them of their belief that Kannadigas are so unrefined in their tastes that they will accept any junk placed before them.
They get away with such behavior because we natives don’t really care. Cinema is not our priority and we let it drift away in to the sidelines. This was a grave mistake. Cinema is the soft power of our age. It is through cinema that we can ensure our culture thrives.
No one is going to be convinced if you simply change the name of the city to Bengaluru: They will still call it Bangalore.
But if you show them a beautiful film set in the city of Bangalore, then somewhere deep down, a small soft corner is built for the language, the culture, the people, the city.
It is tragic how we have failed to learn this lesson, especially since Tamil Nadu has proved this fact so effectively through their own film industry.
However, whenever there is a protest for Kannada, this industry always comes to the front and declares themselves as the sole saviors of our culture.
The culture might be saved if they stood a little behind and actually created better films instead.
Kannadigas must stand up and take pride in their culture. This does not mean however that we go on the streets and beat up innocent people and blacken boards.
You cannot tell people you have a good culture on one hand, while goondas riot in the streets on the other hand.
Culture cannot be imposed on anyone and it cannot be ordered. Culture has be learnt, it has to be respected.
Mean minded lectures on how 'outsiders' are doing this or that are just the small attempt by small minded people to make trouble because they don’t know any better.
How can anyone appreciate our culture if we ourselves drag it into the mud?
We can easily make our culture something to aspire to by first acting with dignity. We must take pride in our culture and act in manner which shows how proud we are to be Kannadiga.
People are attracted to class. No one is impressed by a lot of screaming in the streets.
No one is going to save our culture. We need to save it ourselves.
Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons