Friday, March 5, 2010

Language and us

Took an auto-rickshaw for a local travel within the city of Mumbai. Its important to name the city as thats important to understand the relevance of this light anecdote.

The route that we took was diverted as people from the Islam faith were doing their namaz (prayer) near the mosque and that being small, some portion of the road gets used for it. The driver without any complaint diverted the vehicle. For me it was not new since i am familiar with this practice. Its like a tacit understanding where some persons would gently ask you to use the adjoining road as this road is being used for prayers.

Then we took the main road from an alternate route (without any hassle) and travelled along. We met some traffic at a distance. The auto brushed past one person and he started shouting at him in the local Marathi language. The driver very politely used the same language in responding and admitting that he didn't do it intentionally. After some grumbling that person left.

With his fluency I felt that he was also a Maharashtrian. In this city politicians are trying tooth and nail to assert their muscle on who is going to be the better safe guard of the local population (Marathi speaking) who according to them have a threat on 'culture' and more importantly jobs which are getting diverted to the outsiders. The issue is more complex than that but will park it for perspectives on some other day.

In this context, autorickshaw drivers in the city are majorly from the states of UP and Bihar and they have faced the brunt of this linguistic politics and it seems that their travail is only going to become worse with time.

After the person (who had the brush with the auto) left, the driver explained to me how he had learnt the tact of using the local language to appease such people though he knew that he himself was not completely at fault.  He also stated that response in any other language would have inflamed the person further on the name of someone from outside coming and literally pushing him.
I asked him 'So aren't you a Maharashtrian ?'. He stated with a smile no 'my mother tongue is Telugu' though I was born here and hence know this language quite fluently.

I acknowledged the driver for his sense of secularism in terms of agreeing to take a different route by showing respect to the sentiments of  another section of society (without any element of not being happy doing so), his willingness to pick up both his native language and also the local language. The humorous aspect was how a particular act becomes relatively less abominable when the person who has committed it can speak your own language.

I guess people learn to position themselves in whichever context you put them in. As much as this can be termed street smartness, it is also about recognizing the divides, acknowledging their presence and abiding by that.

Thats where it leaves a doubt in the mind.


Ankur Chandra said...

Something like "If you are in Rome, be a Roman".
Undoubtedly, it definitely helps if you try to gel with local population. Speaking local language is one way of doing it.
On the other side, tolerance is expected from localites towards outsiders who can't learn their ways. It is then about appreciating and acknowledging differences.

Ujjwal said...

I think this will remain till each and every person doesn't internalize the principle of 'Vasudeva Kutumbkam'. The world as a large family. How simple a message yet how difficult to make it a reality. Aghh!