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Tamilzha, Tamilzha! July 30, 2010

Posted by Gomathi Reddy in Desi Indian, General, News and Current Affairs, Politics.
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My son struggles with his Tamil, as he tries to read the name of his favourite star Vijay’s new movie on the block.    As a naturalized second-generation citizen of Chennai, I am more adept at Tamil than my own mother tongue, Telugu.  Looking at him struggle with Tamil makes me wonder if I made the wrong choice of Hindi and Sanskrit at school for him, based on my own language-learning experiences at school.

For me, Tamil at school was tough.  It is one thing to learn a language, with the purpose of learning to communicate, and totally another miff of an effort to try to become half-gurus by the time you are 13, with so much being thrust on you, in the pretext of language, its semantics and grammar.  I managed to glean over most of what is called Sangam Literature, by the time I was 13 and never managed to understand the intensity and purpose of it all – not even a word!  Schooling was all about aiming for high grades in all other subjects, and managing to scrape through Tamil.

All this changed when I was in Class 9 – There entered a spirited, jolly good teacher Mrs.Rajeshwari, who changed my perspective of the language.  She used to maintain continuous eye-contact with me, all through her sessions, leaving me with no other option than to feign interest in what she was talking about.  Over a few weeks, her passion for the language made me sit up and listen with genuine interest and over the next couple of terms, I was picking up Tamil books from the library. There started my love of the language and introduction to romanticism in Tamil literature.

A PG in English literature meant a chance to glean over Chaucer to Shakespeare, while debating over Renaissance, Romantic and Victorian  literature.  For me, it was an opportunity to reflect upon the  stark contrasts in expression of English and Tamil ; to comprehend that the dexterity of expressions in a language, depend on the times and lives of people.  I could appreciate how culture and language are an integral part of the way a person thinks, expresses and experiences life.   For all these obvious reasons, literature has played a very important role in understanding people and their way of life, all through recorded history.  An understanding of literature also remains critical, to any anthropological understanding of how we have evolved, as a race.   I believe, pride in seeing your language develop and grow beyond your borders, is a natural reaction for any lover of the language.

But, looking at today’s Tamil literature, I am not very sure that there is much reason for pride.  If new media (read movies and the Telly) can spout dialogues that are not sensitive to its people and culture then, most often I wonder if this is what we have become, as “culturally advanced Tamilians.”  Or is this just a reflection of its people and their now-debauched culture?

Is this why there too much hype of the Classical Tamil, since there is not much to talk with pride about our “living Tamil?”  Is this an acknowledgement of the fact that we as a Tamil society have lost ground?  Is Tamil veritably more sacrosanct, having seen credible strides in other Tamil populated areas of the world viz., Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and the Tamil diaspora across the world, than in its native Tamil Nadu?  Is “Tamil” used more as a tool by the political class of the state, to appease and hold together the increasingly globalized literate masses of Tamil Nadu?

I am sure somewhere answers to these questions too, are getting recorded as History.

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