By Shilz

I recently read journalist-writer Mark Tully’s views with regard to Indian languages being swamped by English. It was worth reading or else I would have missed an opportunity to know such an astounding person!

Sir Mark Tully’s love for Indian languages stretches back to his childhood, but he hasn’t really had much luck learning them. Growing up in Kolkata, he was under strict instructions not to speak any desi languages. He was hit on the head by his British nanny for communicating in Hindi with his driver. And later, during his 22-year stint as BBC’s Chief of bureau in New Delhi, he found that most people in that cosmopolitan city were more intent on speaking English rather than Hindi or Punjabi.

During his 22-year tenure as the BBC’s India Correspondent, Mark Tully became familiar to viewers and listeners throughout the world for his incisive and thought-provoking reports.Whether dodging the bullets during the skirmishes which bubbled up, from time to time, on the India-Pakistan border, describing the effect of absolute poverty on Calcutta’s street beggars or detailing the horrific aftermath of the Bhopal chemical disaster, he gave a unique insight into the life of the subcontinent.

“England struck me as a very miserable place”, he later recalled, “dark and drab, without the bright skies of India.”

During my Post graduation days, I started to read a few master pieces in Kannada literature, and the first one I read was Kuvempu’s ‘Sri Ramyana Darshanam’ and then “Malegalalli Madumagalu”. In spite of being a Kannadiga, I never knew meaning of so many words in Kannada. Thanks to my father, he helped me a lot in improving my vocabulary in Kannada. I made it sure that I underline the words, which I do not understand, and later check the meaning in the dictionary. I felt so shameful initially that I used to underline more than 10 words per page! However, I never gave up; I continued reading “Sri Ramyana Darshanam” even though initially I felt it very difficult. After, I read it, trust me I was speechless, I gave second reading, and then I was so much moved by Ramayana molded by Kuvempu. Manthare’s character explained by Kuvempu left me in tears. And, I learnt so many things from each character. Using Rama’s character, Kuvempu gives all of us a message that we should have love towards our mother nature. During his Vanavasa, Rama’s love towards our mother nature is so well portrayed by Kuvempu.

When I was reading this book, there were so many of my friends, who made fun of me, as I was reading a book in Kannada. I never bothered about such worthless sick comments or fun. Friends, I just ask you all one question, when you don’t know about a person or some book completely, then who gives you right to criticize and make fun?

Mark Tully says: “I believe that language is the preserver of culture and that one’s mother tongue is precious. If you are educated entirely in an English medium school, the chances are you will never learn your mother tongue properly. It is not at all to say that I am ‘Anti-English’ as few people brand me. That’s rubbish. All I say is that there should be a balance – you can’t tell me that having a primary school education in your mother tongue means you can’t become very fluent in English later. Indians are very good at languages due to their linguistic diversity, unlike us poor British Islanders who are hardly ever exposed to more than one. English has become an Indian language and that’s very valuable, but it’s equally important that all Indian languages are cherished. I’m writing a book on how India has changed since economic liberalization and one of the aspects I’m looking at is linguistic. Obviously, the demand for English is going up, and I’m trying to find people who are working on enabling Indian languages to grow and modernize. Preserving Indian languages is a cause that has become close to my heart.”

Of course taking this stance is not going to make him very popular among some people in both India and UK. Mark Tully says: “If you try and take the middle road, you will tend to get hit from both the left and right, but that’s okay – I’m used to getting hit.”

Mark Tully’s book will also tackle issues such as consumerism, television and business culture, and has a tentative deadline of 2010. Mark Tully says: “I don’t like to write in a hurry. And I am still doing programmes for the BBC.”

That’s okay, Sir Mark. We don’t mind the wait. We are sure it will be worth waiting!

Reference:
Divya Kumar’s article titled : “Mark his word” published in The Hindu Metroplus on August 7, 2008 and BBC.co.uk

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