Can you survive Bengaluru without Kannada?

"We should learn Kannada. No Kannada, no respect" says one white cab driver to another. This is a scene from the recent Kannada blockbuster Super. The movie is set in 2030 with Bangalore as a ultra modern city populated with men wearing Mysore petas and where all the cab drivers are white.

Hegemony is maintained through language – English and Hindi are considered to be above Kannada. A person may expect you to learn Hindi while not learning Kannada – this causes resentment among Kannadigas. There are many avenues for learning Kannada. For example, Tamil Sangam holds Kannada classes, or websites. But some margin should be given for migrant labourers as they do not have easy access to such facilities. – Isaac Arul Selva, editor and publisher, Slum Jagatthu

According to Chandan Gowda, social scientist and professor at Azim Premji University, the scene is one of the many attempts by a section of Kannadigas to create a fantasy Bangalore where knowing Kannada is essential for survival.

Out in the real world, most non-Kannadigas in Namma Bengaluru feel they can get by knowing little or no Kannada at all. In fact according to IT professional Gaurav Agarwal who first moved to Bangalore in 2000, life has only got easier for non-Kannadigas.

"When I first came to Bangalore, it was much more local. Occasionally I would run into people who did not know or pretended not to know any other language. Many people, especially middle age to elders, that time, had a strong feeling that if you are not from here then you have no business being here."

That he feels has changed to a very large extent now, with few people feeling that they need to be watchful of the non-local people. "You even have buses now which have numbers/destinations written in English!" he says.

Outfits that demand respect for Kannada under the threat of violence, feel a new sense of legitimacy that never felt before, says Chandan Gowda. Pic: Sriram Vittalamurthy.

This new found comfort along with job and business opportunities are probably the reason for the rapid rise in the city’s population. According to the provisional data released by the Directorate of Census, the city’s population is now at 95,88,910 and rising. The city’s population has increased by 46.68 percent between 2001 and 2011, up by nearly 12 percentage points over the growth rate in the previous decade.

Local people should talk to everyone in Kannada, only then outsiders will be forced to learn the language. Those who do not learn Kannada miss out on local events, and know nothing about their own locality. – Divya Sharma, former IT professional and publisher of Kannada science books.

According to Gowda, the absolute numbers of Kannadigas in Bangalore has remained comparatively large apart from that there is a large population of Bangaloreans who are bilingual. Real estate developer Rohith Reddy says he as comfortable speaking Kannada as he is speaking his native language of Telugu. "My mother and her siblings converse mostly in Kannada and in our house also conversations end up bi- or even tri-lingual".

According to Reddy, this ability to converse in Kannada fluently apart from helping him interact with construction labourers working in his site has other benefits as well. "Shopkeepers tend to warm up to you when you start speaking to them in Kannada and sometimes you get good bargains because of this" he says.

Economic Researcher, Manaswini Rao, feels the reason for the local resentment towards North Indians in particular is not so much to do with language but rather a culture issue,   "Bangalore has always been an accommodating city but people tend to get defensive when they sense that new comers are trying to impose their culture on the the city".

Manaswini, a Kannadiga who has spent much of her childhood outside Karnataka says her family whole heartedly embraced the cultures of the cities that they lived in and were enriched by the experience. "We are all comfortable speaking in Hindi and Tamil. The food that we cook at home is a mix of all the cities that we have live in", she says.

Except Bangalore, most parts of Karnataka still speak Kannada; so language is not threatened. Bangalore’s population is miniscule compared to that of the state. Kannada is also growing through technology – websites, blogs and online forums. It is ridiculous to expect Kannadigas to facilitate language learning for others. There is no need to promote language or convert people; those interested in the language can learn it. – Prathibha Nandakumar, poet, writer and film maker

IT professional Santosh G Hegde feels that very few North Indian IT folk really make the effort to know the real Bangalore, "For most of them, Bangalore consist of few shopping areas and malls. They don’t venture into old Bangalore areas like Malleswaram or Basavanagudi". He also feels that despite living in city for years, some of them still still look at South Indians in stereotypical terms.

According to Chandan, while discussions of preserving Kannada language and culture from the onslaught of globalisation happen in rarefied intellectual circles, the Kannada movement has been hijacked by organisations like the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike which demand respect for Kannada under the threat of violence.

"With the informal economy booming, it’s no surprise that there has been emergence of  number of such organisations. We must be careful not to reduce the concerns of Kannadigas into a law and order problem. These organisations are only parasitic on a legitimate problem", he says.

Immigrants have the advantage that local people know 4-5 languages and are ready to interact in different languages. In Bellandur, for example, about 80% of local residents would know languages other than Kannada. – Jagannath Reddy, former Panchayat president, Bellandur ward and local leader.

He says that neighbourhood politics has taken over by such organisations and they have thrived by offering protection to those who are unable to run legal businesses. "These are no longer fringe outfits. Leaders of various political parties attend functions organised by them." He says that these outfits feel a new sense of legitimacy that never felt before.

Parallel to this, and according to Chandan independent of it, recent Kannada films have embraced this intolerant Kannada identity. In the film ‘Dasa’, the character played by ‘Challenging star’ Darshan, fights off a Rajasthani seth, who is trying to buy an orphanage. Darshan kills him after saying this dialogue – "If someone from a god-forsaken place like you can act big, how must I, who was born here and grew up drinking Kaveri water, act? If I let you alone, all of Karnataka will be insulted."

Santosh Hegde feels very few North Indian IT folk really make the effort to know the real Bangalore, "For most of them, Bangalore consist of few shopping areas and malls." Pic: Sriram Vittalamurthy.

Thankfully not all Kannadigas are as belligerent. H S Mahesha, who moved to Bangalore from Pandavapura in Mandya district four years ago, says that most of the labourers from North India working in Bangalore are nice people. "All of them are hard working and very few them cause any trouble" he says. According to Agarwal, "There is no general hostility towards people not knowing Kannada. However, when you are involved in some incidents like an argument with someone on road or at some government office, people generally tend to side with the person who is speaking Kannada. Only in those situation you are looked upon as an outsider who is making some trouble."

Professionals, particularly, do not try to learn Kannada because they know that shopkeepers and others can communicate in alternate languages. They mostly do not interact with local people. – Shilpi Sahu, professional.

According to theatre director and actor, Prakash Belawadi, not knowing the language even in as cosmopolitan city like Bangalore restricts access to the many cultural aspects of the city. "In Bangalore, culture has been appropriated by Kannada. Most of the theater, literature and poetry in the city overwhelmingly happens in Kannada."

According to Belawadi, young people trying to be actors or artists will find Bangalore a terribly alienating place if don’t know Kannada and that it’s only a matter of time before other things follow culture.

Local residents may have a little resentment towards outsiders, but language may not be the main reason behind it. It may be the way people interact – people are too busy to care or be friendly to others. – M S Gopal, photographer

Suridh Karthik a long time resident of Malleswaram now studying in the UK, says that though he finds it annoying that North Indians, even after living in Bangalore of many years still can’t pronounce even ‘dosa’ or ‘sambhar’ right; he understands it is not realistic to expect everyone moving Bangalore to learn Kannada. "The question boils down to an individual’s inclination and I do not think it is a reflection of where he or she is from".

Agarwal feels that talking to people in their native tongue brings a feeling of familiarity. However other than negotiations in public spaces and government offices, he feels, "there is not much need to learn Kannada. College friends didn’t mind speaking English and apart from some very infrequent situations, everyone understands English or even Hindi these days", he says.

The problem is two-fold – one is that Kannadigas are generally friendly and when outsiders speak in English, Hindi or even Tamil they respond in those languages. So outsiders are accommodated even if they don’t know the language. Second is that outsiders do not bother to learn the language.
This can be tackled if Kannadigas introduce the language to others without forcing it on them. Invariably when someone tries to promote language it gets politicised.We should try to generate interest in the language. There are many who are willing to learn – even in tech circles where I work. – Hariprasad Nadig, Tech professional and founder of Sampada.net

For financial analyst, Priya Nadakarni, who moved to the city a year ago, one of the reasons she wants to learn Kannada is that she can give it back to all the auto drivers who irritate her in their own language, "You feel at home only when you can abuse in the local language".

She also hopes that when gets done with her "Conversational Kannada" book she’ll be able make friends with the nice aunties in her apartment building. "Maybe they’ll invite me over for a sumptuous Karnataka lunch" she says.

*Chandan Gowda and Prakash Belwadi were speaking at a seminar organised during the Rangashankara Theatre festival.

About Sriram Vittalamurthy 7 Articles
Sriram Vittalamurthy is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.

4 Comments

  1. I am a native of south India. I know to read and write hindi. I expect you to learn local languaguage quickly.Anti hindi thing is only in TN. Not in karnataka. Kanndigas respect hindi language and learn it too but they expect outsiders who settle in karnataka to learn kannnada too

  2. Friends, i have just one question, people of southern states easily adopted english but has issues in adopting hindi, why so, i am a hindi speaking guy and no problem in learning southern languages, i will be even happy if i could get command over any southern language, but the question remains same people adopted a foreign language easily but not ready to adopt hindi language, why. Can any native of south answer this. Japan, Russia, China all speaks their native languages and are never ashamed of, but in India if you don’t know english you are treated illiterate. People run a moment to remove hindi, should not they remove english as well. Remove english too and then people from outside will definitely learn Kannada or any southern language. Outsiders don’t feel the need to learn local language cas they know that they can converse in English. Why so..
    Someone please answer me.

  3. Satvahana Dynasty (Telugu empire-230BC) when Raos from karnataka & Reddy from Andhra ruled maharashtra

    Ganga dynasty (Kananda Empire-350 TO 1000AD) at that time only Vidharba was there and rest was Forest (Jungele)

    Kadamba dynasty (Kannada Empire 345 -525CE) when Nayakas & Gowdas from karnataka moved Goa and married gals from goa

    Kalachuri dynasty (Kannada Empire 10-12 Century). All had their langages as kananda & Sanskrit

    Chalukya dynasty (Kannada Empire543 -566) : Desai & Pujara surnames moved from North karnataka into Maharhtra & Gujarat ( Hindi & kananada mixture became Marathi language)

    Rashtrakuta dynasty (Kannada Empire 753 TO 982) ruled from Karnataka to kannauj in Madhyapradesh & this was the time which NORTH KANNADA people like VERMA & DESAI & many other surnames moved into MAHARASHTRA & MADHYAPRADESH, GUJARAT which was not into existence at that time having same tradition & same clothing.This people helped shivaji during his rule in 18th Century.

    Hoshyalya empire ( 1026 to 1343)

    Vijayanagra Empire( Kannada Empire & Tulu Empire 1336-1646) ruled around 450 years all south India include Maharashtra & Orissa. Shettys & Nayakas from Karnataka (Nadavaru community) & even Valmiki community who ruled during Vijayanagara empire married Orissa People & many married Saraswat Brahmins from Goa. Some of kings married Jain people & becam jains. Nayaks still esists in Orissa who speak Oriya language. Vijayanagara kingdom was the only kingdom who gave a fight to mughal emperor for around 450 years even Martha empire didn’t had the power to do so as shivaji did chapamar yudh like Gurila warfare and called pahadi chor by Mughal Khan. PANDYA DYNASTY SURNAME OF SOUTH STILL EXIST IN GUJARAT

    After 18th century a soldier from vijayanagara kingdom after fall of Vijayanagara kingdom started maratha empire against mughal invaders. He sent shivaji to Bangalore to learn war tactics while he was small. Patil which means landlord & not a surnames even north Karnataka kannada gowda people started using it. Some Gowdas use only patil as last name you don’t confuse it wih that they are marathis they are kannadigas You can see gowdapatil surnames used everywhere. Its because of rashtrakuta dynasty that ruled till kanauj maharashtra came into existence otherwise there were kannada people staying there and because of kannada people getting mixed into hindi devnagiri script marathi language came into existence. VERMA was a royal surname from Karanataka which moved into Northern states & even THAILAND & CAMBODIA from Karanataka during Rashtarkuta dynasty period. If any of the Karnatak kingdom would have supported kannada language instead of Hinduism then today there maharashtra would have not been in history. Say thanks to kananda people who are ancestors to Marathi people. Just goto Wikipedia and know about this Ancient history of Kannada Empires. Even Ajanata Ellora of Maharashtra is made by Kananda Empire ( Sex symbol)

  4. When one migrates to a geographic region where a particular linguistic-group has been living for long, its quite natural for that person to embrace the language of that linguistic-group.
    Historically, this is what has been happening.
    If such a natural phenomenon is not happening in any particular geographic region, it must be the political setup that is preventing this natural phenomenon from occurring.
    During Soviet-era, a person born in Russia didn’t find the need to learn Uzbek language if he/she migrated to Uzbekistan region. Though Uzbek was the language of the people of Uzbekistan region all along, USSR govt made sure that every citizen of USSR learnt Russian. Its the political setup of that time which resulted in Uzbek being treated as second-grade in its own land.
    Similarly, the central govt’s push for Hindi is preventing the natural phenomenon from occurring in Karnataka. This artificial setup, wherein people do not find it necessary to learn Kannada, is due to the current political setup.

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  1. Hindi vs Kannada debate in Bengaluru: Where is it heading? – Citizen Matters, Bengaluru

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