One lakh netizens dial-up Kannada’s cool quotient

The epithet ‘Gaanchali bidi Kannada maathadi’ (GBKM) would translate colloquially as ‘let go of your (English) affectations and speak in Kannada.’ For those of us born and brought up in Bangalore, this has been a familiar epithet; as children from middle-class families, we were exposed to peers from ‘convent’ schools who spoke ‘European’ English, but they would disdain to speak in Kannada despite knowing the language well.

We would accuse them of ‘gaanchali’, and of course would strive to throw in as much Kannada in our ‘English’ conversations as possible. The fact that many of the wannabe ‘convent’ schools (where we studied in an effort to catch up with our well-off peers) actually imposed a ‘ban’ on speaking Kannada in school except during the Kannada period only made us even more rebellious. All of us growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s were the progenitors of the hybrid called ‘Kanglish’.

Unfortunately, when we grew up, we forgot all about our rebelliousness and quietly became English speaking, tech savvy people, fondly and also very quietly remembering our specially coined Kanglish words.

But it seems that these feelings did not die out in Pavan Kunch, the founder of the Facebook page called GBKM. His efforts to preserve and propagate Kannada’s ‘cool quotient’ through this page have now woken those slumbering and nostalgic Kannadigas who are feeling their grasp slip away from Kannada. This is amply testified by the fact that GBKM is a one-lakh strong internet community, today..

The sobriquet GBKM can appear to carry shades of jingoism, but Kunch and his friends do not merely wave the Kannada flag in your face without any actual knowledge of Kannada literature or culture.

Sample these facts:

  1. The GKBM online community has been instrumental in getting ATMs and IVRS to include Kannada as the interface language, a big boon to those who cannot navigate the English menus.
  2. Software engineers inspired by the movement have ensured that the Kannada Wiktionary now has a list of nearly 2, 52, 000 Kannada words as opposed to about 150 words in November 2009 when Pavan launched the page.
  3. GBKM’s email campaigns have ensured that Kannada entertainment is available on BMTC and KSRTC buses.
  4. Several banks have now implemented Kannada-based challans and cheques due to concerted email efforts.
  5. The British Airways in-flight instructions now come printed in Kannada, and the safety instructions for several flights are issued in English, Hindi and Kannada. Further, the team has now embarked on a campaign to ensure Kannada interaction in malls and other consumer areas.

Although, it is a bit hard to connect all these changes to GBKM, activities on the Facebook page, points to continuous efforts in this direction.

Kunch describes GBKM as a platform to address three different aspects of the language-cultural quotient, cool quotient and consumer quotient. The cultural objective takes the form of interesting posts on Kannada writers, films and places of interest in Karnataka. The ‘cool quotient’ has been influenced by and given impetus to people who innovate in the use of Kannada, for example, through T-shirts, blogs, films or theatre.

The very practical and fun approach of GBKM has led to a phenomenal rise in their popularity. The popular song ‘Pyaarge aagbittaithe’ from the film Govindayanamah received 30, 000 hits through the GBKM page. The page certainly seems to resonate with the youth, and Kannada appears to look, sound and feel cool again.

The growth of the community to 1 lakh members prompted Kunch and his friends to celebrate the event in GBKM style. On August 6, 2012, nearly 150 members of the community were present at KH Kala Soudha to felicitate two special people who have uniquely contributed to Kannada.

The first was Rajeev Ramachandra, whose company Mistral Solutions follows the employee-as-owner model. Rajeev inspiringly spoke about the innovative approaches in his company in terms of business and leadership and what entrepreneurs are about in the light of the current decline in indigenous business ideas.

He also deftly correlated the understanding of growth of Kannada in economic terms; he talked about how numbers alone can define a product’s strength, and how it is vital for Kannada to grow as an ‘economic’ power in order to be culturally influential. As someone described his talk, Ramachandra held an MBA class with all the boring parts edited.

The other guest, the young and creative film director Pawan Kumar of Lifeu Ishtene, fame, spoke about his efforts in bettering the quality of Kannada cinema through his concept of audience films in Kannada.

Pawan’s revelations of the inside workings of the Kannada industry were both utterly hilarious and pitiable. His revolutionary ideas presented another way of boosting the ‘fallen’ status of Kannada. The audience went away inspired, and we are sure Kunch must have received further impetus to his efforts.

In a larger perspective, Gaanchali Bidi Kannada Mathadi is a sign of changing times, being youthful and exuberant while at the same time being educative without being an imposition.

Perhaps, this approach will bring about much needed winds of change and revive dying native languages which are victims of urbanisation and globalisation. Perhaps there will come a time when Kanglish and Kannada do not have to remain part of nostalgia.

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About Umesh P N 9 Articles
Umesh P N has spent the last ten years of his life taking theatre to schools, colleges, Corporates and NGOS. Besides writing for theatre he is deeply interested in theatre and the arts as a medium of education.