Friday, March 30, 2012

How to kill a language

Step 1: Invite a European country to invade and colonize the region where the language is spoken. The Europeans will teach you to regard their language as being superior to yours and you'll start thinking it's cooler to know their language.

Step 2: Somehow get the Europeans to leave your region.

Step 3: Randomly decide to form a country with a bunch of regions around you. Claim it makes more sense geographically.

Step 4: Allow one of the other regions to convince you to adopt their language as the "national language".

Step 5: Start teaching your kids the national language in school. Also start watching movies/listening to music in said national language. People will soon follow your example and start changing shop boards and road signs to the national language too.

Step 6: You have reached your goal! Your grandchild will know little or nothing about the existance of the language. Tada.

And no, this is not about what you think it is. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine from the Phillipines. She told me a story about the fight of two(and more) languages..

See, long long ago, the Spanish colonised the Phillipines. The Spanish are notorious for destroying native traditions. Their dealings with the Mayans and other Central American tribes are well known. When they colonised the Phillipines, it was no different. They made the natives give up their religion, their language, their culture and follow the Spanish traditions. A few of the native tribes put up resistance so they were allowed to keep a part of their religion, but the nice friendly welcoming settlements were converted. Their books and scripts were destroyed.

Eventually, Phillipines gained their independence. They decided to group together a bunch of Islands and call it a new country. The question arose, as it always does whenever a new country is formed, on what language to use as a mode of communication. Using Spanish was opposed because, well, they deemed it a "foreign language".

Now the capital of Philipines is Manila and all the policy makers are from around there and since they spoke in this language Tagalog, they pushed for it to be the national language. Since only 1/3rd of the population spoke it, they tried to pacify them by invening a new language, "Filipino" which was basically Tagalog with a few words thrown in from other languages and this is the language that is taught in school.

My friend says that since there is no written literature for her language (Visayan), she was not taught to read and write the language - the language is passed on from generation to generation, from parent to child by word of mouth. And since it isn't taught in school, people just end up communicating in Filipino and a little in Spanish and English. It's only when they talk to their parents and grandparents that they default to their mothertongue.

She says that the difference in the vocabulary of the younger and older generations is quite noticible and the language is slowly dying. She even admits that she doesn't know how to count in her language. She sadly hopes that something could be done and her language and her script could be revived.

I hope so too.

Disclaimer: If you are from Philipines and reading this, please note that I did not mean to offend you in any way. I admit I have not done any personal research and everything here was my understanding of a story told to me.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Anybody in my facebook friend's list can tell you how much I hate the winter. I hate practically everything associated with it - the grey skies, the leafless trees, the dried grass, the mushy roads, the slippery sidewalks, the dry skin, the heavy coats.. like I said - everything... except one.

A lot of people I know like winter - they talk about the cool breeze, the peace it bring, the holiday season. I have a favorite thing about winter too - the one thing which makes the whole season bearable - the way the landscape changes overnight. Spring comes over a fortnight and it merges into summer. Autumn takes a few months to gradually set it. Winter, though, comes overnight - 3 inches of snow is all it takes to change a barren grey landscape to a beautiful storybook-ish one in a matter of hours. I can go to sleep to a depressing sight and wake up to a 'winter wonderland'. It is the only thing that convinces me to put up with the cold harsh northern winds.

After the terrible (read: awesome) snow storm last year, the Pittsburgh municipality has been on its toes to clear the snow ASAP. Though it started snowing by the end of November, I have not been able to see the white landscape so far because by the time I wake up, the streets (and pavements) have already been cleared.

However, on the 25th of December, after a late Christmas dinner and a game of Monopoly which ran into the wee hours of the morning, I stepped out to see the road covered with three inches of snow. It was bee-uuu-ti-ful. The snow was untrodden and peaceful and silent - my footsteps ruining the beauty as I trudged home in the cool morning. Sleepy as I was, I was happy to be awake and alone so early in the morning. It was oh-so-peaceful!

It was a real white christmas.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paneer mazhai puriyum maegangalae..

I went to Mathura 3 years ago. It was during a class trip to Nainital. The trip was in August and a classmate of mine was complaining about how she didn't get to celebrate Krishna Jayanti at home thanks to the class trip. Imagine her joy when we found ourselves catching a train in Mathura that night. The bus dropped us at 10.50 outside the station. The train left at 11.05. What followed was (imaginably) a mad rush towards the train. And that is when I got my real taste of North India.

One of my favorite books while growing up was Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Not many people like the book since he was highly racist. But apart from that, the book is beautifully written and puts images into your head about what India might've been like once upon a time. Stepping into Mathura Railway station, I saw the images come true.

Some bright person in our group had the idea that it might be easier to use the back entrance. What he failed to inform us was that it involved dragging our brand new Samsonite bags through a quagmire for about half a kilometer. Our stuffed bags were of course too heavy to carry. We finally caught sight of the platform and heaved a sigh of relief thinking "we can atleast use the wheels the makers of the bag have so thoughtfully provided us". Boy, were we wrong!

If you have been reading carefully (and I'm sure you have), you would've noticed that I mentioned a tiny fact about landing in Mathura on Krishna Jayanti. *Click* The devotees were returning home. And Krishna has a LOT of devotees who want to visit his birthplace on his birthday! Trust me on this. And moreover, they are not the kind who reserve tickets on trains. Very few of them even know which train takes them back home. Hotel rooms of course are out of the question. They sleep, (you guessed it) on the platform. On every inch of it. We had to lift out bags to our heads and walk very carefully. It was no longer a matter of getting our branded shoes covered in mud. If we slip now, we step on someone's face. Literally.

There is a movie starring Robin Williams - "What dreams may come". In that movie, he dies and goes to heaven. His wife, unable to bear the pain of his death, goes to hell. The movie about his search for her through eternity. The station with it's eerie yellow lights looked like a scene from that movie where he is in hell and all he can see are faces of people tied down together - millions and millions of faces.

We had to get into the train as soon as it came to the platform and lock ourselves in. Like I said, people didn't know what reservation was, and didn't care. You found people seeing our coach was relatively empty and banging the door asking to be allowed in. It was crazy. And scary. It also makes your stomach drop a little with guilt.

I suddenly started talking about Mathura because I read that it's facing "the worst flood in recent years". Whatever that means. And also because it's Autumn again where I stay now.

Autumn because last autumn, my uncle had taken me on a drive down the heart of Pennsylvania. For the uninitiated, it is a beautiful beautiful state which transforms into something beyond description during Autumn. I took photos (duh!) and sent it back home(double duh!). MY mom enjoyed the pretty photos and told me "Chitra, you're so lucky to have seen this". And that's when it stuck me - I am lucky and I got to see what all those people (hardworking and sweet - most of them, I'm sure) will probably never get to see. It makes one feel guiltier than you can imagine. It also makes one miss their homeland. :-(

Note: The title is line from a devotional song praising Krishna. It translates to "Oh clouds which give us sweet rain, please sing about the beauty of our lord". Of course, as usual, a humongous amount is lost in translation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Aachi was right.

"தன் கைய்யே தனக்கு உதவி" she said. I do not know how much she believed in it, but now I think that's about as true as it gets.

Translation: "Your hand is the only one that helps you"

*Aachi - what I call(ed) my grandma.

Friday, June 18, 2010

No more excuses

Now that Chicken L. is back I decided to make a comeback too. Seriously for the past few months the blog sphere has been dying. And the few 'famous bloggers' who were still blogging seem immature and highly opinionated. They resisted conservatism so much that they ended up being close minded about it! Hence I grew sadder and sadder till I finally gave up coming here until one fine day who should I see posting - but CL herself. That's reason enough right?

I made a quick tour though and realised things were the same. Take the discussion on that Priya Ramani's post on India for example. I first came across it on Google Buzz (yes, there are people who actually use it!!!!!) when an aquaintance had put it up as a 'fail post'. I completely agree with him and also think that girl(woman) is an idiot who doesn't know what she's talking about (no, seriously. Where in US did she go if she didn't have strangers on the bus pouring their heart out to her or find people spitting on the road?). But to actually defend the article...!!!
Or another famous blogger who thinks posting sensational stuff is what gets her readers.
Or the other one who dramatized death! The death of the person close to her was actually the punch line of her post!!! I mean, seriously.

Oh and the actually fun bloggers - like PI, Ess, Mads, Mathika, Sayuja, Nikita, DJ, etc.. - they blog no more. Or more rarely than me.

Anyway, those were my excuses until CL's recent post.

I dedicate my comeback to her.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The city wars.

Ever since I joined MCC, I have been subjected to what I shall henceforth refer to as "City wars". You know what I'm talking about - Chennai vs Bombay/Delhi/Calcutta, etc. This poor blog has also been subject to a few of them.

However, I have decided, the wars - they shall stop. Simple because if I have a right to love my hometown with a passion and find every other place pale in comparison, everyone else has a right to feel the same way about their hometown, do they not?

On the other hand though, those who do not have a 'hometown' - the ones who do not understand what I'm talking about when I call a city "home", or what a phrase like "Panamarathila vavvala, Chennai kae savvala?" (Seriously, what do you say if someone asks you to translate it? It doesn't make any literal sense but it makes so much sense at the same time!) really means, I do not think there is any point in fighting with them over something they won't (will never) get! I cannot explain to them, why Chennai, with everything they deem atrocious, is still the best place in the whole wide world - to me. It's like explaining why we love rain to someone who's lived in Western Pennsylvania all their life! It just cannot be explained.

So over all, the city wars have stopped. For me at least. It's pointless really.

In any case, my only real weapon is/was "Chennai is home". That's all I got. That's all that's valid. That's all it takes.

Took me long enough to get here, right?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

When dreams come true..

When I was a kid one of my cousins got us this little table prop which said

"I came to America because I heard that streets here were paved with gold. When I came I learned three things:
first: streets in America are not paved with gold;
second: streets in America are not paved at all;
third: I am expected to pave them."

Yet the reality of the situation does not hit anyone till they actually land here. Each day I'm more and more convinced that good old India (with its 1.1 billion population and it's corrupt politicians and love/worship of cricket) is far more developed that the US is or will be.

We've been told that the first step to victory is realising your faults (or something like that..). I think I can safely say no one in India (except maybe the BJP) has any illusions of where we really stand and what we really are. We are a poor developing country with no money and lot - and I mean LOTS of mouths to feed. We know we have the second largest slum in Asia with a 40 storey mansion right at the centre of it. We know we have the Coovum and that 50% of us have TB. We know that the men in saffron are complete maniacs who cause us constant amusement(well, cause me constant amusement - (does that guy honestly think people take him seriously? I want to know...)), we know that our hospitals are not the best in the world.

But.. but but but.. our hospitals(the govt one) don't demand you have insurance or pay 5000 rupees for prescribing you an antibiotic. They may not treat you like a princess but you don't have to be rich to give birth in one. You don't have to worry about the smallest tooth ache and how much it's going to cost you if you go to a dentist. And most of all, the government isn't run by insurance companies, is it??

Also, since all of us know exactly where we stand, we know the importance and value of hard work. We know what our paybacks are. We see - with our own eyes - what happens if we fail to work hard or if we do not study. The big bad world isn't shielded from us all the time with a shiny pink wrapper like it is in the US. In the US, it's almost as if poor people do not exist. Ask your average kid if she/he knows about the homeless or people on social security. They don't know any such person - have probably never spoken to one and think they're from a different planet at best. The kids are told to dream(which is good) but not what they need to do to make those dreams come true. We aren't told either, but then again, we don't need to be told. We see the ends of both roads in front of us all the time.

We're prudent at worst. We don't run up debts buying frivolous things all the time (most of us - not all). That is not saying we don't borrow money at all - but we think twice. And we most certainly don't buy the latest Channel outfit on borrowed money. Our mistrust of anything 'foreign' stops us from using our credit card the first time we get one. We find out what it means, what we have to do and the minute they tell us you have to pay more money if you exceed your limit. We shudder and decide we'll just use cash or debit card unless that stupid site absolutely denies us the use of one! We definitely don't run our whole economy down.

We're poor, yes. More than half of the country is below the poverty line, true. But do you realise that when we run out of our natural resources and destroy our planet completely and global warming takes over, it is that half which will survive? Provided they aren't drowned in the rising sea first of course. The live the natural life. No plastic. No CFCs. No space heaters. Just a colour TV in every house to keep them connected.

Finally, I believe that America is no longer a land where a child can dream. India is. We have free education. Till one finishes college. Half the kids here don't go to college because they can't afford it. Well, half the kids in India don't go to college because they can' afford it, you say. I say, no that isn't true. There, people don't go to college because they have to work 24/7 instead. College education itself is free (or nearly so). Here, people don't have to work 24/7. In fact they can be 'well off' and still not be able to afford a college education. You know this.. You have an uncle/aunty/cousin/sibling who cribbed about it to you..

So, to all those who did/do/will ask me where I want to settle down 'finally', well, the answer's kinda obvious, isn't it?

Oh, oh.. not to forget the fact that you just don't get anything which remotely resembles a good cup of coffee on this continent! Also, the spell check keeps insisting that c.o.l.o.u.r is wrong. That's just weird. Most importantly, Americans measure temperature in farenheit *shudder* and distance in miles *more shudders*