AR Rahman did not impose his language on you. But many Indians do
The dream of one national language — Hindi or otherwise — will end up harming the nation itself.
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It is now well-known that last week, when AR Rahman performed a few pre-scheduled Tamil songs at a concert titled “Netru-Indru-Naalai”, translated as Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow in Tamil, many Hindi speakers among the audience got offended and walked out of the show, and later demanded a refund.
This created a social media furore, bringing in quite a few celebrity voices who expressed their discontent, with several comparing it to what language (Hindi) imposition feels like to non-Hindi speakers.
They believe that just because they erroneously associate Rahman with Bollywood, all Rahman should sing is Hindi songs.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor too shared a picture on Twitter and Facebook stating that singing Tamil songs in front of Hindi speakers was an example of language imposition, getting thousands of shares and likes.
Comparing this to the imposition of Hindi is not only an inappropriate and false analogy but also one that trivialises the struggles of those fighting against it. Say you were at Colombian singer Shakira’s concert — much like the one that happened in 2007 at Mumbai where, along with her English songs, the artist also performed few Latino pop numbers — would that be the imposition of Spanish?
If Aishwarya Rai speaks English in Pink Panther, or Bengali in Chokher Bali, do people leave the theatres mid-way? Does the audience think mainstream Bollywood songs impose Punjabi when they hum numbers like “Tenu suit suit karda” from Hindi Medium or "Main tenu samjhawan ki" from Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania?
I don’t think so. According to me, such Hindi speakers feel entitled to selective hollow outrage; despite AR Rahman being heralded as the Mozart of Madras they don’t know that he is primarily a Tamil composer. They believe that just because they erroneously associate Rahman with Bollywood, all Rahman should sing is Hindi songs.
Unaware of the roots of their language, such people do not understand that even the Hindi they speak or the Hindi Rahman composes his songs in, is inherently a mosaic of multiple languages like Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, English, and few Dravidian languages, like the one the Hindi fanatics are trying to undermine.
Their outrage emanates from ignorance and a lot of linguistic chauvinism and entitlement.
Also, this is not how the imposition of a language feels. For instance, one experiences it when a local, official language is replaced with Hindi on milestones along the national highway of a state where people hardly speak Hindi.
Recently, this happened in Odisha when Odia made way for Hindi and English on milestones along NH 316.
It is going to a bank in your town to find that all the forms are printed in Hindi and English, and you have nobody to help you.
It is waking up one fine day and finding that signboards of your local Metro spell out indications in a language you don’t identify with or speak.
It is about forcing MPs to speak and write in Hindi just because they know the language.
When all your national leaders speak in a language you don’t identify with, that’s language imposition, when some other language you don’t know makes it to your passport.
AR Rahman did none of this. He performed songs he composed. Period.
If such linguistic hegemony is practised by Hindi speaking zealots, especially by political figures, it can begin a series of unprecedented violence and unrest.
We have historically seen what happens when people are forced to speak a language against their own in Tamil Nadu, and are currently witnessing the Darjeeling unrest over the imposition of the Bangla language and identity.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee may, perhaps, be protecting the linguistic heritage of her region against the ruling party’s agenda of the backdoor imposition of Hindi — aimed at creating a brahmanical, homogenised identity in the state to bank on or appease its north Indian voters. But it’s imposition all the same.
As Amartya Sen recently said, “Imposing Hindi to enhance unity and integrity of the country is perhaps a simple way of putting things. I think it is too simple an idea.” Those in power will sooner or later realise this. But in the end, irrespective of what such people reap, we sure may end up losing the India we grew up in.
The dream of one national language will end up harming the nation itself.