Indian Languages - dying a slow death
India has now been a free country for 70+ years. Over these decades, we have made progress in many spheres of activity but there is one area where things seem to be sharply deteriorating — the state of Indian languages.
Even for the most important figures in Hindi literature their great grand-children are almost certainly more comfortable in English than in Hindi. This is neither a unique situation nor can it be blamed solely on lingering colonial attitudes in elite schools. Across the country, this is being experienced by rooted families who are proud of their linguistic heritage.
In my view, the current crisis in Indian languages comes from a set of interlinked factors that are holding them back from evolving with the times. The first problem is that school textbooks are hopelessly outdated. I have personally verified this for Bengali and Hindi, but also asked parents of children learning other languages.
In lower grades, textbooks will have a smattering of folktales, stories from the Panchatantra and the epics, the lives of folk-heroes and so on. These are acceptable as they are timeless; analogous to nursery rhymes and fairy tales in English. However, the rest of the material seems stuck somewhere between the 1930s and 1970s. A survey of the technology reflected in the stories is quite telling. Forget mobile phones and laptops, you will rarely find television sets and aircraft. It is still a world of steam engines and animal husbandry.
Matters do not improve in higher grades — a great deal of preaching about “good habits” and the need to help the poor. These may be worthy goals but why do Indian language classes need to be specifically burdened with them? There is simply no sense of fun in the material. This is no way to promote a language in a country where the young, including the poor, are so aspirational.
The second major problem with Indian languages is that the output of innovative new literature has slowed drastically. Allowing for the odd exception, publishing is increasingly limited to literary novels aimed at winning government awards rather than engaging readers. Once there was a flourishing culture of writing science fiction, detective novels and travelogues in languages like Bengali but these have slowed to a trickle.
The third related problem is a dearth of translations into Indian languages. A Tamil or Marathi writer will be pleased that his/her novel has been translated into a foreign language. While this may be good for the personal reputation of the writer, it does little for Tamil or Marathi. A language is a medium for transmitting ideas and its repertoire grows as it absorbs material from elsewhere. The success of English lies in the fact that we can read Homer and Kapuscinski without having to learn ancient Greek or Polish.
Therefore, inward translation is more important than outward translation.
We at Spin-A-Yarn are proposing to help stop the rot by starting a small initiative to drive change at the kindergarten:
Reading aloud to children has been shown to improve reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking and concentration, and general academic aptitude, as well as inspire a lifelong love of reading.
Spin-A-Yarn, will stream videos featuring grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers and fathers reading children’s books in Indian Regional Languages (Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, etc.) alongside creatively produced illustrations.
Spin-A-Yarn will be available 24 hours a day for children, parents, caregivers and educators worldwide to drive the usage and develop new literature for the Indian Regional Languages.
Looking forward to your support.
For the Love of Lore