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Do we need to preserve our mother-tongue?

by Raj Nath Bhat

The question whether Kashmiri Pandits are required to think about preserving their mother tongue Kashmiri or not has been haunting many a mind for the last fifteen years when we were driven out of the Valley almost overnight. We were ordered!, perhaps ordained, to sever our ties with all that we loved about our ancestral land where our pedigree had lived for over five thousand years. Shaiva Kashmiri was there even before Kashmir knew any Buddhists, Sikhs or Muslims. The land was known not only for her bountiful rivers and mountains but for the scholarship that it cultivated for over three thousand years. It is recorded that when Patanjali completed his commentary ‘Mahabhashya’ on Panini’s Ashtaadhyaya, he went overto Kashmir to consult and seek the approval of the Pundits in Kashmir before ‘releasing’ it to the world of scholarship at large. A Buddhist scholar, Kumar Jeev who was trained in Kashmir, is a legend in Chinese history who, it is believed, translated over a hundred Pali texts into Chinese which saw Buddhism flourish in China. The Pandits have been a peace loving ethnic group, fond of good foods, fruits and flowers, and above all scholarship.

You may recall that after the displacement of 1990, the uprooted community was extremely concerned about the education of their wards, food and shelter was accorded a second priority. A friend of mine from Jammu expressed his astonishment at seeing young kids appearing from nowhere in white shirts early in the morning and their parents escorting them their way to some nearby school in most cases, a tent school. This has been and may continue to be the basic desire of our biradari- pursuit of education, knowledge and gyan and understanding.

We, as parents, need to give a profound thought to what our progeny can be just twenty five years into the future when the anguish of displacement will have faded out, if not completely effaced, from our minds. And the whole generation will surely be multilingual, proficient in Hindi, English and a couple of other Indian/ foreign languages, but with no knowledge or understanding of Kashmiri, which they will claim to be as a mark of their identity. Kashmiri is a label we shall continue to have whether you like it or not. What makes it necessary for a person to be labeled a Kashmiri or a Punjabi? Does it have something to do with One’s genetic/ethnic/ linguistic/ religious/ cultural background?

The significance of such a label is largely diminished when one is young and struggling/enjoying. It assumes importance when one grows to realize that she/he needs to know about her/his predecessors, p e d i g r e e - t h e i r achievements, follies, aspirations and dreams, failures and successes, their day to day life, food habits, customs, festivals and festivities, rituals and rites, ceremonies and externals, attire and etiquette, beliefs and superstitions, myths, legends and history, that one’s ‘pahchan’ as a member of a ‘biradari’ begins with the knowledge of one’s mother tongue - the first link to one side ntity. This fact cannot be realized in one’s teens or adolescence when all is either going gaga or sorrowful with the person. It is at the stage of adulthood that the crisis of identity begins to strain your nerves. And if, God forbidden, you get to be spiritually inclined, the lack of the knowledge of your mother tongue anguishes you a great deal. The knowledge of one’s mother tongue has the potential to bathe you in spiritual quests. Kashmiri is studded with poets whose spirituality and knowledge makes one ecstatic. Lalleshwari, Zinda Koul, Bhagwan Gopi Nath and many more awaken you to the realization of the supreme Soul, the Shiva and Shakti. Translations would help but if you have a command over the renderings in original Kashmiri, your depth of understanding turns out to be profound.

A lack of command over the mother tongue turns you into an alien among your own kith and kin. You imagine to be a member of your community without understanding the subtleties and nuances of any of the festivals and ceremonies, rituals and rites you participate in. With the passage of time you are forced to recreate yourself as a member of some other group but your heart wails for the loss that you have suffered just because your parents were not awakened enough to deliver you what was of paramount importance - the knowledge of your mother tongue and the history and myth that makes you a being of a particular delineation. You crave to be a celebrity but you stand uprooted. You wish to be in your imagined home and to live in that imagined culture but you are ill-informed or not informed at all. There is a constant churning going on inside you but there is no visible light that could deliver you. You begin to seek memberships of cultural bodies and forums where you believe you would find yourself, know yourself. Your urge to belong intensifies you are anguished.

This happens because your parents were possibly less responsible. They provided for your education, your welfare but they cared little about your adult aspirations and cravings. They were unaware of the basic fact that a respectable command over your mother tongue is the entrance to your home about which you can imagine realistically in your adopted home only if you are proficient in the mother tongue.

A straight-jacket module for the preservation of one’s mother tongue cannot be spelled out in a large volume. One has to realize that if you want your progeny to belong and not to suffer from a sense of lack of belongingness, you need to speak to your children in Kashmiri at home. It may not be possible to provide them special courses in Kashmiri, but mere use of it at home will work wonders. We live in an age of electronics where computers, audio-video gadgets are available across every street. There is a need to develop audio-video materials on festivals, ceremonies, rituals, and rites and so on to allow our young to have a view of the celebrations that accompany them. Families scattered in various nooks and corners across the globe need to know about Shivratri celebrations, Navreh and birthday rituals, death rituals and rites, marriage and childbirth rituals. This can be made available easily through the medium of audio-video cassettes. Sanskrit has been the language of intellection of our ancestors. This fact must not be ignored. It is an august duty of our generation to inspire and persuade our young minds to study Sanskrit and master it. Our ancestors, who we are proud of, mastered many languages simultaneously and Sanskrit occupied a pride of place there. In the present materialistic world, parents assume that engineering, medicine, and management are the only worthy areas which their wards ought to opt for. It is an ill-conceived thought whose consequences can be fatal for our progeny. The areas of knowledge are many. We should aim at excelling in all areas including the study of Shastras and Vedas. This will ensure glory to our future generations and those that follow them.

I am not a preacher. I am a student of history and languages. I believe that no matter what, there comes a stage in one’s life when you yearn to know yourself. This yearning is nothing but an urge to know one’s past, history, culture and beliefs. It is here that the ‘seeker’ finds her/himself handicapped. She/he may not speak out openly, but in the heart of hearts, she/he blames her/his parents for her/his limitation. One must remember that it is the recognition that your community extends you which makes or unmakes you as a recognizable actor of history!! How many parents do not want their kids to perform their last rites according to our tradition? Is it not our duty to let them learn what this tradition is all about? Is it not our duty to let them have a broader understanding of our culture and language? A child has the genetic potential to master a significantly large number of languages. Don’t deprive her/him of the mother tongue? Let it be her/his language of intimate discourse with you and the kinspersons. We will thus be performing the duty of responsible parents. Don’t blame them if they do not share your values and traditions. We, the parents, have been primarily responsible.

There are many communities in our own country which have suffered a similar fate but they see to it that their kids learn the mother tongue at home. Can we emulate their example? Instances are many, but I bring forward just two : Bengalis who had to run away from what is now Bangladesh and Sindhis who flew Sindh in Pakistan. Bengalis are scattered in various states, so are Sindhis, yet they speak their respective mother tongues at home. There are many other communities which deserve to be emulated in this respect. Instances are: Malayalis, Tamils, Punjabis, Gujaratis to name a few.

I was amazed to find that just four Gujarati families in Asmara, North East Africa had successfully preserved their mother tongue after nearly a hundred years of migration there! And their kids spoke chaste Hindi too just because, as they put it, they were amply exposed to Hindi Films right through their childhood and youth. We do have the resources to provide for such inputs. The Project Zaan has done a commendable effort with the Kashmiri-Devnagri script and language teaching materials. Many more efforts are being made across the country. There is a need to create an awareness about the fact that you cease to be a rightful heir to your heritage and legacy if you shun your history, culture, beliefs and language. 

(Author is Head, Deptt. of Linguistics, Banaras Hindu University)

Source: Milchar

  

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