Friday, October 24, 2008

In Defence of Marathi

The topic is tricky, but something needs to be said about it. Raj Thackeray is being made out to be a villain, a saviour, a hero, and a traitor. The country is in a jingoistic mood and I am sorry to say that we are in it too. As a Maharashtrian, and an Indian, and most importantly as a citizen of the world, I have some experiences to share.

It was 1998, December. I was in an upbeat mood as I was going to be married. I wanted to shop for a blazer and so I went to a Raymond's store in South Mumbai. The salesman was an old man and I figured that he had been living in Maharashtra for a long time. So I said in Marathi:

"ब्लेझर विकत घ्यायचा आहे." (I wish to buy a blazer.) The man on the counter gave me an irritated look. He seemed exasperated when he said, "हिंदी में बोलो|" (Talk in Hindi). Without giving it much thought, I repeated my question in Hindi. Without looking up at me he pointed out to the section where blazers were kept. I turned. As soon as my back was towards him, I heard him telling his subordinate who had been standing right beside me.

"उसपर नज़र रक्खो।" (Keep an eye on him.) I turned back in a flash and looked him straight in the eye thinking that it would embarrass him. On the contrary, he was defiant. I felt humiliated and insulted and walked out of the store. When I reflected back, I knew that I had been treated with contempt only because my opening lines were in Marathi…. In my mother-tongue.

The second incident occurred a few months later when an old Muslim employee of a relative of mine from Delhi had come to Mumbai. My father asked me to drop him to the Bombay Central station. I waited while he enquired on the ticket counter. The old, Muslim man hailed from Delhi and the man on the counter was a native of UP. The place was Bombay Central Station, Mumbai, Maharashtra. Their conversation was in Hindi. The old man asked the man on the counter something and I heard an extremely rude reply in an uncalled for, loud voice. I rushed to the counter and began in Marathi:

"साहेब, जरा नीट बोला, तुमच्या वडिलांच्या वयाचे आहेत हे." (The man is your senior. Treat him with respect.) To which the man on the counter retorted:

"अब तू मुझे सिखायेगा क्या? घाटी?" I was incensed and replied that he was on my soil and was insulting the people of my State by calling meGhati in such a derogatory manner.

But that incident did it. I vowed that I would never speak in Hindi with any native of UP and Bihar who was settled in Mumbai. They would have to speak with me in MY mother-tongue, in MY state. Enough was enough; I was not going to be treated in this manner in my state. Since then, I have been speaking only in Marathi with people who are earning their livelihood in this wonderful state called Maharashtra.

Not many people who have migrated to Maharashtra know that unlike UP and Bihar and even Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra was created as late as 1960. It was not created along with the other Sates when India was organised along linguistic lines. And it did not come easy for the Marathi speaking people. There had to be a struggle – the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement for the Marathis to get a fair and just share of what was theirs. And people had to die for it. Thousands of migrant taxi drivers circle the Hutatma Chowk without knowing what it means for the Marathi people. And to be quite honest a lot of Maharastrians also pass the Hutatma Chowk without once giving it a thought that Maharashtra came into existence for a heavy price.

And once I started speaking in Marathi, I knew that we were slowly becoming foreign in our own land. People who say that India is One and anybody can migrate anywhere should say the same thing in Chennai, for instance. Nobody disputes that India is One, but if the States were organised on the basis of language, the fathers of the constitution meant that they were homes primarily for people of that language and the states should be governed in the language of the State. But what does one see here? People like Alyque Padamsee demand an autonomous Bombay state! There is a motion in the BMC that its affairs are run in Hindi?! That is ridiculous! Will Municipalities in Tamil Nadu conduct their affairs in Bhojpuri? I wonder!

I am not against any language. But the trouble here is that in spite of being the most and I repeat MOST welcoming state, Maharashtra and Maharashtrians have been getting a second-class treatment from the Centre and people who have migrated here and made their lives. People come here with dreams in their eyes and know that their hard work will be rewarded because Maharashtra and Maharashtrians do have a heart for it.

During the last few months I have been personally having a bad time with taxi drivers from North India, particularly Bihar and UP. If I talk in Marathi my query would not be answered at all. They refused to understand if I talked in Marathi. And I was not even expecting that they talk in Marathi, but don't I have the comfort of speaking in my mother-tongue in my own state without being treated with contempt?

Let me tell you another incident. The first Mumbai festival happened in 2005. Mumbai – Capital of Maharashtra. And do you know that apart from the one song that I did there was NO MARATHI SPOKEN on the stage at the opening ceremony EXCEPT in the speech made by NANA PATEKAR? In the next Mumbai Festival the marathi programmes were held in small grounds or theatres in and around Dadar while the more glamorous venues like the Gateway of India were held captive by Hindi and English.

Have you heard of any commercial radio station in Mumbai which plays a Marathi song? Even the government run ALL INDIA RADIO's FM station devotes equal amount of time for Marathi and Gujarati. I wonder if Marathi gets the same airtime in the radio stations in Ahmedabad. The radio jockeys too are all non-maharashtrians. They hardly speak a word of Marathi. Come to think of it they don't speak in any language!

Having said this let me also say that I come from one of the most cosmopolitan families you could imagine. My uncle was married to a Tamilian, and my first cousin married a Malyalee. My Aunt married a Kannadiga. So that covers most of South India. Among my father's cousins and my second cousins – I have Punjabis, Sindhis, Kannadigas, Tamilians, Muslims, Christians, and even Britishers in my close and immediate family!

I work with a lot of non-maharashtrian friends who have worked most lovingly with me on my Marathi songs. And I respect them because they show a lot of reverence for the language.

I love Marathi and I feel the same pain that perhaps Raj Thackeray feels (I am not, as yet, doubting his motives), when as a Maharashtrian I feel being treated with contempt and in my own land. (I most definitely know of people who seem to think that Marathi is the language for servants). But I denounce Raj Thackeray's methods. And I think that his GUTS are only proverbial…. A figment of his own imagination and that of his supporters.

I say that there is no purushartha in getting your supporters to slap around hapless rickshaw drivers and burning the property that belongs to your own state. IF RAJ THACKERAY HAS THE GUTS TO PERSONALLY SLAP ABU ASEEM AZMI OR ALYQUE PADAMSEE, WHO UNABASHEDLY ADVOCATES AN AUTONOMOUS MUMBAI, I WILL PLEDGE MY STAUNCH SUPPORT TO HIM. Of course, there is a chance that to this Raj Thackeray and his supporters will ask me the question: "Who are you?"

So let me tell them that I am just another proud Maharashtrian who loves Marathi.

I think that the trouble is that nobody seems to have reverence for anything that is decent and cultured. A lot of Maharashtrians are guilty in displaying an arrogant disregard towards their own mother-tongue. We don't buy Marathi music, we don't watch Marathi cinema and and we don't care about Marathi theatre. When boards and banners in support of Raj Thackeray went up in the area where I live, most of them were written in ridiculous marathi with absolute disregard for grammar and purity of the language. We have to learn reverence.

I hate violence as strongly as I love my mother-tongue. And I denounce any kind of violence. It is reverence that we need, reverence for Language; reverence for our Home; reverence for Culture and reverence for Life.