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Language News This Month - N. T. Rama Rao and His Legacy
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
1. LANGUAGE AS A RALLYING POINT - NTR AND TELUGU CONSCIOUSNESS
Language continues to be a rallying point for the vast majority of ethnic and linguistic groups in India. Since independence we have seen many linguistic agitations around the country. N. T. Rama Rao, a great actor-turned politician, led one of the most spectacular protests in the political arena in favor of an Indian language in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The rise of MGR as a pre-eminent political leader in the neighboring state of Tamilnadu happened somewhat under different circumstances. MGR was an inheritor of a language dogma, but Rama Rao was an innovator and pioneer in language politics. Rama Rao brought the Telugu consciousness that was simmering for quite a long time to the frontline in Andhra politics and gave a new meaning and vigor to the love of mother tongue and Telugu culture among the Telugus. Since NTR, Andhra would never be the same, … except for the fact that state administrations all over the country were notoriously slow in implementing the declared official language policies! We cannot blame the administration or the officials who are charged with the responsibility of implementation, because the problem is, indeed, devoid of any cut and dried solution.
2. RAMA RAO'S CONTRIBUTION TO TELUGU SOCIETY
The participants in a Telugu Festival in Guntur this month remembered the contribution of NTR to Telugu. Rama Rao brought name and fame to the Telugu pronunciation and Telugu attire, one of the speakers pointed out. Another speaker pointed out that the name of the linguistic group, Telugu, became better known because of Rama Rao's ideology and political leadership. Yet another speaker declared that through Grand Festivals (Mahotsavam), "our Telugu language, culture, and traditions" would be honored. He lamented that one could not see any anthology of poems recent days similar to the great anthologies of Vemana Shathakam and Sumathi Shathakam. The practice of shathakam encouraged morals and cultivated a beautiful language. He suggested that such poems empowered even illiterate people with good command over the spoken language and power of expression. It sounded as if he was prescribing these things as an elixir or cure for all diseases.
An honorable minister pointed out that by prefixing Telugu as an epithet to every scheme, N.T.Rama Rao reminded the people about their language in every walk of life. The Chairman of the Official Language Commission in Andhra Pradesh was very eloquent. He advised everyone to use English only as eyeliner, and not to apply the eyeliner all over the body lest you become dark; use English only as asafetida for your curry for the fragrance of the food and not as food. Excellent poetry, but the poet would be severely criticized for his pre-occupation with the color of the skin!
3. LANGUAGE MAHOTSAVAMS OR LANGUAGE TAMASHAS?
Conferences and festivals are great occasions to remember the dead and to glorify our mother tongues and cultures. A pun on the word here and a superb metaphor there brings great applause and everyone feels good and goes home. Political consciousness that is aroused based on language loyalties has not really helped developing the Indian languages as fit vehicles of administration and education. We are evolving to be a bilingual society at the administrative and educational levels in every state, including the Hindi-speaking states. Politicians see it as a great contradiction and source of conflict, although such conditions give them the advantage to rise to prominence. Parents seem to prefer that their children should be strong in English even as they wish their children to learn the Indian languages. This has become the national trend. We live in a generation that is no more concerned about what used to be called "brain drain."
4. WHAT LIES AHEAD?
Leaders like NTR will always be remembered for their bold and innovative decisions and their great sacrifice and endurance of personal humiliation and agony. They will be remembered for their path-breaking love of their language and culture. Even as they are remembered, the undercurrents of social and economic changes will continue to have their own impact, rather irreversible impact, on the society at large. Are we willing to do our best to love and use our Indian languages even as the parents want their children to excel in English? If our determination to use the Indian languages in all walks of life springs from the recognition of what we are, nothing could separate us from them even if we continue to learn the international languages for career purposes.
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M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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