Tamil Nadu

Kamal Haasan calls Hindi `a child wearing diapers’ when compared to Tamil

So finally it had to come down to ghar ki baat, a family matter. That Hindi is a child-wearing diapers in a joint family of octogenarians and nonagenarians like Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. Creating a visual imagery of Hindi as a toddler, trying to find his or her space in the large, loud, talkative world of languages, was Kamal Haasan, himself a man who can speak many languages. In fact, as he showed in `Pushpak’, he can manage even without a language.

The context was whether Hindi should be imposed on other states where other regional languages hold sway. Kamal’s answer gave the impression that he did not think Hindi worthy of a place at the dinner table because it was yet to grow out of a diaper. And certainly not in a joint family, where the elders took the decisions. Hindi to Kamal’s mind, could not get its way just because it could bawl and create a racket or because there are more diaper-clad infants in the house called India. Forcing everyone else – much older than Hindi – to speak the language just because the toddler could throw a tantrum, would not work for Kamal. 

But Kamal, that is precisely what happens. Haven’t you seen granddads and grandmoms, make incoherent sounds just to amuse the toddler? Is that language Tamil? Or Telugu? Or Bengali? Or Hindi? No, it is a language of love, of affection, basically sound that conveys love and affection. 

And if Kamal’s birth certificate for Hindi is to be accepted, that’s precisely the equation one would seek. That there be a meeting ground. Where conversation, not confrontation, can be held. In the language of mutual respect for every member of the linguistic family. Where the elderly Tamil does not balk at the sight of child Hindi scribbling himself on the milestone on the national highway. And threaten a 1965 all over again. 

And while Hindi may be younger to a Tamil and a Sanskrit, it is by no means a child in diapers. Hindi literature is as rich, as vibrant, as vast as any other language with many a litterateur enriching it over the years. To reduce it to an infant, even by comparison, is to belittle it.

To be fair to Kamal, the actor-politician clarified he did not meant any affront but his metaphor of Hindi as a child wearing diaper is bound to be interpreted wrong. Some of his critics have already assumed that Kamal equated Hindi to a lot of s**t and a language that carried a stink. And a being that is yet to know how to exercise bowel (and tongue) control. 

No. He just meant it is young so it has to be taken care of by the older lot, he said. 

But hidden in this description is also establishing an equation. Like it happens in most families, the infant will be pampered but won’t be allowed to have his or her way always. That it will be disciplined. It cannot put itself first always. At least not in states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where Tamil and Kannada are not just mere languages, they are a way of life, a culture. 

Narendra Modi in fact, is in sync with Kamal Haasan. On the world stage at the United Nations, the PM spoke of Tamil language as the oldest in the world. But just like Kamal did not speak of Hindi with derision, Modi too did not suggest that Tamil, being so elderly, should be retired. In fact, in recent days, he seems to be embracing the geriatric Tamil much more – from New Delhi to New York, from Houston to Chennai and in Mamallapuram next week. 

The larger message should be that while the older lot be given respect instead of being forced to make way, the elderly too should make an attempt to learn the language of the young. 

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