THAT’S ABSURD

I am learning so many new things in these COVID times. Our life style has totally altered and the way we spend our time has changed.. we long to go back to the normal times and are scared of facing the “New Normal” .

Lockdown has given me a lot of time in my own company. Which I usually don’t like doing at all. I like to meet people and talk to them and usually thrive on these conversations and participate in lot of activities be it at my workplace or neighborhood.

So in that way this lockdown has been very difficult for me. Phone calls or video calls are not the same. But still we are managing.

In one such call with my niece where we were ranting about our lockdown woes. She said she had become an Absurdist now.. “I don’t believe that there is any meaning in life…” she said.

This got me thinking. I dived into the Internet to find out whether this was even a legitimate word or not. To my surprise it is.

All human beings seem to crave meaning, search for it, and create it. We constantly make up stories out of our lives to give them meaning.  And we search for explanations for the universe in general. Religion may be the most popular source of meaning for people; believing in a god or gods, a spirit-world, an afterlife, or a holy book, or practicing ritual, prayer, or meditation makes life meaningful for many people. And religion is not the only possibility: people find meaning for their lives in nationalism, science, Marxism, art, and many other beliefs and practices.

Absurdists see all of these attempts as ultimately doomed, in a sense. Not that absurdists think it’s pointless to do anything, but they believe that no matter what you do, you cannot escape the absurdity of being a human being.  It’s not exactly the universe which is absurd in absurdism, but rather the fact that humans are innately driven to look for meaning in an ultimately meaningless universe. Whatever stories we tell to give meaning to our lives are just that — stories, fictions.

I know the above philosophy may not be acceptable to all. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s belief.

But sometimes in the time of despair we might have all gone through this kind of phase where life seems totally meaningless.. 2020 is that kind of a phase for me. With the pandemic, the super cyclone, the gas leak, earthquake, planes falling out of the sky, the locust attack everything coming in quick succession has really made me wonder that the things we used to strive for are actually so meaningless. We are actually surviving without many thing that we thought we could never do without.

Its basically the pandemic which has altered everything. Businesses are closed and people who were supposed to be affluent are also struggling to juggle the big EMIs, bills, fees, rent to be paid and zero or drastically reduced income. The poor are absolutely on the road. And all this in a matter of three months.

Really makes me wonder we study all our life to make a career, a living. We spend our whole life in building up a career or a business. Just to see it topple and turn into dust in a matter of days. Because of reasons which are way beyond our scope to thought. Isnt it all meaning less?

The daily positive thoughts for the day which I get through Social media and the inspirational stories all seem meaningless once I watch the news. Its seems all gloom and doom everywhere.

Hopefully, these dark clouds will lift soon from this world and my thoughts too.

THE CANCER OF OUR TIME – MEANINGLESSNESS

In the search of finding “the meaning of meaning”, the abstract subjectivity of meaning reflects the absolute need for its search for the meaning. The meaning of meaning denotes the abstractness of its purpose, its value, its significance, and its existence. But the sense of the search for meaning absolutely reflects the urgency, the importance, and the inner hunger for it. 

The meaning of meaning cannot be defined without the knowledge and alongside we need wisdom since wisdom instructs us about the timely implementation of knowledge or else knowledge becomes meaningless. Validating the need of both Wisdom & Knowledge the Bible clearly warns us, 

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; 

the more knowledge, the more grief. 

I was always blamed for not having knowledge and wisdom and not understanding someone else’s situation. I was tagged as rude – judge-mental – bossy. As I tried to gain some knowledge and learn some wisdom, my sorrows and grief were doubled. Since I was able to understand someone else’ struggle the feeling of their pain become more tangible to me, moreover now in my life it wasn’t just my sorrows & grief alone! The question that taunts me now – “What’s the meaning for gaining wisdom & knowledge?”

Since our childhood, we were constantly encouraged to study well so that we can be successful. In my attempt for success I tried to learn from the experiences of the stalwarts of success. One from that list is famous British writer Jack Higgins (original name: Henry Patterson). The book that gave breakthrough to Jack Higgins and was sold over 50 million copies was, “The Eagle Has Landed (1975)”. He wrote this book towards the later years of his life and he quotes there;

“When you get to the top, you find nothing there. 

I wish I would have known it as a small boy, he added”.  

Again, the question that taunts me now – “What’s the meaning of being successful?”

In school, we learned “FOOD – SHELTER – CLOTHE” are the basic needs for a good life but the 21st century talks “MONEY – AFFLUENCE – INFLUENCE” is all that you need for a good life. Youngsters today says, ‘The more Money you throw, the best food, shelter & clothe you will get. The more Affluence you have, the more secured you are and the more your Influence are, the more you will be in the spotlight. In the words of the NOW Generation, MONEY-AFFLUENCE-INFLUENCE brings meaning to a good life. Well, flipping the pages of history we see Alexander the Great said, “keep my both hands and both legs dangling out from my coffin so that the world may know what I brought and what I am taking away”. Not he alone, sounding the same the Great, Rich Israeli King well-known as Wise King Solomon towards his final pen, he wrote,

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” 

The question prompts me, What’s the meaning of treasuring Money, Affluence and being in the spotlight?”

The pain of meaninglessness does not instruct us to refrain from acquiring wisdom, knowledge, success and money rather it insists on us to introspect our urge for it. It reminds me of the great quote of the English writer and Philosopher G. K Chesterton said, 

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain.

Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.

Quoting from the speech of Ravi Zacharias at the Veritas Forum, as final words to this article I would like to pen, “The cancer of our time is realizing the meaninglessness in our life and it can only be treated by God alone!” Man, with his finite amount of knowledge and strengths of life hasn’t left any stone unturned to understand & realize the meaning of being meaninglessness in life. But alas, he has bitterly failed and sadly, there is no one else among the living ones to treat the cancer of our time – MEANINGLESSNESS.

God, being infinite and eternal in His existence understands the malady of our human heart and has warned us in the Bible,

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; 

life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 

THIS PARTICULAR FANATICISM IS QUITE MEANINGLESS

Can the knowledge of a particular language be the sign of intelligence of a person? Can the fluency in a particular language be an indication of one’s educational background and character certificate? Sounds gibberish, right?

Well not completely. This is just a reflection of how the attitude of people in Indian subcontinent has shaped up over decades now. Undying love for “English” is an IT thing (rather a HIT thing).

People getting mocked for not being able to converse in English at native level¹. People finding themselves to be in a fix, out of place, losing confidence, nurturing low self esteem and inferiority complex are direct of shoot offs of our fetish for one particular “International Language” English. We (A majority) somehow have come up with the terms that mastering this particular language is a ticket to a better treatment in masses ; a person who can speak English impeccably is a genius and if some accent is sprinkled he/she is already a star – knowledge, character, education, skill doesn’t really matter. Look at the wannabe insta stars, you will know what I mean 😁.

Let me share few examples/ incidents that I came across or heard:

*I heard people praising someone who got expert skills in English “Kya angrezi bolta hai, wah!” (He speaks so good in English) never mind the grasp on subject matter is ZERO.

*My friend once shared with me his experience at his daughter’s school. The poor child faced the ire of the teachers because she wasn’t able to converse in a free flow manner in English and was comfortable in her mother tongue. Such a shame!

*If a person belonging to a foreign land (read West) speaks in any of our regional language though broken we go gaga over the attempt. “So Cute” is the expression that follows our excitement (not referring to Donald Trump saying Swamy Vivekanand 😁). But when the tables turn and someone among us try to speak the broken English we brand him “Illiterate” literally. What double standards!

*Parents insisting kids to speak in English, it’s a matter of fame while on the other hand more and more parents are coming out saying “our kids can’t speak/ read/ write our mother tongue” almost without any sense of attachment. I am at loss of words!

*People refraining from talking in the language they are comfortable with just not to be jeered by peers. How sad!

Well I can go on and on with such illustrations not so great to put forward for any country / society. In short we are focussing on the mode/ language of instruction and completely ignoring the importance of effective communication or the content intended to be delivered.

Talking about our overtly attachment with this particular language, light must be thrown at helm of affairs in other parts of the world, countries which we see as synonyms for “Development, technology, power, economy” and every possible positive superlative. I live in Belgium, have been to France, Germany, Netherlands; Have heard the social addresses of public figures from Japan, China and the counties aforementioned. No one carries a chip of shame up their sleeve while talking in their respective mother tongue. On contrary they are proud. Mother tongue is given the utmost importance right from the beginning. Schools that lay foundation and aid development of a child from the grassroots level emphasize specifically on the country’s mother tongue. If you are a foreigner in these lands you got only two choices either integrate with them via their language or be ready to pay exorbitant charges for translation be it education in schools or otherwise. I myself have paid extra charges for translator service for driving test because of my incapacity to understand French fast 😁. In a way they are promoting their language by using simple economics, period! Priority to the mother tongue is something we must learn from these countries.

Why? Language is a part of what and who we are. It’s an integral part of our history, heritage and culture. Precisely ROOTS! Can a tree stand still and upfront if it is alienated from the ground, if roots are uprooted? How meaningful it would be to have mastered a foreign language and yet not knowing the homeland? If we distance ourselves from our history there’s no way our future generations will know the past and future is definitely not bright.

I may sound as a fanatic talking over the clouds but a study is available that proves that for kids who start learning their and in their native language cognitive developments are better. Expression and communication comes easy to them. Better understanding of curriculum and positive attitude towards school are few more points to count. They feel more at home. This is just a bird’s eye view.

I want to reiterate that my argument is not against any language but the meaningless romanticism we have inbred within ourselves about a particular language belittling our own identity. I myself went to a school that had English as its medium of instruction but my teachers never made their students feel bad about their shortcomings in a language and most importantly my school had my mother tongue (Telugu) as one of the subjects and my parents wanted me to learn it. At home too we had an environment where we spoke to each other in our native language. English was just another language, a language for international exposure ( we were not aware or exposed to other world languages at that time), case closed. Rather the entire emphasis was on developing thoughts, transformation of a person to personality, ethical behaviour, earning dignity and respect. In short the purpose of imparting education was fulfilled to the core. It was not washed down by a meaningless glorification of a foreign language because it is spoken by “Fair Skinned” (another obsession of my land sadly).

A petty request: I am not out of “Parenting Mode” of last week’s topic, excuse me for that and kindly bear with me. Parents please make sure that you encourage kids talking (the least) in native language. If you could impart the knowledge if native language nothing beats that. Remember their thoughts have to be eloquent and it’s never about which language they chose to.

* Teachers: Please considering your own status don’t shame any kid for inability to converse in English. It’s just a language and can be worked upon. If the confidence gets shattered that might be something beyond repair.

* Schools / Authorities: Please focus on giving a buoyant support to the local language. Its a way to save our heritage and culture.

* Everyone: Learn as many languages as you can but remember your mother tongue is your inner feelings you share with your mother (loved/ closed ones), that comfort is the ultimate. And if Englishmen are speaking in English, it’s their own so nothing so great about that!

And here I rest my case.

IS MY “MOTHER TONGUE” MY NATIVE LANGUAGE?

My best friend Meera is from Odisha and speaks Odia, English, and Hindi fluently. Her husband, Atul is from Maharashtra and I’ve always seen both of them conversing in Hindi. Their daughter Tia who is just 5 yrs old, understands Hindi, Odia, and Marathi though she is more fluent in Hindi. Of course, Meera always specifies that Tia’s native language is both Odia and Marathi and Hindi is her mother tongue.

In countries like India, such instances are very common nowadays and perhaps the reason why mother tongue and native language are not synonymous anymore.

A first language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language that a person has been exposed to from birth.

The concept of having a mother tongue and the corresponding tendency to equate it to a native or regional language is a very Indian practice. The regional languages of India are the languages that are often spoken at home and are the ‘mother tongue’ or first language of that specific community.

Unfortunately, the schools want to stress that the first language at school is English, which leads to confusion and the handy substitute is ‘Indian Regional Language’ in official documents and ‘Mother Tongue’ in colloquial use.

Outside India, anybody would understand you speak a native/regional language, most will be confused about you having a ‘mother tongue’, as most of the countries use an official language native to the country.

In some countries, the term native language or mother tongue refers to the language of one’s ethnic group rather than one’s first language. Children brought up speaking more than one language can have more than one native language, and be bilingual or multilingual. By contrast, a second language is any language that one speaks other than one’s first language.

The first language or native language of a child is part of the personal, social and cultural identity. It also brings about the reflection and learning of successful social patterns of linguistic competence of acting and speaking.

A person is bilingual by being equally proficient in both languages. A person who grows up speaking English and begins learning Hindi for four years is not necessarily bilingual unless they speak the two languages with equal fluency. Balanced bilinguals perform significantly better in tasks that require flexibility (they constantly shift between the two known languages depending on the situation/requires constant juggling), more aware of arbitrary nature of language and also that balanced bilinguals choose word associations based on logical rather than phonetic preferences.

One can have two or more native languages, thus being a native bilingual or indeed multilingual. India, Indonesia, Philippines, Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa are examples where most people speak more than one language.

The designation “native language,” in its general usage, is thought to be imprecise and subject to various interpretations that are biased linguistically, especially with respect to bilingual children from ethnic minority groups. The definitions of ‘native language’ vary based on common usage, the emotional relation of the speaker towards the language, and even its dominance in relation to the environment. However, all of three criteria lack precision. For many children whose home language differs from the language of the environment (the ‘official’ language), it is debatable which language is one’s ‘native language’.

Now since we have established that native language can always differ from mother tongue, I’d like to shift the focus to the common misconception that mother tongue is essential to preserve cultural heritage. Like in my friend’s case, Meera follows all rituals of Raja and Kumar Purnami festivals and teaches their importance to Tia and also performs Ganesh Chaturthi festival the Maharashtrian way with great enthusiasm. I believe Tia is culturally much stronger than any one of us here. She understands the cultural diversity and yet through her, the compassion of her parent’s heritage is also preserved. I’m sure Tia’s generation would have a much better and global understanding of cultures and how ultimately everything comes together as we being humans. As far as Tia’s native languages are concerned, if she is ever interested she could learn and enhance her skills on those languages.

I myself can read, write and speak Odia, English, Hindi quite well. I can understand Bangla and I’m learning Urdu. But the language I’m more at ease and proficient is in English. My native language/mother tongue is Odia, which I learned from birth. I adapted to English much later in life. Yes, that’s exactly the word I was looking for, Adaptation. I used to and still read lots and lots of literature in English and somewhere down the line, I started conversing with myself in English too. That’s how I adapted.

Over the past few years, there have been significant cultural changes within our society. Education has gained importance and has become a priority. The socioeconomic changes have caused people to move out and seek employment outstation and overseas and people preferring to settle down there just for mere convenience. During my 4 years stay in the USA surprisingly I found the Odia families and their children are more closer to their culture. Of course, learning our native language is very important, but a more progressive attitude of adaptation would definitely help preserve the “mother tongue” and also the native culture.

MOTHER TONGUE-HAECCEITY THAT FUELS CULTURE

Born in a Sikh family, I managed to grasp the basic vocalizing skills required for my mother tongue Punjabi. My uncle once taught me to read and write Punjabi as well, but at that point of time, I didn’t give it much importance only to regret later.

My grandfather was a learned man. He was a polyglot and was well versed with English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. He used to write articles for various magazines and newspapers in these languages. I used to think that one day when I grow old, I will also learn many languages, but I couldn’t because I never tried.

My grandma, on the other hand, used to ask me not to speak in mother tongue, just because she feared that I may lag behind in school and may not be able to cope up with other children. So, I hardly spoke to her or anyone else at home in Punjabi. Though, I was well aware of this language, because all the elders in the house used to communicate in mother tongue only.

My father, however, used to emphasize speaking in English, that being the universal language. And I used to tell him that in school, we were already conversing in English, so at least at home, give a break!

It’s only after I cleared my X boards that I started talking to my grandma in Punjabi. I was hesitant initially, but the more I spoke, the more confident I became. That’s how happens with every language.

After my marriage, when we went to Shanghai, we were amazed to see the majority of the people didn’t know how to communicate in English. Being the world’s second-largest economy, people didn’t know English! We had troubles initially, but later on, it was fun. People of our age group and the elderly usually didn’t speak or know English so they would ask their school going children to be translators for us. At that time, I realised that no matter how much expert is a person in his/her native language, he/she must also be open to learning other languages, especially English, which is used globally.

We moved to Karnataka last year from NCR and chose CBSE board school for our elder son so that in future if we change the city, the board remains the same. However, recently, the state government has made the rule of making Kannada as the second language to be taught, replacing Hindi, (the first language being English). Currently, it’s being taught as the third language, where difficulty level is very low. With this news, we were initially perturbed, but later on were relieved when our son’s school agreed to continue Hindi language also, without changing its level. Children pick up languages so well and I am glad he’s getting exposure to a new language here. People often boast of schools teaching international languages, but I guess it’s always better to learn our regional languages first. However, making a particular language mandatory should not be the rule. In fact, the children should be free to choose any language at their will.

Culture should not be imposed. It has to be imbibed. As parents, we should speak to our children in the mother tongue more often. My son tries to speak in Punjabi with my parents and I encourage him to do that because that way he will become more confident as a learner. Who knows he might be a multilinguist one day!

THE BLISS OF MOTHER TONGUE

Language works as the means for the verbal and non-verbal expression of the complex nature of human emotions and ideas. Specifically, the MOTHER TONGUE gives an iconic distinctiveness and dignity to an individual.

Languages spoken in India belong to several language families, 78.05% of Indians speak the Indo-Aryan languages and 19.64% Indians speak Dravidian languages and 2.31% speak Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai, and a few other minor language families and isolates. After Papua New Guinea, globally India is having the highest number of languages, consisting of 780. And each of these languages represents a particular set of ethos, norm, and lifestyle. Among these, I can be bracketed as an “ODIA” and my mother tongue is known as “ODIA (formerly recognized as Oriya)” which belongs to the classical Indo-Aryan language family. Odia is considered the 6th Indian language to be designated a Classical Language in India on the basis of having an original literary history since 10th Century A.D. According to 2011 research on Indian languages, there are 55 million Odia speakers globally and from them, 37.5 million are the natives.

Since October 2010, crisscrossing to different parts of eastern India, it’s been hardly a week for me when I have never spent a full day with a person of the different mother tongue. Though Odia is the mother tongue for all Odias, regionally there is a stark difference of the pronunciation and meaning of same Odia words. Since the last decade, we have been experiencing the effect of rapid Globalization and speedy Migration. The Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates the size of inter-state migration in India to be 139 million. Hence, navigating through the everyday challenge of preserving the mother tongue is well-expected! But HOW?

In the lucrative makeover of Globalization – Urbanization – Modernization, we upgrade our lifestyle, which can be well-applauded BUT alongside we must be grounded to the bliss of our cultural inheritance and linguistic communication. From dawn to dusk, it is only communicating through our mother tongue that gives us the joy of homely feel.

I have an Odia brother from my hometown here in Kolkata, we only meet once in a month at Church but the way we greet each other is epic. Despite the sensitiveness of our setting, we never miss greeting each other in our mother tongue, saying “Banchichu? (Are you alive?)”. Even if we are at a far distance, we convey the same greeting nodding our head in a very peculiar manner, which of course only we can understand. Our greeting might sound silly, and to some culturally disrespectful but a simple word in mother tongue and the love in the smile gives a familial touch.

Another day, I was chatting with one of my friends from my hometown. Initially, he responded in English but after a couple of chats, he said, “Bhai, aame Odia, English re kana paain katha hauchu! (Brother, we both are Odias, why to chat in English!)” Yes, often though we belong to one place and are quite comfortable in our mother tongue yet just because we are grown-up men and are living a sophisticated lifestyle, we tend to use foreign and official language in our personal chats.

To meet our professional discipline and respecting inter-state migrating cultural presence, the use of official language is quite necessary. But whenever we are at home and among the people of our culture and language, we can be specific in using our Mother tongue. Let’s be original and relational.

Once I took a cab for the office and I was busy with my phone. I didn’t know that the driver is an Odia until he spoke to his wife over the phone. While he was talking to his wife, I was able to figure-out his home-town from his accent. As he ended the call, I asked him in Odia, do you belong to Odisha? Surprisingly he replied, Yes Sir, following a counter question – you are also Odia, Sir? Till he dropped me at my destination we had a good time and finally, when I reached my destination and paid him the fare, he simply refused. With a hearty smile, he said, “Sir, we are from the same place, we are brothers, how can I take money from you! The time we spent is more precious than money, thank you very much, Sir.

Refusing a few bucks is not the concern but the sense of belongingness and connecting heartily using our mother tongue was delightful. We never met since then but the time we spent and the love we shared become apparent in our heart and that’s what the bliss of mother tongue is all about!

Let’s resolve not to quit using our mother tongues in the modern era.

LANGUAGE OF HEART

Mother tongue holds great importance in a country like India wherein every few kilometers the language changes. The Mother Tongue is usually the first language a child hears. This is the language in which our parents talk to us.

I stay in Maharashtra state in India. The mother tongue of the people here is Marathi. I have picked up a little of Marathi in the few years that I have stayed here. And it has been my personal experience that if I speak to a Maharashtrian in his native tongue that person’s smile is a bit wider, I get a little bit more warmth from them or if I use it selfishly the file moves quite a bit faster in the Government Offices.

If you are staying in a metro city or any other cosmopolitan city, one thing you must have noticed. Here we usually have a mixed crowd, people belonging to different states and hence having different mother tongues. In a party or get together if two or three Bengalis meet they automatically switch to the Bengali language oblivious of the fact that they have effectively cut everyone else out of the conversation as others can’t understand or speak Bengali. This is true for any other mother tongue be it Tamil, Gujarati or Punjabi etc. We have to usually point it out to them and bring the conversation back to Hindi or English which everyone can understand.

Why does it happen?

It is because the mother tongue is the language of the heart. If we meet someone having the same mother tongue as ours we feel a natural kinship with that person. There are a certain closeness and our mind without realising switches to talking in our mother tongue.

There is another side to the coin though. With inter-state, inter-religion or inter-caste marriages being very common in our country now, the kids of such marriages are now having dual mother tongues. I have seen children who are fluent in both the languages and I have also seen children who speak neither of the two and only speak in common languages like English and Hindi.

Another thing is that our children now mostly study in English medium schools. The young parents these days in a bid to make their kids excel in school and talk to their children solely in English. The child becomes very fluent in English but looses out on developing a close relationship with their mother tongue.

I am not judging any of the parenting styles, I just hope that the bond of the heart and the mother tongue remains strong and doesn’t die out.