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The Rise and Fall of the Bilingual Intellectual Author(s): RAMACHANDRA GUHA Source: Economic and Political Weekly

, Vol. 44, No. 33 (AUGUST 15-21, 2009), pp. 36-42 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25663445 . Accessed: 03/04/2013 02:12
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The Rise Bilingual
RAMACHANDRA GUHA

and

Fall

of the

and Kannada

and Hindi

has a reading knowledge of French and
German. On the other hand, Mukul Kesa

passably.

He

also

Intellectual

van and I are essentially comfortable in English alone.We can speakHindi conver
sationally, Hindi and use documents purposes. written But we can in for research

1 the rise and This essay interprets This fallof thebilingual intellectual in modern India. Making between a functional distinction

essay is inspired by an argu
ment between the scholar-librarian

notwrite scholarlybooks or essays inHin di. And neither ofus can pretend to a third
language 2 Let me move historical, of language now from the personal two to the at all.

and emotionalbilingualism, it
argues writers that Indian thinkers, and activists of earlier often

about. But I recall that the father, fighting then past 90 years of age, was giving as good as he got. At periodic intervalshe
would turn to me, otherwise a silent spec were

B S Kesavan and his sonMukul that were I was once privyto. I forget what they

to an argument between

on the question great modern

generations were

more than active in intellectually

tator, and pointing to his son, say:
"makku!",

Indians. In the month of April 1921, Mahatma Gandhi launched a broadside against English education. First, in a speech in Orissa, he described it as an
"unmitigated have "been evil". Bal Gangadhar men had Tilak

one language. Now, however, there is an increasing separation of discourses between those

thatMukul, born in Delhi of a Hindi speaking mother, did not himself under
respectively, "imbecile" and "lunatic".

"paithyam"!

Those

words

stand. But I did. Theymeant, roughlyand B S Kesavan knew that I lived inBanga
Tamil, and

and Rammohan Roy would, said Gandhi,
far greater they not

who operate exclusively in who operate in English and those
the language of the state alone.

the contagion of English learning". In Gandhi's opinion, these two influential
and admired Indians "were so many

lore, that both my parents were Tamil Thus, when

that one ofmy great-uncles had been a
scholar. his son's stupi

mies who had no hold upon the people
compared and with Chaitanya, Warming Sankar, to the Kabir, theme, Nanak".

pig

The decline of thebilingual intellectualisa productofmany

factors, among thempublic policy,

dity (real or alleged) could not be ade quately conveyed in their shared lan guage, namely, English, he took recourse to his mother tongue, which was also mine. The emphasismust be theoretically
"theoretically". scholar used My to write great-uncle postcards the ask

Gandhi insisted that
Sankar alone was able to do, thewhole army of English-knowing men can't do. I can a Guru Govind instances? Was multiply what product of English education? Is there a sin Indian who is a match gle English-knowing

elite preference, new patterns of and economic change. marriage,

on Tamil

me to "learn Tamil and lead a simple ing life".I failedhimwholly in the second re to pick up a few dozen words of Tamil,
among B S them makku Kesavan was and paithyam. formidably multi spect, but have down the years managed

the founder of a sect second to for Nanak, none in point of valour and sacrifice?... If the race has even to be revived it is to be revived not by English education.1

lingual.He was fluentinTamil, Kannada, and English, spoke Bengali adequately and Hindi passably, and had a good grasp

A friend, reading the press reports of this talk in Orissa, asked Gandhi to ex Writing inhis own plain his views further.
newspaper, the Mahatma clarified that it ismy considered opinion that English edu it has been given has cation in the manner the English-educated emasculated Indian, it has put a severe strain on the Indian stu dents' nervous energy, and has made of us naculars imitators. The process of displacing the ver has been one of the saddest chap would claimed would have been a

of Sanskrit.No doubt his multilingualism came in handy in his work as the first his National Library, Indian directorof the
This essay is based on a lecture delivered at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on 15May 2009, tomark the birth centenary of nurturing and of a national information sys taste

tem, and his pioneering histories of pub for languages was shared bymany other Indians of his generation who did not necessarily require those skills in their
jobs or careers. was stance, who father, for in My own a paper technologist by lishing printing. However, his

ters in the British connection. "Rammohan greater "and Roy Tilak

B S Kesavan. I am grateful to Rukun Advani, Andre Beteille, Alok Rai, Geetanjali Shree and Rupert Snell for their advice and help. The usual disclaimers Ramachandra apply.

reformer",

the Mahatma, have not been a to start

Lokmanya scholar,

greater

if they had

Guha (ramguha@gmail.com) a historian and writer based in Bangalore.

is

profession,speaks English and Tamilwell,
36 august 15, 2.009

with the handicap of having to think in theirthoughts chiefly English and transmit inEnglish".Gandhi argued that "ofall the
vol xliv no 33 GBE3 weekly Economic& Political

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great as that a knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbibing ideas

superstitions

that affect

India,

none

is so

of liberty,and developing accuracy of As a resultof the systemof edu thought". cation introduced by the English, "the tendency has been to dwarf the Indian
body, mind One ma's does and soul".2 the Mahat content with who was not know whether friend was But

preferredas a medium of education to the
mother tongue. "Mine is not a religion "it has God's of the prison-house", even he insisted: room

to English learningas such",butmerely to itsbeing made a fetish,and to itsbeing

east

and west

were

either written

familial levelwere best expressed in the
mother reason tongue, and impersonal had questions communi of justice to be

lishor translatedby a colleague under his while supervision.Tagore understood that love and humiliation at the personal or

in Eng

for the least among the charge movement were

creation."

Refuting operation

that he or his non-co a manifestation

of xenophobia, he said:
I hope I am as great a believer in free air as the great Poet. I do not want my house to be to be walled in on all sides and my windows want stuffed. I the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possi ble. But I refuse to be blown off by any.4

cated in a language read bymore people
and over a greater geographical space than Bengali. mother serving They

anonymous

this clarification.

someone

less than satisfiedwith Gandhi's views
was was the poet then Rabindranath in Europe, Tagore. where He he travelling was

By writing in English as well as their
tongue, society reached Gandhi as well out and Tagore as were themselves. audiences

to varied

received,by post, copies ofGandhi's arti
cles. Tagore tenor, mohan and Roy dismayed by their general of Ram On the 10 of May friend by the chastisement in particular. to their common

These words are emblazoned in halls
and auditoria across India, but

and, by listeningto their views, broadened thebases of theirown thought. This open
minded-ness reading. enced Thus by) was also reflected read (and was in their influ Gandhi

without the crucial first line: "I hope I am
as great Poet". theory, were a believer in free air as the great this argument and same Tagore side. the in Gandhi on In truth, despite in practice more-or-less

always

1921, he wrote

thinkers who

were

not neces

C F Andrews saying "I stronglyprotest
against Mahatma Gandhi's depreciation for declaim education". of

such great personalities ofModern India
as Rammohan ing Nanak gested, against and those Roy our in his zeal modern

Gandhi wrote his books in Gujarati, but
made certain that

sarily Gujarati. The debt he owed to Ruskin and Tolstoywas scarcely less than that owed to Raychandbhai or Narsi Mehta. Gandhi was also enriched by the
time he spent outside Gujarat the several

Gandhi had celebrated the example of
Kabir, saints but, "were as Tagore great sug because

intoEnglish so as to reach a wider audi ence. And when requiredhe could use the
conqueror's

they were

translated

in their lifeand teaching they made orga nic union of theHindu and Muhammadan
cultures and such realisation

His first published articles, thatappeared in the journal of theVegetarian Society of were written in thedirect London in 1891,
and unadorned prose the that was the hall

language

rather well

himself.

years in England, the several decades in South Africa, the millions ofmiles travel the Indian ling through countryside. On his part, Tagore was widely read in
European literature. When he visited Ger

itual unity through all differences of
appearance

of the spir

In learning and appreciating English, argued Tagore, Rammohan Roy had merely carriedon thegoodwork ofNanak
and Kabir. mohan Thus "in the modern age Ram Roy had that comprehensiveness to be able to realise of mind the funda

is truly Indian".

mark of all his work in English,whether
petitions to colonial government, or numerous

of his many in the 1920s at the invitation publisher, KurtWolff, his host remem
bered the "universal their breadth of Tagore's revealing learning", conversations

editorials in his journals Indian Opinion,
Young India, and Harijan, letters to friends.5

more of "withoutdoubt thathe knew far West thanmost of the Europeans he the
encountered knew of the East". Tagore

Early Bilingual
In writing in more

Intellectuals
than one language,

had spoken, among other things,of the
work of T S Eliot.

mental unity of spirit in the Hindu,
Muhammadan Therefore ness upon and Christian India cultures. in the full not he represented

Gandhi was in fact merely following in the footsteps of those he had criticised. For
Bal Gangadhar Tilak's mother a in which Marathi, language tainly publish essays. On his tongue was he did cer part, Ram

of truth, and rejection,

this truth

is based,

saidWolff, "that someone born in India in 1861 should display such an interest inand grasp of an Anglo-American poet thirty
years Like his junior".6 Gandhi, Tagore learnt as much

"It is quite

remarkable",

but on perfect out that

comprehen

sion". Tagore Rammohan

pointed

West, and therefore he had the dignity to be the friend of the West. Ifhe is not understood by modern

ern, he had the full inheritance of the Indian wisdom. He was never a school boy of the

Roy could be perfectly natural in his acceptance of theWest, not only be cause his education had been perfectly East

India, this only shows the pure light of her own truth has been obscured for by the storm-clouds was of passion.3 released

language throughhis novels and poems, made sure thathis most important works
of non-fiction His major were available testament, lectures in English. National and he wrote political based on

Sanskrit and Arabic). As forTagore, this man who shaped and reshaped theBengali

mohan Roy had published books in Per sian and essays inBengali beforehe came towrite inEnglish (hewas also fluent in

from his travels as fromhis books. He spent longperiods inEurope, visitedJapan and theUnited States several times, and
also went to China, south-east Asia, Iran, and Latin America. 3

For Gandhi, and forTagore, the foreign
language was a window civilisation, into another another way other than cul (or ture, another

themoment Tagore's

letter to Andrews

to the press, and read by Gandhi. His
answer was to say that he did "not object 15, 2009 Economic & Political weekly E2EE3 august

ism, was

delivered in English. His importantand
still relevant essays on relations between vol xliv no 33 37

world. For them,the ways) of living in the
command own was of a language a way their of simultaneously making

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eign language) Bengal and Gujarat to the world. Bilingualismwas here a vehicle or
something larger and more enduring namely, multiculturalism.

themselves less parochial and their work would, he thought,perhaps be played by more universal.Their readings and travels Russian or Chinese in the future. Lohia fed back into their own writing, thus himself knew German (he had taken his world to Bengal and Gujarat, PhD at the University of Berlin), while bringing the wrote in the for some of his finerst polemical essays and (when theychose to

also of sensibility.The writer, his work, and his audience, all benefited from the fact that the person in question was in command ofmore than one linguisticor
cultural universe. have Surely Bachchan's at some level been a response classroom Hindi influ verse must enced

against theuse of Englishwere written in that language itself.9
So in fact Lohia was

In these respects Gandhi and Tagore were wholly representative.Before them

ter all. Bilingualism and multiculturalism came naturallytohim, as itdid to theother
leaders of his generation. It also came nat

not an exception

af

oral work at Cambridgeon W B Yeats. By the
same token, his teaching and

by, or been

to, his doct

was B R Ambedkar,who After them there wrote in Marathi fora local constituency;

sensitive to Muslim interests and Muslims more willing to engage with modernity.

was SyedAhmad Khan,who moved there between Urdu and English as he strove more simultaneously tomake the British

who were urally to the social scientists theircontemporaries. Of thoseactive in the 1940s and 1950s, the anthropologists
Bose and Irawati Karve, the Nirmal Kumar

the occasional essays he wrote in English must certainlyhave been enriched by his immersionin the world ofHindi letters. (Perhaps themost strikinginstance of thisbilingualism concerns the crafting of

and inEnglish forthe restof India and for for their mother tongue. writings in their inMysore theworld. Ambedkar knew his Tukaram, They tended to publish academic papers in Multilinguality or more no Indian In town but also his John StuartMill. To take an inter-war and the essays English, popular literary period, other example, C Rajagopalachari is still inBengali orMarathi. Sometimes the work better expressed this multilinguality than in the local languagewas translated into the town admired for his English style;but fewnow where B S Kesavan spent some of know that he was a pioneering essayist English, and made a considerable impact his best years, Mysore. Among the town's his Kural, but - as he once reminded an
interviewer he had also read Thoreau and short-story writer in Tamil.7 He knew

economistD R Gadgil, and the sociologist D P Mukerji - all made a name for them work in English as well as selves for their

Premchand's Godan. This work, published in 1936, is considered the very archetype of the modern Hindi novel, yet the author first outlined theplot inEnglish!)

of (as forexamplewith Karve's re-rendition the Mahabharata, Yuganta).Aswith Gandhi
the process of enrichment became was less they themselves

and Tagore, two-sided

well before he met Mahatma Gandhi. wrote books in English, as well as plays Marathi. From the and polemical tracts in other end of the political spectrum, con sider the communist Hiren Mukherjee,
a prolific writer and polemicist who was in Rajaji's contemporary V D Savarkar also

while through their parochial, writings they allowed their parish to feelpalpably part of
a wider world.

residents then were the Kannada poet K V Puttappa (Kuvempu), who wrote political essays in English; the English novelist R K Narayan, who was equally fluentinTamil and Kannada; and the jour nalist H Y Sharada Prasad, who thought
and wrote in Kannada, but whose com

The bilingualism of the politicians and scholarswas matched by thewriters and
critics. Itwas, I think, Harish Trivedi who

mand of English was later put to good effect in the very many speeches he
ghosted India. A for successive somewhat prime ministers resident later recalled of was that, younger who

both Bengali and English.8 Lohia and Multilingualism
A thinker-politician seem to have Lohia. who, been To at an be first glance, aberration sure, Lohia is may

noted that first many of the finestcreative writers of themiddle decades of the 20th
century wrote were their professors poems His essay and of English, stories at hand Trivedi yet as may I in other

A K Ramanujan,

Mysore, he had necessarily growing up in to become equally familiar with the
language of the street (Kannada), the lan

languages. write,

is not

Rammanohar

but among

the names

called for the abolition of English from have mentioned were the poet Gopal and inpublic life, krishna educational institutions Adiga and thenovelistU R Anantha and, at the same time, for the countrywide Murty inKannada; the poet Harivanshrai Lohia advo Bachchan and the short story writer of Hindi. However, promotion cated not monolingualism but multi lingualism.He asked for school instruc tion tobe provided in themother tongue,
tion, and learn either two other a foreign languages language Hindi,

guage of thekitchen (Tamil, spokenbyhis mother), and the language of the study who liked upstairs (occupied byhis father,
to converse

but insisted that childrenmust, in addi
or another

Indian language. He saw the need foran
international munications language, between to be used nations, in com not but was

nada and Tamil folkloreand folkpoetry ject from the best British universities. work thatwas enabled, in the first in multilin stance, by his growing up in the Literary historians could doubtless add to the list of estab other names Mysore. many gual intellectualuniverse of writers inAssamese, Oriya, Bengali, lished Tamil, Telugu, etc,who made their living teaching English yetwrote in themother
tongue in order to live. Mysore was here representative of other

Nirmal Verma inHindi; and thepoet Firaq Gorakhpuri in Urdu. All taught English literature;some even had PhDs in the sub

an accomplished poet in both Kannada and English, and achieved undying fame for his translations into English of Kan

in English).

Ramanujan

was

towns in colonial India. The intellectual culture of Dharwad, Cochin, Allahabad,
etc, was likewise bilingual, with writers

convinced that this had necessarily and for all time to be English. The role had been played by French in the past; and

with more than one Here, too, facility
a matter not just of skill but 38august 15, 2009

tongue was

and professors operating both in English and in the language of the locality or
vol xliv no 33 DBS! weekly Economic & Political

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province. between

There was

a cultural qasba

continuum

that ran between the

and mahanagar, centres and

who are properly verymany intellectuals linguidextrous.Earlier this year, Ranajit
Guha was awarded

smaller

urban

thegreat citiesof thepresidencies. a

The bilingualism I have described was product of a particular historical
namely, the advent first of The and later, of nationalism.

conjuncture colonialism,

gali. Coincidentally, his collected essays in English were published in the same week. Ranajit Guha is of course a prabasi, but of those still resident in Kolkata,
Partha varty Chatterjee, and Swapan Chakra for

da Puraskar fora book on Tagore inBen

the prestigious

Anan

theyoung historianArupjyoti Saikia,who writes inboth Assamese and English.12

in the second, Hindi in the third) as well name might be thatof as English.A fourth

In general, though,thegap between the generations is telling. Consider thus the
career of Sadanand More, whose major

British required some Indians to learn between them and English, to interpret
their subjects, and merce and and to assist (as well in governance as over in com time the a vehi administration

Supriya Chaudhuri, Sukanta Chaudhuri,
are all world-renowned scholars

their writings in English and theyhave
first-rate essays and books in Ben

works include a reception history of the poet-saint Tukaram and a study of the Tilak toGandhi in thepoli transitionfrom ticsofwestern India.As I have discovered on several visits to Pune, he is something
of a cult figure inMaharashtra, because of

trade). However,

written

language

of the rulers also became

cle to demand equal rights from them.
Thus,

gali as well. These scholars are all the
wrong side of 50, but there are, I am relia

working knowledge of English (orbetter), Meenakshi and SujitMukherjee. Others
these operate reform-minded in their mother Indians continued The to have zones, come from more subaltern linguistic tongue. latter for example, Kumar Ketkar, Madhav

callyminded Indians could communicate across the different linguisticzones of the Empire. Notably, even as theyacquired a

and theoriginality of range ofhis interests on I world the and of the in his mind. base this judgment part profanation. language locality. In a life lived in-betweenthe interstices several long conversations with Sadanand Indian nationalists chasisted the British fornot livingup to theirown best tradi of the academy and the press, I have had More, and inpart on having read the first tions. Simultaneously, italso became the the privilege of knowing and befriending half of an English translationof one ofhis - as a which intellectuallyor politi many linguidextrous Some intellectuals. is being undertaken books, which language in
Itwas the language inwhich are prabasi Bengalis, and Pranab such as those

cess of conquest and control,English be came an ally in theprocess of protest and

from being

an accessory

in the pro

men andwomen now bly told,someBengali move ef in their30s and 40s who likewise between the fortlessly language of the

been considered the Partha Chatterjee of Maharashtra - he is comparable in the

his books and his columns innewspapers. Had he written in English, he might have

remarkable couples Tanika and Sumit
Sarkar, Kalpana Bardhan, and

ship by one of the lastproperlybilingual
intellectuals in Maharashtra, the septu

labour

of love and

disinterested

scholar

generian poet-editorDilip Chitre. and Emotionally Intellectually Bilingual must be made here between A distinction a reading language and knowing it

served best for creative

and when focusingon the abolition of re
actionary necessary social practices; the former was cross for nurturing or deepening

literary expression,

provincialnetworksofpolitical action. 4
Between (roughly) the 1920s and the intellectual universe in India was coin a word With "linguidextrous". scholars and creative ones 1970s, - to few

(Telugu), JatinKumar Nayak (Oriya),and N S Jagannathan (Tamil). Like me, all
these writers have written a great deal

Gadgil and Rajendra Vora (Marathi), Shahid Amin (Hindi), Girish Karnad and D R Nagaraj (Kannada), C V Subba Rao

through and through. There are those who are functionally bilingual; and yet
others who are

in

English; unlike me, theyhave published
important too. work in their other conversations language down the In countless

ally bilingual. I use letters and news
reports written raiding them in Hindi for my research, But for facts and opinions.

intellectually

and

emotion

exceptions, the major political thinkers,
of the minor writers and many too thought and acted It appears

decades, I have been to themwhat the
readers those of Gandhi great Indians were to and Tagore a namely, grateful

and wrote with equal facility in English
and at least one other

recipientofknowledge and understanding derived from languages that I do not
myself speak or read.10

quality journal. In this Ibelieve I speak for
many Indian other social scientists of my age but or an younger. These language Karve too may be able to use

I do not readHindi forpleasure, nor could I think ofwriting an essay inHindi in a

that this is no longer the case. The intel lectual and creativeworld in India is in creasinglybecoming polarised between those who thinkand act andwrite inEng lishalone, and thosewho thinkand write
and act in their mother tongue alone.

language.

as source material, cannot see

Notably, the individualsmentioned in thepreceding paragraph are over 50 years
of age.11 Speaking tion, linguidextrous of the younger intellectuals genera run more

unlike their predecessors N K Bose and
Irawati themselves as

West Bengal an Exception The state of West Bengal appears to have held out best (and longest) against this
separation

thinlyon the ground at least outside of Bengal. Of scholars in their 40s, I can thinkeasily of only three who would qual - A R ify Venkatachalapathy, Tridip
Suhrud, and Yogendra and Yadav. All won have rep considerable independently

or academic debate to literary contributing inthatlanguage.They,and I,are admittedly
cosmopolitan, but in a somewhat shallow

sense, knowing the world well without
knowing

At the same time,at theotherend of the
spectrum, many perhaps most

the locality much

- or at all.

courses. At least inKolkata, thereare still
Economic & Political weekly D2C3 august 15, 2009

of literary and

intellectual

dis

utations for their writings in their language (Tamil in the one case, Gujarati
vol xliv no 33 39

- of the best poets and novelists inTamil,
Kannada, Hindi, Oriya,

linguistic

likewise completely comfortable in one

Gujarati,

etc, are

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PERSPECTIVE

^iiEE^^E^^?^~-zzi^=^^^=^. case, whether intellectual

~ -ErL.-=^:-g>-\J. or not, original alone.) social bases

.

z.

-

.

----class.

-

"

language only. They may occasionally of theirreading- and all their writing is
confined No to a single novelist has anything language, their own. gen Kannada of the younger and social read a novel or tract in English, but most

of the intellectual across

Litera once

or not, they operate 5 There is still a

in English

ture and scholarship dominated and well-born

India were Banias, But

by brahmins, Muslims. dalits

Kayasths, from the of

certain

amount

of fun

1950s,

very many schools

and members

eration with once

like the acquaintance theory Murty.

ctional bilinguality among India's intelle
ctual class; but emotional or intellectual

theOther Backward Classes (obcs) began
entering on and colleges. Some went tak to become professors and writers,

western

literature

commanded

The Hindi writers I meet are all deeply
rooted in their environment, of, the wider yet world. few

by U R Anantha

bilinguality, once ubiquitous, is now present only inpockets, these too of chief
ly older women reasons spect, was of linguistic and men. What are the for this? A key the creation states after reason, and in retro

ing to jobs and careers thatwould have
been closed to men and women of their background half a century previously.

follow Nirmal Verma
about, My with or knowledge evidence

in his curiosity
anecdotal, - name

consolidation I have ar

is somewhat

1956.

Removal
In most government was

of English
states, however, was instruction conducted in schools in the

but I believe most observers will agree
the thrust of my conclusions

ly, that there has been a decline in the number and visibilityof scholars andwrit
ers who are properly linguidextrous. The

gued elsewhere that linguisticstateshave helped save theunityof India.Had we not
allowed language, states and to be had we constituted instead around imposed

official language of the state alone. There
little room for English was sometimes, from no room at all. English in West at the removed

thirdclass ofbilingual thinkers,thepoliti cians, iswholly depopulated now. Inmy
view, was the last active politician to have any

we might Hindi on the whole country, have gone theway of a now divided Paki
stan and a wartorn Sri Lanka.13

Gujarati schools in the 1950s and from
schools time, Bengal instance in the 1970s of men each (Morarji

on balance, linguistic Ibelieve that states serious claims to intellectual originality were indeed a good thing. Even in thepar
Jayaprakash Narayan, who, of course, ticular context of intellectual work, and

wrote and thought and argued in both Hindi and English. (Critics with more lax
standards Shankar may Aiyar offer the names Shourie. of Mani In any and Arun

have had good as well as bad effects. The
expansion of the school network, the

they

Desai in the firstcase, Jyoti Basu and AshokMitra in the second case) who were
not altogether has been claimed implau that the parochialism and xeno sibly

themselves superblyfluent in English. It

ofpreviously entryintothepolitical system excluded groups,has greatlydeepened the

phobia thatunderlies the rise of a certain

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therole ofkey actors conflict andconflict resolution during

puts readers in

4?august

15, 2009

vol xliv no 33

1323

weekly Economic& Political

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Gujarati politician isnot unrelated to the banning of the one language which, to quote thatother and more broad-minded Gujarati politician, would have best allowed the cultures of other lands to be

This separationof discourses is reflected in thegrowingdistance - culturalas much
as geographical that now exists between

sphere,millions of Indians in other jobs,
trades, and professions are acquiring pro

blown freelyaround and about thewest coast of India. Similarly, the decline of
West

the qasba and the mahanagar. Smaller towns tend toproduce thinkers andwriters
who operate in the local and language students alone, in the whereas professors

ficiencyin tongues other than theirown. 6 In those essays of 1921, Gandhi had hedged his opposition to Englishwith a series of
caveats. "I am opposed he said. to make a fetish of

equally misguided
English-teaching of the province.

scholarship is not unconnected to the decision to ban
in the state-run schools

Bengal

as

a

centre

of science

and

elite colleges of themetropolis are often comfortableonly in English. In a cultural
and linguistic sense, Karnatak College,

English education, I don't hate English
education", "I know what treasures

Dharwar, isworlds removed fromChrist
College, Bangalore; dav College, Dehradun,

I have lost not knowing Hindustani and
Sanskrit", he continued. We may endorse

In the 1960s and 1970s,at the same time
as the subaltern classes were producing to patronise alone. In the

theirfirst major crop of scholars andwrit
ers, the elites were choosing schools English-language

north Indian public school 1 studied in, Hindi was verboten the boymost badly ragged inmy time spoke ungrammatical
English ence was and cities with accent. The experi in other towns representative across India, in upper caste chil a Hindi

Notably, the decline of intellectual bilingualism has been accompanied by a rise of functionalbilingualism among the population at large.Many more Indians
now

St Stephen'sCollege, Delhi. from

these sentimentswhile recognising, 60 years afterGandhi's death, that an equal

theyever did in the past. The universe of
the farm and village is classicaly mono

speak more

than one

language

than

of theoppo danger lies in making a fetish sition to English. Those who banned Eng West Bengal deprivedmillions of lish in schoolchildrenof a wider education.Now,
to those Kannada struction writers who tongue ask for in the in the mother alone,

whereas theuniverse of the office lingual,
and factory emphatically and is not. Thus, in have dustrialisation urbanisation

dalits answer
to learn Sanskrit, access to English.

first you did not allow us
now you want to deny us

drenwhose fathers may have, in colonial
times, studied government schools

where both Sanskrit and the local lan
guage had an important place, were sent Eng to "convent" or public schools where

lishwas the preferred language of com munication,with Hindi (or itsequivalent)
allotted ble place a minor, residual and contempti in the curriculum.

not, something other than theirmother
tongue. sector Bengali, lic sector Bihari in Kolkata labourers have in the perforce workers have informal to speak in pub neces

millions ofpeople speak brought together different ing languages at home. Migrants to cities and towns find that the lingua franca of their workplace is, as often as

The decline of thebilingual intellectual in contemporaryIndia is thusa productof a combination of many factors: public policy which emphasised the mother tongue alone; elite preference which or denied diminished themother tongue
altogether; social change - as in new pat terns of marriage; and economic change -

while Malayalam units

in Bangalore

as in thematerial gains to be had froma
command of English.

Role of Inter-Community Marriages
English guage became material in post-colonial of status and India was prestige. the lan the With

sarily to learn some Kannada.

opening of the economy after 1991 italso
the language of economic The spread and and of advancement.

Opposite Trend in Europe munication and conversation. Where offi The temporal sphere ofmy arguments is cial attemptstopromoteHindi in southern restricted to the 20 century; the spatial
emerged as pan-Indian languages of com and the eastern India has conspicuously nonetheless failed, spread sphere, have to my country and alone. Those who language

Meanwhile, Hindi and English have

know thehistoryof precolonial Indiamay
interesting discourse as someone with important nature things to say about lectual while, the multilingual in past who of intel

Englishwas further helped along by the
growing number of inter-caste inter community in urban India. If, marriages a Tamil-speaking for example, girl met a

the more and hence informal, through more medium of television acceptable, in Mumbai, and now even

and film. In cities like Bangalore and
in

times.14 Mean has a casual Europe, ac let

Hyderabad, fault

which Bengali-speaking boy in an office functioned inEnglish, and the two fell in
love and and are, later married, that the home the chances language were, would,

Kolkata, Hindi iswidely used as the de
language of conversation to speak other between tongues. two Indians reared

me suggest that the intellectuals in that
continent direction have gone in exactly Once, the reverse operated to ours. they

quaintance

contemporary

The spread of English owes itselftomore
instrumental language of factors the the fact that it is the market international

by default, be English, this becoming, in time, the first, preferredand perhaps also sole language of the childrenof theunion. Cases like thesemust, by now, number in thehundreds of thousands.And it is from
professional some and writers unions such as these that of India's most have been prominent and will BSCS scholars be born. 15, 2009

mainly or even exclusively in the language that defined theirnation - the French in
French,

paying and oftenmost prestigious jobs demand a knowledge ofEnglish, there isa
huge And incentive so, while to acquire it. tend increas intellectuals

place, and of the larger companies and firms that operate in it. Since the best

with the emergence of theEuropean Union
language, German these thinkers French have and Spanish and their

the Spanish

in Spanish,

etc. Now,

and the growth of English as a global
abandoned

ingly to operate in a single linguistic
vol xliv no 33 41

opposition to the foreigntonguewithout
disavowing their own. The best (or at rate

Economic weekly & Political

august

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now are most successful) French thinkers linguidextrous, writing essays and books in theirown language as well as in English.
Scholars in other European nations have

heard him speak in eitherHindi or Eng lish,among them theverymany students he trainedand inspiredat the universities ofRajasthan, Delhi, Hyderabad and Santi niketan.Afterhe quit academic life, Ramu
Gandhi's main theatre of operation was

thatyear,from the nc bar.And, so, in this
manner, works originally composed in San

and inCatalan forthe forhis compatriots, own of his province. people which illustratethe sometimes unantici pated glories of the best kind of linguid
extrousness. died When a H Y Sharada Prasad last year, letter-writer in Outlook

Thus, the distinguished gone even further. JMartinez-Alierwrites ecological thinker inEnglish fora global audience, inSpanish

skrit,then rendered inTamil and still later translatedinto Hindi,were to fuelthebelly man to and themind of themost brilliant have walked the lawns or entered the bar or spoken in theauditoriumof thenc. The story may be apocryphal,but itde
to be true. For it illustrates like noth serves

I shall end this essay with two stories

the India International Centre (nc),where he would lectureoccasionally in the audi torium,and more informally ifto equal effect in the loungeor thebar. Ramu Gandhi was the son ofMahatma
youngest son, whereas was his mother Gandhi's

ingelse thebeauty and potencyof intellec tualand literary bilingualism practised,in
this case, across three successive generations father, daughter and grandson. NOTES 1 2 3 "AnUnmitigated Evil", Young India, 13 April 1921. "English Education" Young India, 27April 1921. Rabindranath Tagore, Letters to a Friend: Edited with Two Introductory Essays by C F Andrews (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928), p 165. "English Learning", Young India, 1June 1921. Cf Sunil Khilnani, "Gandhi and Nehru: The Uses of English" inArvind Krishna Mehrotra (ed.), The IllustratedHistory of Indian Literature inEnglish (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003). See Michael Ermaf th,ed. Kurt Wolff:A Portrait in Essays and Letters (Chicago: The University of - translated Chicago Press, 1991 by Deborah Lucas Schneider froma German textpublished in 1966), pp n6ff. A state of affairs (or of ignorance) that can now be redeemed by Vasanthi Srinivasan's fine book, Gandhi's Conscience-Keeper: The Political (Ranikhet: Philosophy of C Rajagolalachari Permanent Black, 2009). Possible exceptions to this trend are M A Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Subhas Bose, who were also all thinker-politicians, albeit of a mono well known,was not lingual variety. Jinnah, as is exactly fluent inUrdu. Nehru could give a public lecture in Hindustani and Bose in Bengali; however, theirmajor writings, like Jinnah's, are all inEnglish. See thewritings and speeches collected inRam manohar Lohia, Language (first edition, 1956: revised and expanded edition, Hyderabad: Ram manohar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Nyas, 1986). This list,based on personal experience, is merely illustrative. is 54. The youngest is Jatin Nayak, who D R Nagaraj and C V Subba Rao would also have been in their mid-sos were they alive. Their deaths were a deep personal loss to thiswriter, and a greater collective loss for intellectual life in would have accomplished had general.What they they lived another 10 or 20 years beggars the im agination. Subba Rao died in 1994, Nagaraj in 1996 -1 miss them still. Also just short of 50 is Sanjay Subrahmanyam, whose othermain scholarly languages are Portu guese and French, inboth ofwhich he writes and lectures. He also knows Dutch and Italian, and grew up speaking Tamil and Hindi. Had he cho sen to focus tomore narrowly on Indian history rather than on wider issues of global and compar ative history, he might now be writing inTamil (orHindi) apart fromEnglish. See Ramachandra Guha, India afterGandhi: The World's Largest Democracy (Delhi: History of the Picador India, 2007), Chapter ix and epilogue. Cf Sheldon Pollock, The Language of theGods in Men: Sanskrit, Cultu re, and Power in the World of Premodern India (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007). Also Sheldon Pollock, editor, LiteraryCul tures inHistory (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004) weekly Economic& Political

was the daughter of C Rajagopalachari. In
the mid-1950s, when Ramu

magazine complained that in all his years in New Delhi, servingprimeministers and a finger Prasad had never lifted fora single
Kannadiga. teristic The parochialism times. For what was charac letter of our the earning their trust and respect, Sharada

university, Rajaji tookan extended holiday writemodern renditions from of politics to wrote them firstin his native Tamil, and thentranslatedthem intoEnglish. Lakshmi
so popular the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He

entering

writer did not recognise is thatby trans lating the novels of Shivarama Karanth intoEnglish, Sharada Prasad had done a
far greater service to the Kannada lan

Devadas

Gandhi
arose for trans

4 5

These modern versions of the epics proved
that a demand 6

guage, and to Kannadigas, than had he got some of them 10minutes with Indira
Gandhi or an out-of-turn Prasad spoke gas connection. Kannada, Tamil, Sharada

lations into other languages. Rajaji's
daughter, Lakshmi Devadas Gandhi, vol 7

Telugu, and English verywell and knew some Sanskrit and Hindi too. The other Indian of my acquaintance who comes
the current governor Gandhi. of West Literary Bengal, critics

unteered to do them inHindi, a language she knew well in part due to long resi dence inNew Delhi. The Hindi versions were sold brisklyand continuously- they still selling in the 1960s, and well into the 1970s. Sometimes towards the end of that
to make and a will. However, as the daughter and incor

8

closest to this multilingual dextrousness is

decade Lakshmi Devadas Gandhi decided
daughter-in-law of ascetic

Gopalkrishna

know Gopal Gandhi as the translator into Hindi of Vikram Seth's novel A Suitable
his own are books, in English. However, and these only two of

ruptible politicians, she had no worldly
possessions Except, those to speak of course, of. for the royalties then to will from them

9

Boy. He has also written

translations.

Who

10 11

the languages this good man can fluently too? Lakshmi Devadas Gandhi had three
speak. I recently discov sons. The first, Rajmohan was a journalist and

read, write,

ered thathis firstliterary productionwas
undertaken as a boy of 17,when he trans

and author of popular works of biography
and history surely the Fourth-Estate

would take care ofhimwere lated thememoirs ofManu Gandhi from his publishers ever in The distress. into He he son, Tamil, youngest Gujarati speaks English. which was the language of his mother, Gopal, was a member of the Indian Ad in time, he would, ministrative Service More recently, he has ac quite beautifully. quired an adequate knowledge ofBengali. For all his achievements, among Indian intellectuals at any rate, Gopal Gandhi
can only be known Gandhi. as the younger he wrote Gandhi several was brother get a sarkari pension linked to the cost-of

12

middle son, the living index.That leftthe who had leftsix jobs dreamy philosopher
and declined to accept and six others. 13

of the philosopher Ramchandra (Ramu)
Although Ramu impor a more tant books, at his best

was toRamu Gandhi thatthe royal So it
ties were willed, er's death year, without for several comfortably to him, after his moth that they came. Every get a cheque that would bills, for 15, 2009 in 1983, thousand cover

14

- a brilliant lecturer would, judgment that I think,be endorsed bymost people who

at the lectern.

I have

never

heard

fail, Ramu would rupees,

the cumulative

august 42

vol xliv no 33 OSES

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