Friday, 6 September 2013

Are we really rich?

The other day i.e 3rd Sept. to be exact, I was going through ‘The Hindu ‘when one particular caption caught my attention, “We are talking more using fewer words.”  This is an interview by Ms. Chitra Padmanabhan with Mr. Ganesh Devy, Founder Bhasha Trust   which conducted the ‘first survey of living Indian languages as people perceive them, conducted by the communities themselves’. In this you find Mr. Devy answering a wide range of questions like, “What was the aim of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India?”, “How was a language identified?””Have communities suffered a dramatic loss of languages?” and so on. But one particular question that caught my eyes was “What does the survey indicate about the state of Indian society?” In fact it was not the question but the answer that made me think. Mr. Devy’s response was, “Kinship terms are shrinking in most languages- ‘mummy’ has replaced amma, and ‘papa’, bapu. Terms for distant relations are losing ground, reflecting kinship erosion. Weakening ecological bonds are reflected in people’s inability to name surrounding trees or birds….”

Yes, Mr. Devy is right kinship terms are indeed shrinking, terms for distant relations are losing ground and we are unable to name the trees and birds surrounding us. In short we are losing a lot. I for one believe that there are certain words in a language that are best left unchanged. Take the terms “Mummy” and “Papa”. When we speak in our native tongue somehow these two do not fit in. They are aliens, aliens best suited for the language they come from. Indian languages have a beauty of their own and when there are words best fitting them why not continue with them. When we speak in our mother tongue the warmth that words such as “Amma”, “Maa,” etc. emanate is sadly missing in words such as “Mummy”. Maybe that’s so because the first word that the child utters is generally “Amma” or”Maa”. This is the word with which the mother and the child establish their speech bond.

Next, coming to ‘terms for distant relations losing ground,’ the same can be blamed on the fragmentation of our family system. Gone are the days when one stayed with their parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts, if not under the same roof at least in areas easily accessible by foot. Today communication and commuting are easy yet, we are not able to keep our families tied together. Why? Somewhere down the lane we have had to pay for the heavy dose of commercialization seen today as well as our mad rush for wealth and luxuries. Today I am bothered only about myself and my children. Even aged parents, who have sacrificed their health and happiness for us are slowly losing out in our definition of ‘my family.’ This being the case,  how can we expect people to remember the terms used in one’s native tongue for uncles, aunts, cousins and other relations that were so dear to our parents and ancestors. Today, we are so busy that we do not have time to leave alone visit them, even make a call once in a while. I am often amazed at the way my mother who is in her 70s still remembers the names of all her relatives near and far. She still remembers their age/the year they were born, the star, the month as well as the year they got married. Leave alone near relatives she knows their distant relations too. Mention a name and she is off telling us her children and her grand children the link between the said person and our family. Such was the bond they developed in those days. Today we hardly know the name of the children and grand children of all our cousins and relatives. Yes, family ties are slowly but steadily dying and with them our native vocabulary and above all our support system. Till a few years back we could bank on our relatives to help us out in case of an emergency like taking care of an ailing parent or grant parent. But today we are left to fend all by ourselves. We have had to pay a heavy price for the fragmentation of our family system. Our children will face still tougher times. . Kinship erosion has left us isolated.

Time has not only taken a toll on our family bonds but has also weakened our bonds with our surroundings, our lifeline. Here again I envy my previous generation who are able to identify all the plants and trees, all the birds and creatures they see, with ease. They know which plant is beneficial and which is harmful, what type of crop is best suited to a soil and which is not. No wonder in days of yore the backyards were filled with treasures in the form of herbs and trees. Sadly today most of these have disappeared from the backyards. Today they do not grow unless cultivated specifically.
I have heard my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles predict the weather change, likely crop yield and so on with ease just by observing nature and her moods minutely. They were indeed very lucky for they were closer to nature than we are. Today we are closer to manmade gadgets and devices. They trained their faculties, we forgot our faculties. They were Masters of themselves; we are slaves of our gadgets and devices. They made best use of what Nature offered them. We misuse Nature for our selfish gains. In the end they win and we lose.

In short, we are poorer than our Ancestors.