The Many Languages We Speak
October 3, 2019
On September 14, 2019, Union Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah proclaimed the need for a single language to "unify" the nation and the ability of Hindi to do so, a language he assumes to be the most "widely-spoken" in the country. "India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language which should become the identity of India in the world. If one language can unite the country today, it is the widely-spoken Hindi language," he tweeted right after the proclamation.
The latest in Hindutva's attempts at homogenisation of the country and through it, bring about a twisted idea of nationalism, Shah's words have rocked the non-Hindi speaking regions of the country. Artists and activists from various parts of the country have also been voicing their dissent. The poem below, by professor and activist Raheem Ponnad from northern Kerala's Malappuram, is one such outcry. Written originally in Malayalam, the poem talks about a probable situation in the country if all of us were forced to speak a single language, one so alien to the most of us. The poem by now has been translated into English, Hindi, Telugu.
The Language Ban
Then one midnight
They proscribed language.
‘From today you can use
Only one language.
You can exchange your language
At the post-office.’
People who woke up in shock
Began to run helter-skelter.
Silence filled the air.
Mothers covered children’s mouths,
And stuffed the mouths of the elders with bits of cloth.
The music in the temple stopped,
And the azaan in the mosque.
The radio played only veena
And the television moved to sign language.
Instead of the newspaper
The readers got eight blank sheets.
All keyboards went still
And the mobile screen displayed only codes.
No one spoke in the queue at the post-office:
They could exchange only two words per day!
Some carried sacks full of words
And there were children with bags and
Dubbas crammed with words.
Those who gave amma got ‘maa’;
Those who gave achhan were given ‘baap.’
Children who had queued up
To exchange ‘chocolates’ and ‘games’
Were sent back from the counter:
Only Malayalam words could be exchanged.
Because there were no substitutes,
Bejar (embarrassment) and edang
could not be exchanged either.
The one who came to exchange kaththi (knife)
Was driven off by the crowd and
The one who had come to exchange ganja (opium)
Was caught by the police.
An old man collapsed from exhaustion
Having stood in the queue for long.
He begged for vellam (water);
he got a bullet in his mouth.
On reaching home,
I found my courtyard strewn with words,
Dug out by my kin for exchange —
Old, new, some without letters.
I could not comprehend
The words my father had pulled out of the pillow
And I had never heard the words my mother
Had kept hidden on the edges of her loincloth.
Only when my wife pulled me into the kitchen
Did I find out she was being cooked among so many words.
Daughter’s bag was full of words for her homework
Son’s box had playful words, their letters gone awry.
How can I tell them only two words can be exchanged?
I searched for long in the pile of words.
Finally something heavy struck both my hands.
I pulled them out with all my strength:
Janadhipatyam (Democracy). Nan
By the time I rushed to the post-office with them
It was already growing dark
The man at the counter looked at my hands
And he stood up, startled;
The words fell from my hands
Some unknown men surrounded me;
Boots echoed all around:
‘Traitor!’ ‘Kill him!’
Even as I was losing consciousness
I heard, in absolute terror,
Those words given in exchange.
(Translated from Malayalam by K Satchidanandan)
भाषा पर पाबंदी
(Translated into Hindi by A. R. Sindhu, Veena Gupta)
ఒకానొక అర్ధరాత్రి అతను భాషపై నిషేధం విధించాడు
‘ఇవాళ్టి నుంచి అందరికీ ఒకటే భాష
పాత భాషా పదాలు మీ దగ్గర ఉంటే
అని గంభీర ప్రకటన వెలువడింది
సగం నిద్రలో ఉలిక్కిపడి లేచిన మనుషులు
అటూ ఇటూ పరుగెత్తడం మొదలెట్టారు
తల్లులు బిడ్డల మూతులను అరచేతులతో మూసేశారు
ముసలివాళ్ల ముఖాల మీద గుడ్డలు కప్పేశారు
ఆలయాల్లో పాటలు ఆగిపోయాయి
మసీదులో అజాన్ కూడ వినబడలేదు
రేడియోలో వీణానాదం తప్ప మరేమీ లేదు
టీవీ తెరమీద సైగల భాషలో వార్తలు వస్తున్నాయి
పత్రికల పేరు మీద మార్కెట్లోకొచ్చినవి
ఎనిమిది కాలాల తెల్ల కాగితాలు
ప్రతి కీబోర్డూ మౌనం దాల్చింది
మొబైల్ స్క్రీన్ల మీద బొమ్మలు మాత్రమే మిగిలాయి
పోస్టాఫీసు ముందర నిశ్శబ్దంగా నిలబడిన పొడవాటి వరుస
రోజుకు తలా రెండు పదాలు మార్చుకోవడానికి మాత్రమే అనుమతి
కాని కొందరు బస్తాల నిండుగా శబ్దాలు పట్టుకొచ్చారు
టిఫిన్ బాక్సుల్లో స్కూలు బ్యాగుల్లో మాటలు నింపుకొచ్చిన
చిన్నారి పిల్లలు కూడ వరుసలో నిలబడ్డారు
‘అమ్మ’ అనే మాట ఇచ్చిన వారికి ‘మా’ అనే మాట దొరికింది
’నాన్న’ అనే మాటకు బదులు ‘బాప్’ అనే మాట
చాకలెట్, గేమ్ అనే మాటలు మార్చుకోవాలనుకున్న
పిల్లలను కౌంటర్ దగ్గరి నుంచి వెనక్కి పంపేశారు
ఇక్కడ భాష మాత్రమే మార్చుకోవచ్చునన్నారు
బదులు శబ్దాలు లేవనే కారణంతో
అసంతృప్తి అనే మాటనూ
శవవస్త్రం అనే మాటనూ వెనక్కి పంపేశారు
చురకత్తిని మార్చుకుందామని వచ్చినవాళ్లను తరిమేశారు
నల్లమందుకు బదులిమ్మంటే పోలీసులు పట్టుకున్నారు
క్యూలో నిలబడీ నిలబడీ అలసిసొలసిన ముసలివాళ్లు
మంచినీళ్లు అని అడిగితే
తుపాకి తూటాతో వాళ్ల నోరు మూసేశారు
ఇదంతా చూసి చూసి ఇంటికి తిరిగివస్తే
వాకిట్లో మాటల కుప్ప పోగుపడి ఉంది
కొత్తవీ పాతవీ లిపిలేనివీ
మార్చుకుని తీసుకురావాల్సిన పదాలన్నీ
కుప్పపోసి పెట్టారు ఇంట్లోవాళ్లు
నాన్న తన తల దిండులోనుంచి బైటికి తీసిన
శబ్దాలు నాకు అర్థమే కాలేదు
అమ్మ తన చీరచెంగు ఒడిలో నింపిన
పదాల్ని నేనెన్నడూ విననే లేదు
వంటగదిలోంచి మా ఆవిడ లాక్కొచ్చినవి చూస్తే
అన్ని మాటల మధ్యనే ఇన్నాళ్లూ ఆమె వంట సాగిందని తెలిసింది
నా కూతురి సంచీలో హోమ్ వర్క్ పదాలు
నా కొడుకు పెట్టెల్లో చెల్లా చెదురైన సరదా మాటలు
అన్నిటికీ బదులుగా వారికి రెండే రెండు మాటలు
దొరుకుతాయని ఎలా చెప్పను?
ఆ మాటల మూటలో చాల వెతికాను
ఎంతో కష్టపడ్డాక చిట్టచివరికి
ఒకటొకటిగా చాల బరువైన శబ్దాలు రెండు నా చేతికందాయి
బలమంతా ఉపయోగించి ఆ మాటలు బైటికి లాగాను
గబగబా పరుగెత్తి పోస్టాఫీసుకు చేరేవేళకు
మునిమాపు చీకటి వాలుతున్నది
నా చేతిలో మాటలు చూసి
కౌంటర్ దగ్గర కూచున్న ఉద్యోగులు
ఉలిక్కిపడి లేచి నిలబడ్డారు
నా చేతి నుంచి మాటలు జారిపడిపోయాయి
ఎందరో పరుగెత్తుకొచ్చి చుట్టుముడుతున్నట్టు
బూట్ల చప్పుడు వినబడింది
స్పృహ కోల్పోతూ పడిపోతున్న నాకు
రెండే మాటలు వినబడ్డాయి
(Translated into Telugu by N. Venugopal)
അവർ ഭാഷ നിരോധിച്ചു.
ഇനിമുതൽ ഒറ്റ ഭാഷ മാത്രമേ പാടുള്ളൂ
പഴയ ഭാഷ മാറിക്കിട്ടും.
ഉറക്കമുണർന്ന ജനം പരക്കം പാഞ്ഞു.
എങ്ങും മൗനം മാത്രം.
അമ്മമാർ കുട്ടികളുടെ വായ പൊത്തിപ്പിടിച്ചു,
പ്രായമായവരുടെ വായിൽ തുണി തിരുകിവച്ചു.
അമ്പലത്തിലെ പാട്ടു നിന്നു,
റേഡിയോയിൽ വീണവായന മാത്രം,
ടെലിവിഷനിൽ ആംഗ്യ വായനയും.
പത്രത്തിനു പകരം രാവിലെ
എട്ടു ഷീറ്റ് വെള്ളക്കടലാസു കിട്ടി.
മൊബൈൽ സ്ക്രീനിൽ ചിഹ്നങ്ങൾ മാത്രം.
തപാലാപ്പീസിലെ ക്യൂവിൽ ആരുമൊന്നും മിണ്ടിയില്ല.
ഒരാൾക്ക് ഒരുദിനം രണ്ടു വാക്കുകൾ മാത്രമേ നൽകൂവത്രെ!
ചിലർ ചാക്കുകണക്കിന് വാക്കുകൾ കൊണ്ടുവന്നിട്ടുണ്ട്.
വാക്കുകൾ നിറച്ച ബാഗും ചോറ്റുപാത്രവുമായി
അമ്മയെക്കൊടുത്തവർക്ക് ‘മാം’ കിട്ടി,
ചോക്ലേറ്റും ഗെയിമും മാറ്റാൻ വരിനിന്ന കുട്ടികളെ
കൗണ്ടറിൽ നിന്ന് മടക്കിയയച്ചു,
മലയാളം മാത്രമേ മാറ്റി നൽകുകയുള്ളത്രെ!
ബേജാറും എടങ്ങേറും മാറ്റിക്കിട്ടിയില്ല.
കത്തി മാറ്റാനെത്തിയവനെ ജനം ഓടിച്ചു വിട്ടു
കഞ്ചാവ് മാറ്റാനെത്തിയവനെ പോലീസു പിടിച്ചു.
വരിനിന്നു വാടിയ വൃദ്ധൻ തളർന്നുവീണു,
‘വെള്ളം’ ചോദിച്ച വായിലേക്ക് വെടിയുണ്ട പാഞ്ഞു.
മുറ്റത്ത് വാക്കുകളുടെ കൂമ്പാരം,
മാറ്റിവാങ്ങാനായി വീട്ടുകാർ പുറത്തെടുത്തിട്ടതാണ്.
പഴയതും പുതിയതും, ലിപികളില്ലാത്തതും.
തലയണയ്ക്കുള്ളിൽ നിന്ന് ഉപ്പ വലിച്ചെടുത്ത വാക്കുകൾ
ഉമ്മയുടെ കോന്തല നിറയെ
ഞാൻ കേട്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത വാക്കുകൾ.
ഇത്രമേൽ വാക്കുകൾക്കിടയിലാണ് അവൾ
വെന്തിരുന്നതെന്ന് അടുക്കളയിലേക്ക് ഭാര്യ
മകളുടെ ബാഗ് നിറയെ ഗൃഹപാഠം
മകന്റെ പെട്ടിയിൽ അക്ഷരങ്ങൾ സ്ഥാനം
രണ്ടെണ്ണമേ മാറ്റിക്കിട്ടൂവെന്ന് അവരോടെങ്ങനെ പറയും?
വാക്കുകളുടെ കൂമ്പാരത്തിൽ ഞാനേറെ നേരം തെരഞ്ഞു.
ഒടുക്കം ഓരോ കയ്യിലും ഭാരമുള്ളതെന്തോ തടഞ്ഞു,
സർവശക്തിയുമെടുത്ത് ഞാനവയെ വലിച്ചു പുറത്തെടുത്തു;
ഓടിക്കിതച്ച് തപാലാപ്പീസിലെത്തുമ്പോൾ ഇരുട്ടിത്തുടങ്ങിയിരുന്നു.
എന്റെ കൈകളിലേക്ക് ഒന്നേ നോക്കിയുള്ളൂ,
എന്റെ കൈകളിൽ നിന്ന് വാക്കുകൾ നിലത്തുവീണു.
ചുറ്റും ബൂട്ട്സിന്റെ ശബ്ദങ്ങൾ
ഭയത്തോടെ ഞാൻ കേട്ടു.
Raheem Ponnad is assistant professor at Government Arts & Science College, Malappuram, Kerala. K Satchidanandan is a widely translated Malayalam poet and a bilingual writer, translator and editor. His most recent works available in English are While I Write and Misplaced Objects and Other Poems.For more on the author and his work see satchidanandan.com.A.R. Sindhu is Secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and is based in New Delhi. N Venugopal is journalist and editor of Veekshanam, Telugu Monthly Journal of Political Economy and Society. He is based in Hyderabad.
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