Atheists and double standards
Disclaimer: I am not a staunch Hindu. I do not believe in rituals. I do not pray to God using hymns which I don’t understand. I have never asked anyone to pray with me or even just pray. I believe every religion is made by man, every religious book is thought and written by a human. Finally I do believe in God.
I have met a lot of atheists, many of whom belong to my state, Tamilnadu. My state has been one of the important grounds where atheism grew and flourished. All the Dravidian parties have atheism as their main ideal (atleast that’s what they say!). Famous and powerful reformers and political leaders right from “Perriyar” to our thatha “Karunanidhi” have blatantly said that he who believes in God is a fool. I am quite ok till this point. Since their main focus and reasoning against God is the practice of foolish rituals and practices, they do make sense. But after this point I am not able to find a common ground. Even if I assume it makes political sense, why do they only target Hinduism for this. Is it because hindus won’t throw bombs or burn the country down if anything is said against their religion? No, I am not a supporter of BJP or RSS. So, stop thinking along political lines. I heard that atheists have put up a banner in front of a temple (not sure which one, heard this long time back!) saying “You are fool to believe in God”. Not sure when they will do that in front of a mosque or a church. Coalition with muslim league is secular (both atheists and communists say this!) but when you go to the other side it is religious right. My own cousin is an upright atheist. He easily criticizes every hindu festival that is being celebrated in his house. But when it comes to his friends who are muslims or Christians - a stunning silence. Take for example the famous movie “Anbhey sivam” by Kamal Hassan. Apart from showing Nasser a staunch hindu being a bad man, they could have shown a muslim and Christian also doing bad things against him. But hell no…what you see is a Christian nun helping him when he is wounded. The lyrics, “Aathigam pesum adiyar kelam , sivame anbhagum, nathigam pesum nalavruko anbhey sivamagum”. How are believers in God are wrong, mislead and selfish people with no love, whereas all atheists are incarnation of goodness? When I think on a personal level what atheism and theism means to me or differs from my point of view, I see little difference.
I have heard many of my friends who did MS here in US complain that they should have stayed back in India and benefited from the IT boom there. Their logic is that, after 2 or 3 years, their company would have sent them to US. This way they would have had job security, visit to US and most importantly would not have incurred the educational loans. Sound as their logic might seem to the casual observer it is flawed. Firstly, when I and my friends came to US (Fall 2001), there was recession everywhere. People were laid-off in India too. A year before that, things had started becoming bad in US. Many of my friends who had decided to stay back found that the job offers from the companies through campus selection were delayed indefinitely. Luckily this scenario did not last long and things become rosy once again back home. In sharp contrast, situation in US continued to be bleak with slow growth. However, for those who have opted to come to or stay back in US did not know how things here would turn out. If it was a choice that we all made to stay back or come to US, we did it without fully understanding the consequences and knowledge about how things would turn out in the future. Yet, my friends still complain that they should have made the other choice. What they don’t realize is the fact that the life in US has changed them in ways they are yet to realize. They have become much more independent, confident, strong as a result of the taxing living conditions, and more importantly have become aggressively competitive. Each of them would have been a different person back there (not necessarily negative!). The fact that I find very interesting is that I am able to cherish all my experiences here. No point in wanting to be what you were and start all over again when you are what you are now. The greatest failure in one’s life is to look back and regret about the past. I hope I never do that. Every time I think about the past and wish to change decisions I had made, I always to say to myself that I had made those decisions with whatever knowledge I had then and even if I go back, I would make those exact same decisions all over again. The present and future holds still so much of promises. There are yet too many decisions to make whose impact on me would be so great as to make my past irrelevant. The greatest loss one would incur is to brood about the past while the present slips away.
After coming to US, I realized that it would have been nice to know hindi. Everyone I seem to meet (I mean Indians) assume I speak hindi. When I say Idont, they ask if I m from Chennai. So this blog is about the differing attitudes towards knowing/not knowing hindi.
There are people who think you are not Indian enough without hindi. That is absolute nonsense. If diversity is out greatest asset, then these people are trying to kill the spirit that is India. Having said that, it also irritates to see people refusing to learn, the only sole reason being it is hindi. The same people have no qualms about learning Spanish, French, Chinese etc when it comes to learning languages. Moving with so many Indians from so many parts of India, I find that only in my state (Tamilnadu) this language barrier is so profound. There are both good and bad reasons for this situation.
If my knowledge of history is right, soon after independence there was movement to make hindi the national language and replace English. The problem was diversity. Tamil being unrelated to Sanskrit, the people found hindi totally alien and intensely difficult to master. Strange as it may sound, they wholeheartedly embraced English. This is sort of a paradox. They were ready to learn the language of their slavers but not another of their own country. Why would this apparent contradiction come into play? The reason as I see is, though English was a foreign language more alien than hindi, it was indeed the language of the ruling. Before independence it was associated with power and this situation did not change after independence. So the glamour continued till this day. Through strange twist of fate, it is this very English which helps people of my state to get jobs. So, the argument about need to replace English and saying that it the slavery language don’t stand the test of time. English has become a necessity and no one can change it now. Hmm, I diverge!
Anyway coming back to hindi, it was seen as a peer to my language (definitely not in the literary or historical sense). So it was natural for people to question why they should learn it while their peers in north need not do it. This argument makes sense, since apart from learning English and Tamil, they also had to learn a third language. This would put extra pressure on the students. Again, this is also a reasonable arguments since those in north India need not have to go through this problem. Ofcourse learning another language is not bad, but then when are things ever ideal. Also, the method in which it was “imposed” was entirely wrong. I really don’t get the logic in requiring students to learn kalidas and kabirdas given the fact that student can pass out the entire schooling without learning their mother tongue. Whatever reason anybody might give, this aspect of forgetting one’s mother tongue is something which I can never accept.
Further we have our politicians. The superiority one’s language is quite understandable. But this was taken to Himalayan heights in my state. So, hindi was practically abolished and continues to be the case now. Right now chennai is the only metro in India which does not speak hindi and infact still stubbornly refuses to do so. So how to deal with this issue?
Firstly, it has to be understood that learning hindi would be nice. Note that I am saying nice not necessity. A country should have one language or every person of a country should be able to speak their national language. No, I disagree with this idea. This is the kind of imposition I am talking about. No can define how Indian I am by knowing/not knowing a particular language. So coming back to nice part, how to make hindi accessible to people. Simple, one needs to just look at the reason why anybody needs to learn hindi. Conversation – that is the only reason I can think of. So, make it compulsory from lower standards. But reduce the workload and redirect the syllabus more towards achieving the goal of conversation than tradition poetry/grammar. Make the exams quite easy. Don’t include the subject to get in professional colleges etc. This is indeed a dilution. There are people who might say that students wont pay much attention and the goal would be lost. I think otherwise. If you make it easy students would infact love the subject. And the goal anyway is not to speak or write proper hindi but to make a decent conversation and the make hindi a true link language. Both sides for this idea (for and against) have to give in find a middle ground and then it might be possible to remove this problem. But then I don’t see that happening. Afterall without hindi my state had managed quite well and is in top of all the social-economic indicators in india. I do sound like a fanatic when I say this, but this is the temperament of an average tamilian.
It has been a long time since I blogged. I did not have the drive because of my work load. Today, despite that, I had to blog to say farewell to my grandmother. She passed away December 9th in hospital unable to sustain the drive to live after the operation for her fracture. Amma said till the last moment she was saying my name (even when semi-conscious). Not sure what I can do except to talk to my dad, all my aunts and cousins.
She lost her hearing when she was just 15 years old. Odly, I consider that as a blessing since neither she heared good things nor the bad. She had very few expectations in life. Her son, daughters and grandchildren were her world. Since she could not hear what others spoke she started living in her own world not bothering about the tribulations happening outside. At 82, she watered all the plants, plucked flowers for my mom, and complained that government was not doing much good for people. Her greatest interest and love in life was me. Whatever I do she adored. Last time when I visited India, before I left, she came to me and said "I dont know if I will see you again". I never took it so seriously. Afterall, aachi has always been there for me, why should it be any different now. Only now I realize how wrong I have been.
She had interesting a solution for all the problems in the world, "Nalladhaye ninnai, nalladhey nadakum" - Think only good, good only will happen. How right elders are! If only the world could share such optimism. I still so clearly remember all her stories - real and otherwise. Her marriage at a tender age, her travel to burma with her parents, her life in the village, her wealth- right from cows to cars and cameras even in those days, and how she lost them all. How she fared in coming to chennai in "ondu kuduthanam", her tragedy of losing husband, son-in-law and daughter within a year (well it was some 30 years back). And the innocent beauty in all this, that she was not scared but came out of all these. I miss her that I was not near her. Only at these times distances seem too great and too real. I know I have not felt the full jolt of this since the same distances could blur pain too. The only solace is she did not suffer and passed away quickly, exactly the way she wanted.
Somehow sitting here in US, I m not able to cry. I only realize that I have not really grown up for my aachi. I can only imagine me going to school in the third grade and shouting - "tata aachi" , unable to hear, she only waves back.