Can Someone Tell Me Why Sharada Wants Her Son to Read And Write Kannada?

Day before yesterday, I got an interesting message from a good real-life friend on Facebook. “Hi, I need a favour,” began Sharada.

This was the rest of the message:

Dinesh’s school decided to drop Kannada from their curriculum. Dinesh loves his school and generally doesn’t like displacement so I offered him two choices, change school or learn with me. He has agreed to learn from me. I don’t know how to teach. Do you have any suggestions?

Dinesh is 8. His parents, Sharada and her husband Ramesh (a childhood friend of mine) are Kannadigas. Dinesh’s school is the so-called National Academy for Learning, or NAFL, situated somewhere in Bengaluru.

I don’t know about you, but the name of this school suggests to me that the educatables aren’t exactly kids there. More like adults getting ready for some serious national stuff.

Why did Sharada ask me for this favour?

I think she asked me because I’m pretty serious about education in the mother tongue, have written a book or two in Kannada, and take Indian languages more seriously than most of her friends.

My 9-year-old son attends a world-class school in Mysore, and my 4-year-old daughter will join him there this June. It’s a private Kannada-medium school called Arivu.

Arivu’s world-class-ness doesn’t come from a stately building with a 10-foot compound. It comes from the great teachers, the atmosphere of fun, experiential learning, zero-stress, parents’ involvement and total integration with the rest of the world around the school, not to mention the language of instruction.

“If your neighbourhood has seceded from the real India, a good English-medium school can appear to have some of these good qualities.”

It’s the kind of school which actively and constantly pesters parents to come and visit the campus, sit in the classrooms, make tea, sing, dance, teach children what they know best, and so on.

I know, I know, it sounds a little crazy and I often don’t get time to participate as much as I would like. But like any right-thinking parent, I would like to do more of this stuff, not less.

Arivu’s advantage over English-medium schools

It’s impossible for an English-medium school to have the above qualities in India. Why? Because they make money from exactly the opposite of everything Arivu stands for.

I’m not just throwing this at you. I have had first-hand experience with these schools. I was educated in an English-medium school, and never in a Kannada-medium school. My wife and I also reviewed the best of the best English medium schools in Mysore before deciding on Arivu for our kids.

If your neighbourhood has seceded from the real India, a good English-medium school can appear to have some of these good qualities. Besides, they throw in a lot of other goodies like horse-riding, French, etc., so your idea of what makes a school good is quite blurred to begin with.

“There aren’t too many Arivus in Bengaluru. Not anymore. And even if there’s one close by, how can you send your kid to the kind of school your housemaid looks down on?”

Sharada’s family lives in one of these independent republics, but it’s completely land-locked by India. Like many of her friends, however, she feels she doesn’t have the choice of returning to India.

Her son’s school, NAFL, is perhaps one of the best English-medium schools in Bengaluru. That means Sharada has signed up for 10-foot compounds, closed doors, and a standing instruction to stand outside the compound while the instruction happens inside.

Good English-medium schools make a virtue of these vices, and you’re easily sold since you have the picture of your office cubicle in mind. You leave your child to the self-appointed experts and go do what you think your job is.

Besides, people like Sharada in cities like Bengaluru don’t have too much choice. There aren’t too many Arivus in Bengaluru. Not anymore. And even if there’s one close by, how can you send your kid to the kind of school your housemaid looks down on?

That would go completely against the tide of the times… which is to secede from India as completely as possible.

Does Dinesh really need Kannada?

I have to disclose an important fact for you to get the big picture: Dinesh-the-Kannadiga can’t speak Kannada.

He has the potential (who doesn’t?) but right now he can’t speak it. He barely manages to understand his parents when they speak to him in Kannada, but always replies back in English with a superb call-centre accent. I know good English, obviously, but I don’t get his accent. I’ve tried.

“[Dinesh] barely manages to understand his parents when they speak to him in Kannada, but always replies back in English with a superb call-centre accent.”

I also think his parents speak more to him in Kannada when I’m around. Oops! Did I just say that? I think she and her husband will kill me for this. They’re two of my best friends in the world!

But my point is this. The kid is 8, and he’s already schooled like a foreigner in Karnataka. His apartment complex doesn’t need him to speak in Kannada. His school doesn’t. His republic doesn’t. The Indian nation doesn’t (it wants him to learn Hindi, which his school is patriotically teaching, anyway).

The auto-rickshaw drivers are a dying tribe; everyone is switching to Ola or TaxiForSure or Meru or whatever, so he won’t need Kannada to move around independently in Bengaluru.

Even housemaids are in the line for a visa to Dinesh’s republic, so Dinesh won’t need Kannada to talk to the help either. In fact, kids don’t speak to housemaids so much anyway.

So why does Sharada want her son to read and write Kannada?

However you look at it, there’s a good reason why NAFL is kicking Kannada out of its classrooms: it’s possible to paint the picture of a Bangalore, an India, and a world in which Kannada is unnecessary.

That it’s inferior, and that it’s already dead, is already being driven into children’s heads, so that makes it easy to convince parents to let go. And the parents have already conceded that the experts on the matter are within the school’s compound.

“[T]here’s a good reason why NAFL is kicking Kannada out of its classrooms: it’s possible to paint the picture of a Bangalore, an India, and a world in which Kannada is unnecessary”

So, why, why, why does she want her son to read and write Kannada?

I’ve told her a couple of times that Dinesh must first learn to speak Kannada. Reading and writing must come later.

Somehow, she doesn’t appreciate this point. She thinks her duty is to teach Dinesh how to read and write Kannada when he can’t speak the language. In fact, she thinks he does speak Kannada. But trust me, he cannot.

I broke my head over the question. Why, why, why does she want Dinesh to read and write Kannada?

I’d have loved to ask her directly, but she’s not answering my phone. Perhaps I’ve been too direct in telling her that Dinesh must speak Kannada first. Perhaps that hurt her.

The only answer I have is that she’s driven by an irrational urge. The kind of urge that a sandalwood tree has to ensure that its saplings carry its scent.

It’s stupid to ask why. That’s how the tree is wired. That’s how we’re wired.

And oh, here’s the suggestion you wanted from me, Sharada — the same one again: don’t teach Dinesh to read and write Kannada. Make him speak it first. Do whatever it takes. That’s how you grow the Kannada sapling.

As far as NAFL is concerned, I don’t expect it to do anything better than kick Kannada out of campus. That’s how those trees are wired. The question is whether your Kannada sapling can take nutrients from them and gradually outgrow them — or not.

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[First Published: Huffington Post May 18, 2015 at 05:33PM,]

An autobiographical note

I am a Dravida Brahmana. I did not choose my caste; it chose me. I use the term Dravida Brahmana to mean ‘a Brahmana whose mother tongue is a Dravidian language’. The term has been historically used to include Marathi or Gujarati speakers also, but I don’t use it in that sense. I attach the modern meaning in linguistics to Dravida.

If we go some fifteen-hundred-odd years ago, it should be possible to find among my ancestors a marriage between a migrant Brahmana from North India and a non-Brahmana woman from South India. I am glad it happened and gave me a chance to be what I am today, although I do not approve of many other things that came to happen in society because of such marriages. We belong to a Brahmana subdivision called Deshastha. The word means ‘one who stays in the country’. The country is very likely north Karnataka or south Maharashtra. But clearly, we haven’t ‘stayed in the country’. Here I am in Mysore.

We Batnis are Kannadigas. I have heard of a few who have matrimonial links with Marathi Brahmanas such as Peshwas, but their percentage is negligible. My father’s name is Batni Raghavendra Rao, and quite a few Batni Something Rao’s are found in Shimoga and Mysore. Batni is supposed to be a place near Sagara, Karnataka. Nobody has found it either on the ground or on the map. Someone suggested to me that it must be a submerged village. I am told that all Batnis belong to the Agastya gotra and I find this to be interesting in many ways. I certainly do belong to this gotra.

We are not just Deshastha Brahmanas but Madhva Deshastha Brahmanas (I think all Batnis are, but I can’t be sure). Someone in my ancestry must have taken Madhvacharya or one of his disciples as his guru. He is not my guru, though I have read and continue to read him. I have also read and continue to read Shankara’s as well as Buddhist and Jain works. Every spiritual text written in India interests me. I think I can take all the great saints of India together as my gurus but not any one of them individually. Whatever I have learned from these saints is due to personal interest; I have no formal training in the scriptures or Sanskrit.

I am yet to come across a living guru of the Brahmanas (often the head of a Mutt) who can fill me with a feeling of respect; they are mostly administrators who don’t write anything worth reading or do anything worth following. I don’t approve of organized religion in the first place – it leads to things like The Pyramid of Corruption. I consider spirituality an individual pursuit and I am an ardent spiritualist.

Some people think I hate Brahmanas. I don’t. The best among them have made extremely important contributions to the knowledge of the world. But I dislike the superstition of the others and their stated or unstated acceptance of The Pyramid of Corruption (not the book but what it’s about). I don’t think all of them choose these evils consciously, though.

There’s a lot of reform work that needs to be done within the Brahmana community. Superstition of all sorts must go – it’s more prevalent than one can imagine in these modern times. It’s not acceptable that most Brahmanas have no clue about the spiritual core of Hinduism – the Upanishads – but stand up to defend the worthless shell: things such as the caste-system and Sanskrit’s exclusive claim to divinity. The less they understand the Upanishads, the more they defend the indefensible.

All this must change, and I have some plans to bring about this change in my own small way. If you are interested or know someone who is, please contact me. For the work I have in mind, you should be a Kannadiga reasonably well-versed in the Upanishads, consider yourself a poet, and be willing to write in Ellara Kannada. Being a Brahmana is neither a qualification nor a disqualification.

I could go on and on, but I just wanted to add this brief autobiographical note to answer a few questions some of my friends have been asking me.

The Airport

The rich, the business-savvy, the English-or-Hindi-only environment, the Hindi-only guards, the tight security, the lavishness, the unsustainability, the air-conditioners, the wiping away of local languages, the land-grab, the handing out of petty jobs to the lucky survivors of farmers who committed suicide, the unhealthy food fully certified and complete with nutritional information, the foreigners who think they’ve seen India, the fair and lovely women, the drunken men, the helpless praying for the journey to be safe, the businesspeople pouring into their devices losing battery life, their complaining wives in flashing jackets and high heels, the insignificance of the engineer’s payload compared to the distance traveled, the meaningless lives that have to travel like birds to live like underground parasites, the whatsinitforme, the conquering of all social and political freethinking by the poverty of imposed individual opulence, the masking of disease by forced smile, the artificial love, the missed gifts to children, the mating calls of women in posters, the artificial sense of closeness of the source and the destination, the television sets pointing out the state of the political economy, the leather jackets of diaries nobody uses, the expensive watches that don’t help realize that time is running out, the glittering pens that have more value than what’s ever written using them… this is the elite’s idea of India, manifested in its full glory in an Indian airport.