The State and its scholars had been campaigning furiously for several years to get Malayalam recognised as a classical language. Their efforts have finally borne fruit with the Union Cabinet approving classical status for the language, which will now join Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada in the exclusive club.
The government and the intellectual’s euphoria, however, does not seem rub off on to people in the State.
The popularity of the language in schools and colleges has been on the slipping for years. Malayalam’s fall from the favour of parents and students has promoted the growth of schools that instruct students in English. There are no takers for government schools where Malayalam is the medium of instruction. Even in schools where instruction in both Malayalam and English are offered, the English medium divisions become more crowded every year.
“Malayalis are the biggest enemies of Malayalam,” says poet K.G. Sankara Pillai. “The people of the State and its government have not given the language the respect it deserves. It is a result of our colonial mindset. People of Tamil Nadu teach their children English. But they have great passion for their mother tongue too,” he says.
In Kerala, the mother tongue has been knocked down the ladder to the status of the second language. Top CBSE and ICSE schools teach English as the first language from kindergarten onwards. Malayalam is the optional second language. The standard of the syllabus and teaching in Malayalam also take a hit in schools where it becomes an optional subject. Many of these schools tom-tom their rule that it is forbidden to speak Malayalam on campuses.
“Students stand to lose when we do not teach them Malayalam. Just like a mother, the mother tongue too is necessary for the child to develop a sense of security and pride in their culture,” says writer K. Satchidanandan.
Even when Malayalam is offered as second language, students choose to study Sanskrit, Hindi or French as these subjects are easier to bag marks. Students regularly score 100 per cent in Sanskrit in their Class X exams. A 90 per cent in Malayalam would be an excellent score for a good student of the language in the same class. “Malayalam teachers are usually reluctant to give their students good marks. The syllabus is also quite heavy in schools and colleges. The teaching of the subject has to become more student-friendly if it has to survive,” says Prof. Pillai, who taught Malayalam in college for several years.
The disconnect between the language and its speakers spills over from schools and colleges to the cultural space. The English names of Malayalam films made in recent years clearly show the preference of Malayali youth for the ‘cool’ language.
Readers from the State who eagerly lap up international books written in English are often completely unaware of the trends in Malayalam writing. Writer Benyamin’s acclaimed novel Aadujeevitham, perhaps the most successful Malayalam novel of recent times, is unknown to many in the State who read only English works.
Prof. Pillai feels that the media should promote use of Malayalam over English. Mr. Satchidanandan suggests a change in the education policy. “Malayalam should be made compulsory in schools at least till Class X. I see no future for it otherwise. But this should be done without neglecting English as its importance in the modern world cannot be disputed,” he says.
Survival is the challenge that Malayalam now faces, despite its classical status. Students from a school in Kasaragod recently prepared a dictionary of Malayalam words that were unique to their part of the State. What they discovered were several words that were lost to the young generation due to their frequent use of English. “How many of us know the Malayalam word for ‘nostalgia?’ asks Prof. Pillai. His question will only be met with silence.
Keywords: Malayalam classical language status