Noted playwright Girish Karnad has described as “tragic” the unilingual education system, where children often end up learning only English in schools.

“Why should we have only one medium in schools?” he asked, delivering a lecture here on Thursday at the Azim Premji University. “I learnt English only after I turned 10,” he said, adding that losing the ability for bilingualism was unfortunate.

Children are naturally capable of learning many languages and those living in border areas are comfortably multi-lingual, said Mr. Karnad.

‘Linguistically strange’

He said that the country today finds itself in a “linguistically strange situation” where regional tongues thrive on the multiple satellite television channels, but English holds sway as the language of learning and earning.

This dichotomy stems from the fact that we continue to do our “laughing and crying” in our mother tongues while we send our children to English-medium schools so that they fit into the prevailing job market, he said.

Colonial impact

Talking about colonisation and its impact on our life and arts, Mr. Karnad said the arrival of English brought in a new evaluation of the concepts by which we lived, be it in our understanding of caste or our notions of culture, arts and language.

While some art forms like dance and music grew stronger through their complex colonial interactions, others like architecture and painting lost their ground, said Mr. Karnad.

Talking of theatre, he said the influence of Shakespeare had been immense and there had hardly been any play of importance till 1947. “Rabindranath Tagore is a great poet, but his theatre is unbearable,” he said.

‘Films saved by music’

The arrival of colonial modernity also meant introduction of new forms and technologies like printing and films. While Indian films have long been criticised for its song-and-dance sequences, it is precisely these features that have saved it from being “swallowed up by Hollywood” unlike European cinema, said Mr. Karnad.

“We cannot make a Titanic, but they cannot make a Hum Apke Hain Kaun,” he said.

Keywords: Girish Karnad