The ‘nice guy’ Kannadiga

How do you perceive a certain people? And when it comes to the Kannadiga, it becomes all the more complex, with people asking me – who is a Kannadiga? Kannadigas, in the popular perception, were seen for a long time as “softies” — non-aggressive, friendly people who welcomed and embraced all that came their way — different peoples and things, new ways of living, new customs. In popular culture references they became the “swalpa adjust maadi” people. In more recent times, there has been a rise of self-proclaimed activists who resorted to aggressive ways of “protecting” the Kannada language – they blackened English boards, asked ‘outsiders’ to leave, so on and so forth. But can an identity be captured between two extremes? There are varied views as identity is seen through many different lenses.

Chandan Gowda, a Kannadiga, and a professor of sociology at the Azim Premji University believes there are several images of the Kannadigas, but the discussions of their identity are largely based on their language. He stresses, though, that the issue is pretty complicated. He observes: “I follow a lot of these discussions in various media, and the general impression is that the Kannadiga is a tolerant, non-aggressive, pleasant person who doesn’t impose his culture on others and is accepting of non-locals. It is also true that speaking Kannada can connote a lack of cultural sophistication in various contexts. Since the new settlers move into occupational sectors which require differing linguistic competence, careful research is required before anything definitive can be said about how they relate with local society.”

Of late there have been two instances in Bangalore where people from the north-eastern states have been attacked — one for not speaking Kannada, and the other, for being outsiders. Johnson Rajkumar, from Manipur, has been living in Bangalore for the last 12 years and now teaches at the St. Joseph’s College. He believes that “culturally we are such poles apart from south India, that for me, a Tamilian, Malayalee, or a Kannadiga — it’s all the same — a south Indian. Just like how, for people here, all of us are from the ‘North-East’. Over time I have come to understand who is who, and a mutual respect has grown. When I came here, I initially travelled by bus. But local people would stare and laugh at me often, making me very conscious of being an outsider. But I never felt unsafe. But after the recent sporadic events involving people from our parts, I’ve begun to feel unsafe here. But Bangalore has been so cosmopolitan all along that the need for speaking Kannada was not felt; otherwise I would have been speaking Kannada fluently by now,” he points out.

Siddharth Mohanty is an Oriya who’s lived his early life in Odisha and Kolkata and then briefly in Chennai before he started living in Bangalore from 1999. Working in a financial firm, he’s married to a Kannadiga, Rashmi. “After coming from Chennai, I found Kannadigas very mild and easy to get along with. The ease of living here became a very important factor for me. You could easily make Bangalore home. After marrying into a Kannadiga family, it took me a while to figure out the community. You need to be interested to understand the nuances of the culture.” He points out how Bangalore has come to represent Karnataka for people from outside the state, but may not be an accurate representation of its people.

“I think among Kannadigas we’re all sorted! We’re tolerant, accommodative, welcoming. And Bangalore is a great example of all that,” says musician Raghu Dixit, famous for his folk music in several languages, and widely appreciated for giving Shishunala Sharif’s Kannada songs a contemporary resurrection. But he feels saddened and worried that somewhere there’s a lack of pride and self-esteem. “It’s like an inferiority complex that seems to be developing somewhere because of the coming in of people from all over the world.” He also recalls how saddened he was when Kannadiga employees of Infosys once thanked him after a concert on their campus because they felt happy hearing a Kannada song played there. “I can imagine if this was in London…,” he laughs. There’s a sense of sadness among Kannadigas that their language is not spoken or heard around much, but they themselves are abandoning it, he also notes.

Perhaps the most endearing image of an outsider who has warmly embraced the Kannadiga identity is retired Punjabi IAS officer, Chiranjiv Singh, who learnt Kannada when he was posted in Karnataka over 40 years ago, became the first secretary of the Kannada and Culture Department, has written in Kannada, and speaks such chaste Kannada that he’s considered “more Kannadiga than most Kannadigas”. “Are we talking of Kannadigas as a single identity? Because the Kannadiga of Bangalore is different from that of Mysore, or Dharwad. What strikes me is the variety in the culture among the people. Our perceptions are often influenced by stereotypes. And I don’t believe in stereotypes. Are you looking at Kannadigas as those who speak Kannada or those who live here? They may speak any language, but, for me, those who live here are all Kannadigas. My Kannadisation was complete four decades ago when my colleagues wrote a letter to me addressed as Chiranjeevaiah!” he laughs.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 10:07:43 PM |

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