The Huddle 2019: Day 1

Silicon binaries: language, culture and identity

Going local: Zac O’Yeah, author; Madhu Nataraj, dancer; Vivek Shanbhag, novelist; and Jayant Kaikini, writer; in conversation with Vanamala Viswanatha, academic, at the session on Bengaluru.  

How much change is good for a city? Should people who migrate assimilate themselves into the culture of the new place? These were among the questions that the panellists tried to solve about the puzzle that is Bengaluru.

The session on “Who is a Bengalurian? Identities in a changing, cosmopolitan city” saw different perspectives being put forth: from a growing feeling of neglect of the Kannada language to whether knowing Kannada was the same as being a Bengalurean.

Vanamala Viswanatha, academic and translator, who moderated the session, started off the discussion with how Bengaluru had historically been “multi” because of its location, which makes it different from Dharwad or Mysuru, which are “recognisably” Kannada in their orientation and identity. The PSUs heralded the “multi” culture to Bengaluru, which has grown more “intense” recently, she said.

Delving into reasons for this, novelist and playwright Vivek Shanbhag said the “linguistic tolerance” of Bengalureans and Kannadigas is something people can “immediately experience”, given the influences other languages have in different regions of Karnataka: Marathi in north Karnataka, Tulu and Konkani in coastal Karnataka and Telugu and Tamil in south Karnataka. However, what is unique is that many — even legendary names in Kannada literature such as Da. Ra. Bendre and Masti Venkatesh Iyengar — did not have Kannada as their “mother’s tongue” but belonged to the Kannada culture. This was what was lacking now.

Referring to the “IT revolution” that propelled Bengaluru into becoming the “silicon city”, Mr. Shanbhag said, “When these people moved in, there was so much change in such a short time. There was no time or support given to these people to connect themselves with Kannada. There are so many IT companies here. Companies have a responsibility to make sure their employees are comfortable, and know the language of the street. As far as I know, there is no such training being given. Emotional health is as important as infrastructure.”

Talking about “change,” poet and writer Jayant Kaikini, who recently won the DSC prize for South Asian Literature for the translated No Presents Please-Mumbai Stories, drew comparisons between Mumbai and Bengaluru.

“Change has to be there, but at what cost? The people who come here from outside, they are working here. It is all about evolving as an individual and what the city enables and empowers you. The Mumbai and Marathi ethos and ambience too had to go through this, but it ultimately evolved into a collective, larger mindset. I hope it happens in Bengaluru too,” he said.

He also spoke about the other form of migration — of people from within Karnataka moving to Bengaluru. “There is an image that disturbs me: a tractor in the city. It was designed to be in an agricultural field. But it has come to Bengaluru to take the construction debris to give rise to skyscrapers. On the trailer is an entire family from north Karnataka who have come here to build this city,” he said.

Author Zac O'Yeah, who has made Bengaluru home for the past 27 years, said of all the cities in the world he has visited, Bengaluru is the only one where “a shopkeeper will be able to converse in Kannada, Hindi, English, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu”. But he raised a question: is being a Bengalurean the same as speaking Kannada? “The language issue is important. But how much do we love Bengaluru? The city is getting to be like an ailing mother,” he said. Pointing to the sense of ownership, Ms. Viswanatha said different kinds of people have been participating in civic activism being seen in the city, which was about how people can contribute in developing a city.

Madhu Nataraj, dancer and choreographer underlined a fact that the panellists were pointing to: that Bengalureans were resilient to all the change that was happening around them. Speaking from an artist’s perspective, she said, “Bengaluru has always allowed people to be creative. The audiences are open-minded and welcoming.”

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 2:33:59 AM |

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