Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Dravidian Divide

As I have remarked before, India is not a country, it is a continent. No other country in the world comes remotely close to us, in terms of diversity in culture, language, religion, ethnicity and mentality. It is indeed a miracle that India continues to exist as a unified entity, in spite of the myriad incongruences amidst it's populace. Any other country with so many divergences, would have broken into smaller fragments long time back. Perhaps it is the inherently non-aggressive nature of most Indians [I], along with the culture of assimilating all disparities, that comes to India's rescue here.

Though India is a land of a billion contradictions, two of the biggest bones of contention over the ages, have been the Hindu-Muslim divide, and the North-South polarisation. While the first topic is a lot more volatile in nature; evoking strong emotions consistently, the second one runs like an under-current; a cold-war between Indians belonging to the north and south of the Deccan. I have pondered a little on the first topic previously [II], some first hand experiences off late, have made me seriously think over the second issue.

Regular readers of this blog would know that I have been "onsite" for the last few months. And any person working in the Indian IT industry would tell you that the vast majority of Indian IT professionals in the US are South Indians. Perhaps the fact that most Indian IT companies have major bases in the south of the country, has something to do with this. While all my 30 odd colleagues here are wonderful and friendly people, I cannot help but feel like an odd-man-out, being the only non-Tamilian in the lot. Not only is it a tad frustrating to share the same space with a large group of people, all of whom internally speak a language you do not understand a word of, it is also kind of strange to think that you have to resort to a foreign language, to communicate with your own countrymen!!

Non-south indians are generally paranoid[III] that they will find communicating with locals difficult, when they visit the south of the country; with some even going to the extent of claiming that South Indians refuse to respond in Hindi, even if they know how to. Some even claim that South Indians have never accepted Hindi as a national language, and believe that their languages and culture are superior. A non-resident-tamilian colleague mentions that, even though he is a Tamilian himself, he faces problems dealing with local Tamils in Chennai, just because he does not look like an average Tamilian.
At the same time, some of my Tamil colleagues have shown me the opposite side of the coin; about people in North India not being very cooperative with them, on account of the fact that they do not speak Hindi. A section of the South believes that North India has not opened it's arms to the South as freely as it should.

I, for one, think that we, at times, get carried away with our prejudices, and attribute deep rooted meanings to simple incidents. An outsider will always find it difficult adjusting with the local population, anywhere in the world. India is no different. A non-resident-marathi friend of mine recalls instances about how traffic police in Maharashra, tend to be stricter with non-marathi speaking offenders; while another non-bengali friend working in Kolkata, laments that Bengalies prefer to promote other bengalies, rather than people from other corners of the country. Auto-rickshaws in Delhi try to cheat non-locals. People from the north-east of the country feel that they have not been included into the mainstream. The list is endless.
The North South divide is no different.

Regionalism is present in every part of the country. It would be wrong to project it as a question of North vs. South. It is perhaps the fact that Dravidian languages are so linguistically distant to any North Indian dialect, that make understanding, and hence adapting to each other so much more difficult, that is the reason for the greater distance between the North and the South. While a Punjabi might understand bits of Bengali, Marathi or Gujrati, he can never understand a word of Kannada, Tamil or Telugu by default.

We Indians are privileged to live in a country rich with such diversity in languages and traditions. We ought to try our best to learn from Indians coming from other parts of the country, and not distance ourselves from them. Every Punjabi should be willing to learn a word or two of Tamil, and every Tamilian should be ready to teach it. It is the duty of every Indian, to make a person from another part of the country feel at home, rather than treat him like an alien.

We cannot afford to be ignorant. After all, we have a billion things to learn.

1 comment:

SAURABH said...

You hit the bulls eye with this writing.Awesome work.