Vantage point

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Finally saw Devdas yesterday. Good movie. I can realise what the fuss is all about. Let us keep aside for a moment the question of whether I sympathize with him and look at the movie's merits.

It is a fast film. It moves along at a rapid pace, and does not slacken like many hindi films tend to do. The songs are such that the story proceeds when they are on, and so there are no bottlenecks in between. I also liked the ending.

I won't write too much since my fellow bloggers have already analysed the movie down to it's molecules. But Kiron Kher got on my nerves.

My comment- The movie is 50 crore rupees well spent (unlike some movies we know named Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham).

Here's something I'd like to share with you-

An Indian soldier from Maharashtra was on the battlefront in the 1962 Indo-China war. He had no warm clothes or blankets to protect him from cold, nor did he have good weapons to counter the Chinese. He was shivering in his bunker in the icy environs of the Himalayas and was having suicidal thoughts. He was very spiteful towards life and everything. To keep himself warm he started burning the pages of an unread marathi magazine he had brought from home. As he started throwing one page after another, his attention was captured by an unusual title called "Maajhe Khadyajeevan"(My life as a food lover). Intrigued, he sat down to read this article which described the author's experiments with food all over India. It talked about Bengali mithai, the Delhi parathas, and many such delicacies all over India. It was like a small food guide to India. It was also very well written. The soldier read it and loved the article so much that he thought to himself "I have to live and experience this rich diversity of Indian food. This will be my motivation to survive." He survived and wrote a letter to the author recounting this incident. The author had no idea how to react to such a unique piece of fan mail. P.L. "Pu La" Deshpande, a wizard of the marathi language, was at a loss for words.

That was 1962 and this is 2002. The late Pu La is still considered by many as the greatest author to grace the marathi literary scene. Every kid knows about him. Even Generation Y (isn't that what we are supposed to be?) knows him. But one thing makes me sad. Most of my peers know of his literature only because of the 10 or so audio cassettes that he made of some of his work. Hardly anyone has ever 'read' a Pu La novel, hardly anyone from English medium that is. In fact, Satyen and Mihir are the only two english medium students I know besides myself who have read his books. We too consider ourselves unfortunate because we have read mainly Pu La's books and not even touched the surface of the vast sea that is marathi literature, or even hindi literature.

I wonder what the problem is? Any friends whom I ask about this, say "I can't read the 'devnagri' script." That is extremely ridiculous. We have all been taught the devnagri script, and I am sure we can all read and understand it very well. Maybe there is a greater sense of comfort in reading english because that's all we read nowadays, but if you pick up a marathi (or hindi, for future references) book, then two pages is all it'll take for you to get used to the script and the language.But there is a discernible inertia among us upper middle class maharashtrians to read our own mother tongue. People will proudly tell you that they've read all Sidney Sheldon novels (most of them, utter crap in my humble opinion) or that they just adore Daniel Steel (i dunno how that is spelt), but ask them if they have read "one", I am not asking for too much, just "1", uno, "ek", one book in marathi and they'll shake their heads and say "No, I can't read marathi." Then I ask "You can't read? You weren't taught in school?". The reply is so standard that it should be registered with the ISO. "I can READ marathi, but I am very slow and it takes me a lot of trouble to understand it." Laziness anyone?

So is this phenomenon common to all Indian languages? I have met people from the north who read 5 books a month, but haven't touched a hindi book. Maybe it's this bias we subconsciously grow up with. Desi is uncool. If you see a guy talking chaste hindi or marathi at a public meeting, that won't impress you as much as an expert english orator. If someone is not too good with english, he/she is immediately termed a vern. Hence, it is implied that Indian literature must be crap.

I don't want to make this about sociological issues. All I am saying is that if you can read marathi and you haven't read those books of Pu La that aren't available in audio cassette form, then you are losing something. If you can read marathi but haven't read Mrutyunjay, you are missing something. If you can read marathi, but haven't read Va Pu Kale, Jaywant Dalvi, Kusumagraj, Acharya Atrey (sound like strangers?), you are losing as much as you would have if you had not read a single John Grisham or P G Wodehouse or Frederick Forsyth or Steinbeck or Ayn rand, or any other english author.

Think of our kids. You and me, we had parents who read Indian literature. they could tell us about it. What about our kid? Who will give them the key to the treasure of Indian literature? Will all these great authors end being just names on obscure books in a dusty corner of the library? Can you imagine an entire generation of Maharashtrians not knowing who Pu La was? Scary? well, that is where we are headed. Okay, forget about the coming generations. Let's think about you.

When you look back, do you really want to feel this sense of loss just because when you were young, you were too lazy to read those difficult first two marathi (or hindi) pages that would have set you on your way to a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of Indian literature?

Think about it the next time you reach out for an english novel.

How many Indian books have you read?