Thursday, July 27, 2017

Where I Stand on the Issue of the Karnataka Flag and Why....

The essence of being Indian is the ability to juggle several identities at once; linguistic, state, religious,cultural.lateral,diagonal, horizontal and several in between!!Take me for example, who am I? Well, when I say Iam Bengali, people nod knowingly and say..."...from Calcutta...?" Well, yes, Calcutta shaped a large part of who I am, but it does not define me completely. I have lived in calcutta for about17years, I was born there, it is still home...However, I belong to, or rather my ancestors belonged to Kartikpur village in Faridpur district of what is now Bangladesh. That is our village and it still forms a big part of who I am. My thinking, my humour, my propensity to discuss bowel movements at the dinner table, all come from that part of me...the bangal or country bumpkim in Bengali (loosely).That also affects my choices of food and tastes in cuisine. However I have never been to my 'desh'. My mother has also not been there but I've heard her speak fluently in the bangal dialect with my maternal grandparents...that, however is a different story....
Next, I am the daughter of a government servant. That is an identity on its own. My father worked in the Defense Estates department and therefore came in contact with the army and its ways while being posted in several different cantonments. Discipline and punctuality and a strict adherence to rules and regulations was instilled in us. I spent a considerable part of my childhood and most of my college days in Delhi as Baba was posted there. The Delhi University has also left a mark on who I am.The U Specials, the North Campus, The South Campus, 3 colleges I attended all shaped me. My group of friends from the institutions I attended enliven my life even now.
The next big influence in my life has been the shift to Bangalore 10years ago. Moving here has changed my perspective towards the South of this wonderful country. Many misconceptions, many biases and assumptions have been systematically dispelled in these years. Bangalore welcomed us with open arms, I have never felt for a moment that I do not belong here, or that I do not know the language. At firs tI thought that the language will be totally unfathomable, but in fact there are several Sanskrit  words used in Kannada that can be understood without difficulty.My Landlord and his family spoke in Hindi or English, so did the shopkeepers and auto drivers. The first Kannada word I learnt was 'Ba' which means come and  then the more respectful one 'Banni'. Since then I have really 'come' a long way in assimilating myself into this fascinating city.I still only have a smattering of Kannada, but that has not hampered in making me feel a sense of belonging to the city of Bangalore. Ofcourse I have heard and read about the North Indian phobia and the language Nazis but have not encountered them, thankfully.
During the first year in Bangalore,I noticed a flag with the colours of the East Bengal football club of Calcutta, yellow and orange, fluttering about all over the place. I was impressed, wondering how Kannadigas came to be a fan of this club!! Being a Bangal (originally hailing from East Bengal), I was a follower of this club as most Bangals are. The symbolic fish for this club is the illish machh as opposed to the chingri for Mohan Bagan, the team of the Ghotis or those originally from West Bengal...that's yet another story! Anyhow, I realised my mistake sooon enough, it was the flag of the Karnataka State!! On special festive days like the Karnataka Rajyotsava (1st November, when Karnataka attained Statehood), these flags are brandished all over the place and the city looks like Calcutta when East Bengal has won in a match against their arch rivals, Mohan Bagan!!I quite liked that!
Last year, when the erstwhile Tamil Nadu Chief Minister still walked upon this earth and was making life miserable for Karnataka on the Kaveri water sharing issue, which led to bad blood against Tamils in Karnataka, I found the flag being used in a novel manner. Political tension between the states led to the unleashing of anti social elements by the politicians. These mobs started pelting stones at Tamil establishments in the city. Scores of Tamillians were ill-treated due to no fault of theirs  and these episodes culminated in the burning of several buses of a Tamil owned travel company. Unfortunately, a political classes ever ready to vitiate the atmosphere and spread hatred is always present in all corners of India! After the first few days of stone pelting, shopkeepers and restaurant owners began to paste the Karnataka flag upon their establishments, specially the ones with glass facades. This discouraged the stone throwers and allowed the generally easy going population to have their kaapi in peace!
The question of a separate flag has arisen a few times before during my stay in Bangalore. It has got a fresh lease of life now after the question of having Hindi in Namma Metro sign boards. The BMTC buses, used by all sections of the Bangalore population,including non-Kannada speakers,have signs in only Kannada and English.No one has complained about that, so the opinion that as the Metro is used by non Kannadas, and non English reader, it has to have Hindi signs, does not hold good.Even in Calcutta, buses and the Metro has 2 languages, Bangla and English.Why impose a trilingual sign upon the South? This leads to The North Indian misconception of the scripts of the South as being completely inscrutable. My friend who is a non Bengali, living in Calcutta for more years than I have,once declared that she could read Bengali! I was incredulous! When a mini bus ambled along, she said, "..that's Esplannade to Anwarshah road ( or some such)..!"I was taken aback! Well, she travelled by bus everyday from college and had picked up the Bengali letters printed upon mini buses. Can't we learn some Kannada in this manner? Is that so bad a thing? Why should everything be adjusted for the convenience of the Hindi speaker/reader? Afterall, Karnataka is part of our country, we live and work here...I live in an area where there are a large number of Rajasthanis who are settled in Karnataka for generations, they speak fluent Kannada and ofcourse Hindi, I love that. I love the fact that my children now know Kannada and a smattering of Tamil and Malayalam too...

Returning to the issue of the flag, the Karnataka flag is recognized by all living in the State. it unites everybody in Karnataka irrespective of our linguistic, religious,regional and cultural differences. It is, in short, a good thing! It is not as if allegiance to the state undermines our national spirit. We in Bangalore celebrate our national holidays with gusto! The Lal Bagh botanical gardens have their flower shows in the week before 15th August and 26th January. These shows are a unique and magnificent tribute to the nation! Only the Garden City can celebrate Independence Day and Republic Day in such a wonderful  manner!
In this day and age of divisive, poisonous politics, we need more symbols of unity. Also, we must acknowledge the diversity that our country affords and even revel in it. How much richer we will be if we make this effort! If football clubs, religious organizations, political parties and other organizations can have flags why not the state of Karnataka?? The powers that be must realize that it is futile to beat and mould the diversity in this nation into a homogeneous whole. In fact wisdom lies in accepting this diversity wholeheartedly and making it the core faith of our nation.