Our Language Our Identity

Sana Kay *

A scene from Nobap - the film
A scene from Nobap

On my first few days of college two Arunachali friends I had just made were amazed to find out that I could speak my native tongue fluently. To me it was the most natural thing I had inherited from my parents but to them it was a different matter altogether. Arunachal Pradesh with its variety of tribal population uses Hindi as the common language. I have seen within my friends circle that each of the tribes' unique language is being replaced by Hindi and Assamese. Only one among them, a Miri (Arunachali tribe) friend can speak her native tongue. Naturally many of their languages are in the endangered category according to the Linguistic Survey of India.

Imagine ourselves deprived of our mother tongue? How much ever we criticize, pass comments on our language and incline towards English or any other foreign language, we just cannot imagine ourselves living without speaking our native tongues. We need it as something as important as our own souls which no one can take away from us. Yet, in our quest to be successful, to be worldly, to fit into the society, we often compromise on this important element of our identity, our language.

From the time we first go to school we are taught to call our teachers "ma'am"/miss. In my case I was taught from the moment I could speak my first words to call "mama" and "papa" like many of my generation kids. On top of that many of us were given foreign names which one never knew the meaning till Wikipedia and google came along.

Some months ago as I co hosted Fresher's Day organised by the Manipuri Students Association Delhi (MSAD) I found myself more at ease with English and words came out so smoothly. I tried to put in Manipuri as and when I could but for that I had to struggle and think twice for that. We were told some people showed discontent at our usage of English for most part of the programme. I agree with them to some extent after all it is a programme to welcome the Manipuri Students. Yet our liberal use of English was to address the audience, Manipuri or not is another matter altogether.

In our race to get accepted by our peers, by the society, we are fast losing our identity. As much as we would like to use English language as a symbol of our social standing one really needs to make some effort to not let our language erode before our very own eyes, getting devoured by an alien language.

Like it or not with every Manipuri coming out of the state the language is dying a slow death. One often comes across Manipuri kids living outside Manipur unable to speak the language or even understand it.

When I was in Assam I came across a Manipuri family from Imphal who never spoke to their little child Manipuri, I was told she could understand Hindi but not Manipuri. Now in Delhi my little cousins know how to speak the language but in a limited fashion. Their Manipuri slightly accented and mixed with Hindi and English sounds a lot funny coming out of their tiny mouths.

Language is intrinsically connected with the culture it belongs to, and that is the reason why when one knows a language or when one gets fascinated with a certain culture one tends to learn and pick up the language. A simple example right in front of our eyes is the Korean language.

For this mass media has to play a huge role by producing meaningful at the same time entertaining films, series and documentaries. Instead of churning huge number of films every month, meaningful films catering to the younger generation should be made more often.

The movie nobap can serve as a good example in this genre. This technology savvy generation can revive the phoonga-waari tradition by showing on television or even better radio programme can be made on interesting phoonga -waari for children and adult alike.

One should never underestimate the power of media and the biggest example right in front of our eyes is the Hallyu or the Korean Wave. We can see and experience the Hallyu enveloping our lives. It is useless to ape them or compare but one can learn about marketing their culture and language from them.

The Manipuri film Nobap (See scenes from Nobap here) in the recent times deserves a mention because keeping intact the entertainment factor it addressed serious issues relating to the Manipuri society like need for better education infrastructure in far flung areas of Manipur and the need for dedicated teachers, child-labour and of course insurgency.

And this movie did not have exotic locales outside Manipur to become a beautiful and a moving tale that it is. Language and culture are like the two sides of a coin, one cannot leave the other behind.

One may have in mind that mother tongue can be honed at any point, but it is not so. It loses touch, it no longer becomes one's mother tongue if it is made to play the part of second fiddle to some alien language. It may not be the biggest problem right now but it will be someday.

Most of the time it is overshadowed by all other problems but one should really give some thought to it and ponder about this. Language is our identity, it is what defines us. If we do not nurture it who would? Our land being endowed with the richness of culture and the language, all it needs to be done is presented majestically as it deserves.

* Sana Kay contributes regularly to
The writer is a student in Delhi University and an aspiring writer who can be contacted at tsilver(dot)spoon(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on April 22, 2012.

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