Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quebec is a state of mind

Vive Le Quebec libre. Many would remember this phrase uttered by French President Charles De Gaulle. The people of Quebec, the French-speaking province in Canada have an identity distinct from the rest of Canada. Quebec , more than a geographical location , is a state of mind. Such Quebecs exist in several countries. For example Bavaria in Germany. India, which is of continental proportions, too has some Quebecs.

I have used the word Quebec here as an euphemism for sub-nationalism. Strong undercurrents that distinguish themselves from the mainstream. Undercurrents that assert their individual identities , mostly culturally but sometimes politically . Tamil Nadu is one such location where sub-nationalism is a strong emotional strand. For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the geography of India, let me add that Tamil Nadu is a state situated in the southernmost part of India. The state is mainly populated by people who speak the ancient but vibrantly living language of Tamil. Tamil is one of the two classical languages of India, the other being Sanskrit. It is said, with good justification, that if there is one Indian language which can live without words contributed by Sanskrit, it is Tamil. Sanskrit is dead as a spoken language. There are only a few hundreds of people who declare Sanskrit as their mother tongue. Of course, every major Indian language is said to be a derivative of Sanskrit and so Sanskrit in a way continues to live through other major Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi etc. Not Tamil. Tamil is very much a living language and almost 70 million people declare Tamil as their mother tongue. Just as Sanskrit is the mother of the North Indian languages, Tamil is said to be the mother of the South Indian languages such as Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu.

Language is perhaps a principal reason why some kind of sub-nationalism exists in Tamil Nadu. While most of the Indian states had no objection to accepting Hindi ( spoken by one third of the Indian population) as the official language of India, Tamil Nadu put up a strong and successful fight to ensure that English continues to be an official language along with Hindi. The fear in the minds of the people of the state that with the removal of English as official language, job opportunities would dwindle was somewhat justified.

While Bollywood, which the Hindi Movies are called as, holds sway over the rest of India, it is the home-grown Tamil movies which rule the Cinema halls of Tamil Nadu. For every Shah Rukh Khan or Amir Khan that Bollywood flaunts, the Tamil movie land called Kollywood answers through its inimitable Rajnikanth and cinestar-turned-politician Vijaykanth.

The major Indian states vote for either of the major National Political Parties, Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party. Not Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, these two major national parties put together get less than 15 % of the total votes polled. Tamil Nadu elects either of the two Dravidian Parties, DMK and AIADMK. There are several political parties in Tamil Nadu who have the word Dravidian in their names. The word is a kind of assurance to the people that the said parties are 'us' , not 'them'.

Most of the Indians drink tea. The favourite beverage of the people of Tamil Nadu is Coffee. North Indian food has wheat-made Chappatti as the main item. The Tamil Food abhors wheat and opts for rice. In classical music, the Northern states enjoy Hindustani Music. The Tamils are mesmerised by Carnatic Music. The northerners wear Kurta and Salwar Kameez. The Tamils wear Dhoti and Saree. The difference spills over into religion as well. Among the various Hindu Gods, Ram and Krishna are the deities the Northerners worship most. Though Hindus constitute a majority in Tamil Nadu too, the predominant preference in Tamil Nadu is to worship Subrahmanya whose name has been suitably tamilized as Murugan. By the way, the puzzle is that Lord Subrahmanya is a bachelor God whereas Lord Murugan( the Tamils' Subrahmanya) is a married God.

Though the differences are very apparent, Tamil Nadu is as solidly Indian as any of the other states. Tamil Nadu has contributed great politicians and statesmen to the national leadership( C.Rajagopalachari, K. Kamaraj, C.Subramaniam, to name a few). Bollywood has had several Tamil-speaking stars dominating it (Vyjayantimala, Hemamalini, Rekha). Several people from Tamil Nadu have happily migrated to other Indian states for professional reasons and find themselves at home. Several important ministers in the Indian Government and several highly-placed civil servants in New Delhi belong to Tamil Nadu. So, the sub-nationalism or the Quebecian flavour has not , in practice , resulted in any alienation. It has only served as a safety valve to let off steam in certain circumstances that are peculiar to any heterogeneous country like India. While Quebec has been recognised as a distinct society within the united Canada, Tamil Nadu's aspirations do not travel beyond demanding recognition of Tamil language as a Classical Language by the Indian Government . The political parties which had earlier demanded autonomy are happily a part and parcel of the Indian Government in New Delhi. Their demand is not autonomy for the state of Tamil Nadu any more. All they want is more ministries for their elected representatives. The people of Tamil Nadu , in any case, have never been enthusiastic about autonomy espoused by these political parties. They are happy just celebrating their distinct cultural identity , while being equally happy within the political identity of India. A lot like Bavarians in Germany.

No comments: