Recently the Union Government has conceded classical status to Malayalam. Malayalam is indeed a great language, no doubt.
But one question bothered me quite a bit… Which language is not…?
I checked the definition of `Classic’ and the consensus seems to be “Belonging to the highest rank or class, having lasting significance or worth”. By that standard, almost every language irrespective of the popularity of its following or the number that use or speak it can be safely regarded as classical because language in essence is nothing but a certain ethnic culture in an aural capsule.
While I was ruminating such abstract arguments, serendipity led me to this wonderful critique on the subject by Sunil Menon of Outlook. There were these lines that I read, re-read and marveled at –
“Why should the law consecrate unequal status anyway..? Script is an accident of history, a technological artefact; writing a special subset, not the source code. (Tulu and Malayalam once partook of the same script before one lapsed back into ‘nature’ and the other fashioned itself as an epitome of literacy.) On what grounds do you keep out script-less languages that possess a rich lode of, say, epic poetry from the roll of honor—besides saying you are blinded by the cult of the book..? This is the nub of it. Our attitudes to literacy show this. Ever wondered why literacy is always a “mission”, bringing “enlightenment”? We have uncritically adopted the metaphors of colonial-era evangelists, so that modern literacy is built on a grain on inverted self-loathing that transmits not just knowledge but self-loathing itself. That’s why education now equals de-racination; it distances its victim from traditional cultures. This breeds an anxiety that finds solace only in chauvinistic affirmations, or tokenisms like the status of a language. It’s this whole complex loop of attitudes that comes to roost here.”
That’s quite some thunder. Hope it triggers some serious re-think in the corridors that matter.