The Linguists

madras

In 1971, after the anti-Hindi agitation that raged through Tamil Nadu, I joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar in the state then known as Madras.   The school almost resembled any British Military School as all the military words of command were in English like “Attention” and “Stand-at-Ease”. There I started to learn Tamil and also English.

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world and the script has only 18 consonants unlike Devnagari script which has about 37 consonants. When Devnagari script has क, ख, ग, घ (ka, kha, ga, gha), Tamil has only க (ka) and similarly for the other corresponding consonants. All the other South Indian languages namely Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu follow their own script similar to the Devnagari script. Further these three languages unlike Tamil, have a lot of Sanskrit vocabulary. Hence learning of Hindi or any Devnagari script based language becomes difficult for a Tamil in comparison to the people from the other states.

After the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, the Official Languages Act was amended in 1967 by the Indian Government to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current bilingualism and use of English in education in India. This bilingualism has helped the Indians to a great extent in ensuring acceptance all over the world.

Hindi as a national language was not accepted all over India due to the implementation issues. The Hindi “Pundits” coined many a difficult terms to replace commonly used English terms. Many of the terms coined were not even accepted by the Hindi speaking population. Lot of money and efforts were pumped in by the government for the enhanced use of Hindi as an official language, but it never had any results other than a few Members of Parliament making a foreign sojourn to study the use of Hindi in some country or the other and the practise still continues.

To further make the matter worse, all forms were printed in both Hindi and English and so also all the government publications. This resulted in higher production costs without serving any purpose. While serving in the Indian Army, I recommended all my subordinates to read and understand the pamphlet ‘Glossary of Military Terms’. The pamphlet was printed in Hindi on the left page and English on the right. I also used to advise them to read the Hindi side whenever they got bored – the Hindi equivalents were hilarious and many a times grossly incorrect.

In the school the English department was headed by Mr KG Warrier and the Tamil department by Mr M Selvaraj. Both of them were strong linguists and always ensured that they spoke the language with purity in that when they spoke, they always used only one language. Both had excellent communication skills and were near perfect in their pronunciations. Both of them never taught me at school, but I had extensively interacted with them during various extra-curricular activities.

KGW

(Mr KG Warrier with our Class-mate AP Sunil Kumar at Kottakkal.  The photo is of 2013 when Mr Warrier turned 90)

Mr KG Warrier hails from the family of world renowned Ayurveda Physicians of Kottakkal in Kerala. He is currently enjoying his retired life at Kottakkal. He is staying with his daughter, Rathi. The Warrier community connected to the Vaidya Sala stay at ‘Kailasa Mandiram’ in the Vaidya Sala premises at Kottakkal, Malappuram District, Kerala.

His specialty was that he would dress up in his starched and pressed cotton pants and shirt, wear a felt hat and hold a pipe in his hands. I was always intrigued as to how he managed to maintain the crease of his pants perfect even at the end of the day.

A few days before leaving the school to join the National Defence Academy I met Mr KG Warrier and he asked me in Tamil as to when I was joining the academy and how the preparations were progressing. My answer was in the usual ‘mixed language’ of Tamil, Malyalam and English. To this he said “உனக்கு தமிழும் தெரியாது, மலையாளவும் தெரியாது, ஆங்கிலவும் தெரியாது. உனக்கு என்ன தெரியும்? (You do not know Tamil or Malayalam or English. What do you know?)”.

I still recollect a few words of advice Mr KG Warrier had given us.  He said that everyone should always carry and use three books – a dictionary, an atlas and a Wren & Martin Grammar book.  At the beginning of each year at the school, these were the first set of three books we were issued with.  Later on during my army service I did carry these three books.  Nowadays with the power of the internet with browsing tools like the Google, most information is at one’s fingertips and these three books have become almost extinct.

Mr M Selvaraj was well known for his voice and his oratory skills which were showcased during all the cultural programmes at the school. His orations in both Tamil and English would be well remembered by all his students. I was very curious as to how he managed to handle the two languages independently and so effectively. During my final year in school, I did manage to summon the courage and asked Mr M Selvaraj about the secret.

Mr M Selvaraj said that when he joined the school he had very little grasp of English having done his Masters degree in Tamil. Major MMR Menon, then Headmaster of the school had advised him that to be a successful teacher in a school like this, mastery over English would go a long way. So with reluctance he approached Mr KG Warrier, but was surprised when Mr KG Warrier accepted to be his Guru and thus he started to learn English. He ended the chat by saying “the English I speak is all what Mr KG Warrier and Ms Sheela Cherian had taught me like any student who graduated under these great teachers.”

Mr M Selvaraj left our school in 1987 to be the first Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Mahe. After establishing the school, he moved as the Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya at Pondichery and now leads a retired life in Trichy.

After leaving the school, I always tried to complete a sentence in one language and many a times I did fail. After joining the army, I picked up Hindi. Luckily for me, I served mostly with the Brahmin soldiers from North India and that helped me improve my Hindi to a great extent. Now with Hindi also joining the bandwagon of languages in my mind, maintaining purity of language became near impossible.

Hats-off to all those Tamil news readers in any television channels, they speak pure Tamil only and would use another language vocabulary only in case it is unavoidable.

madras1

8 thoughts on “The Linguists

  1. Speaking in one language without mixing it with another is a big achievement for most of us. South Indian languages except Tamil have Devanagari consonants but not the Devanagiri script. I enjoyed reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Unfortunately we dont have any respect for Malayalam & Most of the Gulf NRI the parents take pride in saying their kids dont know Malayalam. They proudly talk “I come u go” English with out any shame. Knowing more language is really a great achievement.

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  3. Both Mr Warrier and Selavraj ayya were absolutely great teachers. Mr. Warrier was the one who made me take to English. Selvaraj was a great actor. Our school staged the play ” Gnana oli” which later came as a movie. Selavraj sir donned the role of the hero which was played by the veteran thespian Sivaji in the movie. Selvaraj acting were no less than that of Sivaji

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  4. Another good article Reji. Didn’t know Mr. Selvaraj’s English was polished by Mr. Warrier and Mrs. Sheela Cherian. I wasn’t lucky to have been taught by these two gentlemen, who at that time were teaching at the junior classes. However, I had interacted with them through extra-curricular activities and have the deepest respect for them.

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  5. Great Regi… Thanks for enlightening us about the English Guru of Mr.Selvaraj. Mr Warrior and Mr Selvaraj deserve to be saluted…Regards to both of them. Regi well narrated…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am reminded of my father, after reading K Reji’s article on Mr. KG Warrier. My father used to say “Your written and verbal expression has to be good. Otherwise, how will you convey what is in your mind?” He also used to insist on purity of language and was opposed to mixing English words while speaking in an Indian language, a common practice in India. He would say that by interspersing English words in an Indian language sentence, the speaker wanted to intimidate or show off to the audience, whereas he was displaying his own inadequacy in the language.
    Many Indian parents pay more attention to science subjects and less attention to languages because science subjects can increase the overall percentage of marks of a student. The student, later on, becomes an employee, entrepreneur or self-employed and realizes that language skills, interpersonal skills etc. are more important than technical skills for success in the work place.
    It is good to have teachers like Mr KG Warrier, in the formative years so that one learns the importance of a language in one’s life.
    (NB. I am not a product of Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, and know these teachers through K Reji’s writings only.)

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