The Languages of a Union
Aijaz Ahmad, Inaugural Lecture
Samanvay- the Indian Languages Festival began yesterday at the India Habitat Centre amidst great enthusiasm. This is the 5th edition of the festival and it takes place from the 26th to 29th of November. The theme of the festival for 2015 is ‘Insider/ Outsider: Writing India’s Dreams and Realities’.
The multi- centred framework of Indian culture is reflected in the depository of symbols that Samanvay explores: the 8 rivers across the geography of India- Sabarmati, Alaknanda, Mahanadi, Amaravati, Narmada, Vaigai, Ajay and Yamuna.
The opening ceremony of the festival began with the lighting of lamps at the Amphitheatre. Then, Rizio Yohannan Raj welcomed the audience to Samanvay and introduced them to what it is about to offer them this year.
Raj told the audience that Samanvay is not only about literature; rather, it also encompasses language which is beyond verbal, such as music and visual arts. This trans- national matrix of performance is the gift that Samanvay brings for the audience this year. She said that hope and resistance need to be registered creatively. Hir is the mascot of Samanvay which guides us to the non- violent way of co- existence, in a manner similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi. She then introduced the audience to the eminent thinker and theorist of India, Professor Aijaz Ahmad.
Thereafter, Professor Ahmad began with the inaugural lecture of the festival on the subject: ‘The Languages of a Union’. In the lecture, Professor Ahmad expressed his thoughts about what constitutes Indian literature and how it can be studied pedagogically.
Professor Ahmad recounted that the independence of India brought with it happiness, but a murderous communal frenzy accompanied it. Therefore, the makers of this country insisted on making it a secular nation.
India is not a nation- state in the European sense of its meaning. India is a Union, despite its lack of linguistic unity. Many states of India have been structured along linguistic lines, the poetic manifestation of which finds expression in its many literatures.
Professor Ahmad said that the production of art has a propensity to escape the situation of its physicality. It has its ‘’utopian surplus’’; it has its longing for transcendentalism. It is, in a way, a negation of present- ‘’what exists cannot be true’’.
Touching upon the theme of the festival ‘Insider/ Outsider’, Professor Ahmad remarked that authentic creativity has its liminality. The artist tries to transform the trans-nationality of the subjectivity into objectivity situated in historicity. But objective reality is the accumulated result of the past. No one can be for or against this historical necessity; one needs to negotiate his way through it. The definition of the insider and outsider around the artistic world saturates the artist.
If there is diversity, there are insiders and outsiders. Diversity is not only an abundance but a responsibility. If there is an attempt to replace diversity with homogeneity, it is not homogeneity but barbarism which is being triumphed.
India has its points of friction, given its diversity. That is why, secularism and scientific temper have been cited as the paragons of Indian democracy. But some forces always try to take advantage of these points of friction due to their vested interests.
Professor Ahmad drew examples from past and present when artists faced opposition from people with such divisive agenda. M. F. Hussain was driven to exile. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. M. Kalburgi were murdered in the past few months. Professor Romila Thapar had to deliver a lecture under police security in Mumbai, which claims to be a cosmopolitan city. Raghuram Rajan, the RBI governor, N. R. Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, actor Aamir Khan, music genius A. R. Rehman and noted scientists have also expressed their fears. Professor Ahmad however claimed that it was not his intention to delve into political reasons.
Professor Ahmad again talked about the Insider/ Outsider crisis faced by the artists. M. F. Hussain and S. H. Raza drew artworks, taking inspiration from the Indian aesthetics. But soon, they realised that what was Indian had suddenly become a part of syndicated Hinduism. Of course, Muslim artists were free to draw from what was available to them, but an approval from such authoritative forces became necessary.
Professor Ahmad then traversed though the definition of Indian literature. He stated his stand against a monolithic Indian literature. Indian literature, according to him, is a compendium of autonomous literatures. These literatures are locally situated in their respective regions. Calling literature of India trans-national would be a bit of a stretch. The transnationality of Indian literature is a desire to think of an imaginative link. India is a bundle which cannot be expressed as 1, as in mathematics. One narrative is not enough to express the story of India.
In the USA, migrants from all across the globe come together who speak around 200 languages. But they are expected to forget their languages in a generation or two and accept the linguistic dictatorship of English. In France, the standardised linguistic unity has been achieved by suppressing local dialects and regional oral expressions.
India, however has regional centres for arts and culture- from the classical to the folk- since its beginning, but the pedagogical causes have always suffered because of the lack of funds.
The proper way to approach Indian literature is by studying comparative analysis. But again, what tends to happen in this process is that Sanskrit becomes the standard model- language against which other languages are compared- Professor Ahmad warns against such academic trend.
In the end comes the Question of Power which is not only related to caste, gender, nationality etc., but to aesthetic canvas as well. Power and powerlessness are tied not only to their demographic space but to the speakers of languages also. The Hindi/ Urdu complex (a term coined by Professor Ahmad because he can’t draw the line between Hindi and Urdu) speakers certainly wield less power than English speakers.
The multiplicity of languages is a headache for the state machinery because they need to register accounts and data. But for people celebrating culture, the multiplicity of languages is a factor to rejoice, reminded Professor Ahmad.
Professor Ahmad also praised the Samanvay festival. He said that most literary festivals are literary horse-trading. Samanvay, on the other hand, has events like volunteer workshops, children’s books etc. which deserves utmost attention.