The Telugu World column# 15
Telugu people, migrating to many parts of the world, took their culture and folk songs with them. There are thousands settled in other linguistic states. In the last century many settled down in Burma (now Myanmar) whose capital, Rangoon, was called ‘Rangam’. Telugu folk songs mention ‘running away to Rangam’. Telugu has assimilated the idiom and languages of many states. Samuel,a Christian name, becomes ‘Samavelu’ in folk songs. Telangana Telugu has many Marathi words like ‘nako’ (don’t) and is very much influenced by Urdu as it was a part of the Nizam state which also had Kannada and Marathi areas. English has become the world’s language as it is vibrant and assimilated words from most languages in the world (including Telugu — ‘pooh-pooh’ from ‘po po’ or ‘bandicoot’ from ‘pandikiokku’). Telugu too has been a vibrant language and culture enriched by its contact with others.
Vibrancy means growth and eternal vitality. Stagnancy means rotting and death. That, perhaps, explains the confidence said to have been expressed by former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao at a meeting of Telugu writers in Hyderabad when a participant said it was facing extinction as many Telugu people who speak but cannot read or write. PV, a master of many languages, reportedly said Telugu was capable of surviving.
It was PV again who showed me a language can have several dialects and still be one. Once, when he was Andhra Pradesh CM, I was sitting with him along with another Telugu journalist of Delhi at the Andhra Bhavan when his son and daughter-in-law (or daughter and son-in-law) came back from the airport as their flight was cancelled. He talked to them for a minute before they went to their room. I asked him what language he spoke in, as I could not understand it. He said he spoke in Telangana Telugu. He had translated Gnanpeeth awardee Visvanatha Satyanarayana into Hindi and ran an excellent Telugu magazine from his native Warangal, called ‘Kakateeya Patrika’ for which he used to get top-class articles from all over the world. And yet he could speak Telangana Telugu.
It is wrong to decry Telangana Telugu as distorted or corrupted. It is a Telugu dialect. Most languages have different regional versions. Pune people are proud of their chaste Marathi as against that of Vidarbha or Goa. Gujarati in Rajkot of Saurashtra may be chaste and literary and that of Surat rough and harsh. Mumbai Gujarati may be more commercial while that in Baroda, ruled by Marathi kings, influenced by Marathi. The Kannada spoken in Gulbarga or Bidar could be looked down upon by the people of Bangalore or Mysore. None of the dialects should be derided or considered corrupted or faulty. It is this attitude of Andhra people, especially of the Krishna-Godavari belt (besides the charge of their exploiting and dominating the people of Telangana), that ended in bifurcating AP, India’s first linguistic state. Similarly Vidarbha people feel Western Maharashtra is dominant and exploitative. Regional imbalances exist in every states and though linguistic reorganization has taken place, dialect or accent has become a major issue
The discord between languages has been a factor adversely affecting India’s progress. Bernard Shaw once described England and America (USA) as two great nations separated by the same language. Though both speak English, the accent and usages are different, as are those of Australia, another English country. In the USA too state accents differ. Expert can tell from which state one came from. ‘The Tattered Dress’, a Jeff Chandler film of the 1960s, shows an out-of-state lawyer arguing in a court and all, including the jury, biased against him. In ‘My Fair Lady’, the Hollywood version on Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, Prof. Henry Higgins was a snobbish phonetics expert who says he could tell from the accent which part of England the speaker came from as accent varied every 50 miles in that country.
Yet we spread mutual hatred among the Telugu people saying one Telugu accent is pure and the other impure. There can be more than one Telugu state. Bihar, Haryana, Uttarakhand, UP, Chattisgarh and MP, all are Hindi states (though their dialects differ more than the two Telugus). And there are more Hindi dialects like Bhojpuri, Magdhi, Bundelkhandi and Malvi without any states.
When so many dialects can be one Hindi, why not two dialects be both Telugu?