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04.07.2016

Over fifteen years ago, on a short-term posting, software engineer Hemant Ojha alighted a train at the Bangalore City Railway Station. He walked into a nearby darshini to grab a quick snack and ended up getting much more than he had ordered. “I was immediately mesmerised by the male singing voice coming from the television, and it made me want to learn the language he was singing in: Kannada”. That song was Cheluveye Ninna Nodalu from the 1982 film Hosa Belaku starring Dr Rajkumar.

Over the years, Hemant taught himself to sing most of this cinestar’s songs, as well as the Kannada script by mining numerous resources in his friends’ circle and online. “But I still couldn’t find anyone to give me a grounding in the colloquial aspects and conversational basics of the language until I heard about these WhatsApp classes held by Kannada Gottilla,” he says. Hemant has been a student with this forum for more than a year, and can finally communicate his basic needs and opinions in the local language and has even started subscribing to a Kannada daily.

What’s to lose? Nothing. What’s to gain? Maybe ten bucks off your next auto ride, an extra steamy idli or even a friendly cop to drink tea with during your next driving offense. 

Mother (Tongue), May I?

Anup Maiya is the founder of Kannada Gotilla, who was also motivated by a similar vision in November 2014: “to teach Kannada to non-Kannadigas and make their life easy in Karnataka”. He began recording voice samples of simple sentences and sending them over WhatsApp to ten students in 2015, and over a year, he saw a dramatic spike leading to more than 2,500 registered users on the platform. “We’ve even begun to offer classes over Facebook, Skype and Twitter.”

At these sessions, Anup and team make use of motifs from popular culture and also layer sentences over drum beats to allow students to grasp the rhythm of spoken words. Last year, when Kannada Gotilla attempted to hold a live language session, the first one at a McDonald’s outlet in BTM Layout, it was attended by ten people of which five were Anup’s cousins. “The next attempt saw thirty people in attendance, but on re-starting the classes in February this year, attendance rose to over a 100 people in each class!”

But why the sudden interest in learning the local language? Anup attempts to explain. “Newcomers to this city were either here for college or a job, usually a stop-gap; but Bangalore has steadily become a viable place to stay put. This has prompted people to seek ways to immerse and involve themselves in the everyday-ness of Bangalore and being able to communicate is key,” he says.

Which leads us to Radhika Timbadia, a doctoral student studying snow leopards, who has made up her mind to live in Bangalore with her partner. “Recently, I wanted to be involved in solving the insurmountable garbage situation across the city, and I’ve found that knowing the language is the only way to be part of the community and seek solutions.”

Reason and Rhyme

As we dig deeper, we find that it isn’t just the changing “guest” to “resident” status that’s the cause for this increasing demand. Kannada indie filmmaker Suneel Raghavendra believes that the language’s new-found popularity isn’t simply “outsider interest” but also “local pride”, which is pushing native speakers to spread the word. “For so long, the Kannada language chauvinists have been the only ones “defending” the language, but it looks like the moderates also want to say their piece. They’ve understood and capitalised on the fact that technology can be used as the new channel for broadcasting and teaching,” he explains.

Mamta Sagar, a poet, translator and comparative literature scholar at the Kannada Department in the Bangalore University explains it as “Kannadigas claiming the world as well as opening themselves up to it”. She recalls that more than a decade ago, “reading Kannada at university meant that one was a simpleton and that assumption is quickly changing”, with students now looking for a mix of local and global role models.

For the past two years, Mamta diligently turned Kavya Sanje, a monthly evening of Kannada poetry, into a site for such cross-pollination. “While we started exclusively with Kannada poems, presently the evenings are a curated mix of local poems and English translations pinned around a single theme.”

Their last one was a recital held in association with the Autodrivers’ Union and was on travel poems from the city as well as those that transported them to Cuba and Spain. The demographic of the audience and the texture of the post-reading conversations are changing too, we’re told. “Because people attending the events are now from different parts of the city and walks of life, not just the “vernacular literature type”, it’s also acting like a window into culture, food and a forum to openly ask questions and dialogue.”

Even teachers at Kannada Gotilla, like Niveditha BS (also a software engineer) feels that students initially learn the language to “just communicate”, but soon start to appreciate its nuances, eventually wanting to be part of the local culture.”

Dummies in Bangalore, we think you should get in on this Kannada learning action. What’s to lose? Nothing. What’s to gain? Maybe ten bucks off your next auto ride, an extra steamy idli or even a friendly cop to drink tea with during your next driving offense. 

If you need help on how to get started, see below our resource list.

Directory:

Kannada Gottilla holds live classes at Rangoli Metro Arts Centre at the MG Road Metro Station on the first Sunday of every month at 4.30 pm. The next class is on August 6.

Kavya Sanje happens on a monthly basis at different venues across the city, write to mamtasagar@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list.

Kelu App and Kannada Baruthe are good apps to learn the language. 

Godi Banna Sadharana MykattuKarvaPuta Tirugisi NodiThithiU-Turn are five recommended recently-released, experimental Kannada movies to watch.

Image Courtesy: Typerventions, a typeface picnic organised by Pooja Saxena, a typeface and graphic designer.

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