“Kos kos par badle paani, char kos par vaani”, a famous Hindi saying that has been used for decades to describe the high linguistic diversity in India, the world’s most diverse country. It roughly translates to, “Every 3 km (approximately 1 ‘kos’), the taste of water changes, every 12 km, the language”.

The recently concluded “People’s Linguistic Survey of India”, the largest exercise of its kind in the world, found that there are anywhere between 780 to 820 living languages in the country, not including dialects, that makes India the biggest and most diverse language bazaar of the world. The languages could be classical, liturgical, creoles, tribal or non-tribal, ancient or modern, standardised and literary or oral and non-documented, dominant or minority, regional or official. They mostly belong to one of the 4 major language groups – Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman. The third and fourth groups have very few speakers compared to the first two but are the native tongues of the indigenous populations (the Adivasis/Tribals). Austro-Asiatic languages like Santhali, Munda and Khasi have more similarity with Vietnamese and Cambodian (Khmer) than with other Indian languages. A wealth of history regarding the migration of human population during ancient times is found by studying these linguistic roots.

Despite this rich diversity, it is unfortunate that more and more youngsters in India are becoming monolingual today in English. I would go as far as to say that they are not really becoming ‘mono-lingual’ but rather ‘semi-lingual’ – where they are brought up being exposed to mixtures like ‘Hinglish’ which results in many of them not gaining absolute fluency in either one of the constituent languages.

But it is the Catholics of  Mumbai, especially the Goans, East Indians and Mangaloreans residing in and around Bandra, despite having resided here for generations, who manage to get themselves ridiculed, time and again, when they attempt to speak in an Indian language like Marathi or Hindi which they have supposedly learnt throughout their school life. It amazes me that many Catholic families of Bandra live in their own “English-only speaking world” and show disdain and utter contempt to Indian languages and content generated in it; waiting breathlessly for their ward to complete class 10 so as to “escape” the “burden” of Marathi and Hindi that is replaced by the completely alien French in college which is of no practical use in this part of the world – but which they are seemingly “more comfortable” with. Many opt for the ICSE, CBSE or IGCSE boards so that one of these two “burdensome” languages is altogether avoided.

We must be one of the only communities who steadfastly (and proudly) refuse to learn to speak the official languages of the state & country fluently and never use them willingly in our daily life. Many consider it below their “status” to do so – reserving its broken usage to house maids and drivers. There is indeed something very wrong with the “Anglicised” Catholics of Mumbai in this regard, who in my opinion, have developed a (false) sense of superiority (which they take pride in)  because of the “Western tastes” of language, food, dress, dance and music that they have acquired and simultaneously the disdain for things “Indian” that they have internalised. While the reason could be traced to the brutality and intolerance of the Portuguese and their Inquisition in Goa, these events that took place half a millennium ago cannot be an excuse for our community to not make serious efforts to integrate itself into the ‘larger Indian cultural mainstream’ while maintaining its own identity. The irony is that many Catholics believe that the migrants/refugees flocking to Europe blatantly refuse to assimilate while not realising that they have largely done the same. Being viewed as “foreign” and “Maculayputras” in one’s own motherland is not something to be proud of!

The component of ‘language’ in ‘culture’ is the most. When one loses one’s language, one loses a large part of one’s culture. Sadly I’m beginning to believe that many Catholics of Mumbai barely view things that are considered largely “Indian” (like Indian languages which are their actual mother-tongues) as theirs to be protected and promoted so as to care for their loss in their lives.

Binoy Lobo