DISGRACE: Kannada in ICU? You tell me.

ALFRED SATISH JONES writes from Washington D.C.: As far as I can tell, there are two types of Kannadigas in the world. (a) The type that lives somewhere in Karnataka, and (b) the type that doesn’t.

I belong to (b) and I’m here to tell you, from where I stand, that Kannada, as a living language, is in the ICU and the prognosis isn’t good.

Here’s what I mean: A few months after becoming a father, brimming with ummassu, I had my parents (who, incidentally, are type (a) Kannadigas) send me all the children’s books, tapes, CDs, DVDs/VCDs they could get their hands on.

My vision was: I’m sitting on our sofa. My obedient son is by my side paying close and rapt attention. He looks clean and smells of coconut oil and Pond’s Lavender talcum powder (or Cuticura for you old fashioned types). And each time I open my mouth, a pearl of Kannada falls out. My son’s face fills with joy and delight. He looks up and says, “Appa innu beku, innu beku!

Each new day, I pick a new book from my Kannada pile and dole out another generous helping from the glorious and rich heritage of Kannadaness he is lucky to be born into. And at the end of it all, there’s my son, cavorting through life switching effortlessly between Kannada, Hindi/Punjabi (thanks to my wife) and English.

The only part of this fantasy that actually happened was: I’m sitting on our sofa.

The rest of the fantasy was just that, a fantasy.

To wit, the package I got from my parents had two books, with the standard fare of a-aa-i-ee etc and a couple of CDs.

Concerned, I called my parents. My father told me he’d searched high and low. And had eventually located just the ones he’d sent. All he got at every bookstore (in Mysore) he’d been to was a rueful shake of the head and the standard, “Illaa saar. Makkalge ondherad booksive ashtay.”

I wasn’t disheartened. Until I saw the pile of Hindi children’s books my wife had accumulated. They were beautifully illustrated with strong lines and bold primary colours. Large and lovely typefaces and fonts. With characters and stories collected from all over the country—including, ironically, a few from Karnataka!

Never to give up hope, I plunged ahead with the first of the two a-aa-i-ee books my parents had sent. “a inda amma” I started off. “aa inda aalaa, i inda ili, ee inda eeju..” and on I went. We landed on ja (the small ja, not the big jha).

ja inda jalajaa” I read out, now cruising in 4th gear. A moment of doubt ensued. A few more moments piled on. What the hell was a jalajaa? I swear I’d never used the word in my life. I cleared my throat. My son looked up quizzically. I looked a little closer at the book and rediscovered my faith in God. There were pictures next to each alphabet! “Jalajaa andhre lotus magane” I announced triumphantly. Phew, that was close.

It was big jha’s turn now. “jha inda jhari”. Déjà vu, all over again. What in god’s name was a jhari and which bloody idiot wrote this crap! The picture wasn’t much help i.e. some very brown rocks-cum-boulders with an impossibly blue stream of water bisecting said rocks/boulders and descending into a limpid pool. I rolled the dice. “jhari andre waterfall magane.

My wife, at this point, had pulled up the day’s copy of The Washington Post, so it covered her face. But her shaking shoulders betrayed her true sentiments.

We landed on ai. “ai inda aindrajaalika” Oh, come on! This just wasn’t fair. Which Kannada parent would subject their little one to this sort of cruelty? The picture for ai showed an impossibly pinkfaced man, with Raj Kumar-style moustache, jet black. And a turban made of zari with a feather in front held up by a broach.

You tell me, what was I supposed to do with this aindraajaalika? Apart from rearranging his mukha (dhishum!) and wiping that smirk off his face.

And it went on and on. “ru inda rushi”. Huh? Or as another book had it, “ru inda rutugalu (planets).” Hullooo?

kha inda khadgaa” (picture of evil looking dagger).“tha inda thassay” (picture of rubber stamp). Help!

I began to wonder. Doesn’t Kannada have better words for its children far from home? Better books?

My wife had ordered a DVD called Baby Hindustani online. The producers of this DVD had a Baby Hindustani in Hindi. In Tamil. In Telugu. In Gujarati. But no Kannada!

I called them to find out why. And was told, in no uncertain terms, “There is no demand for Kannada, Sir. In fact, you are the first person calling us about this.”

No demand for Kannada eh. Why was I the first person calling the Baby Hindustani folks about this? There are tens of thousands (if not more) of Kannada families here in the US. Why hadn’t any one of them called? You tell me.

ps: In my desperate search for children’s books in Kannada, I have found a publisher that has done a magnificent job of producing Indian books with Indian themes and characters for Indian kids. Check out http://www.tulikabooks.com. My heartfelt gratitude to them.