Week 8: A Quaint Evening

I had another rather quiet weekend this week, with little fanfare and traveling. I did venture out to Fuzhou Lu to check out the stationery stores, where I got some colored brush pens. Unfortunately, the street isn’t much to look at, but the Foreign Language Bookstore is there, and it boasts the widest variety of books in Shanghai that are written in English and other languages.

I spend a lot of my time in the evenings doing calligraphy, which you may have seen on my Instagram. My calligraphy is almost always in Kannada, which is my mother tongue. I was inspired by the beauty and tradition of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy, wanting to create a new kind of art that younger Kannadigas can appreciate. A lot of the art that younger Indians consume is less textual, not always physical, and very aesthetically oriented. More traditional forms of art, like classical music and dance, are less interesting to younger Indians, simply because of a strong fascination with Western culture. I grew up in the West, and I have opposite sentiments, being rather tired of the stuff I saw in the States.

Calligraphy is a blend between the semantic qualities of language, and aesthetic qualities of art, and that’s what I love about it.

“Ameshi – Asian American” – An original coinage of mine

Chinese calligraphy (in my experience) is often about a precision that demonstrates respect for the written word, and only once you’ve mastered that do you have the creative license to innovate in writing. Arabic calligraphy is similar, and it’s often said that a student spends years learning to prepare the paper before they even learn to use the pen. Arabic calligraphy, as artwork, is a work of devotion and encourages the beholder to appreciate the semantic meaning of the writing.

These traditions are about a conscious and active appreciation of language, art, and culture. There is purposeful selection of content, skillful application of artistic skill, and an expression of cultural appreciation. I can only hope that my calligraphy will get somewhere to that level.

“Harihara” – The composite form of Shiva and Vishnu

I really want other Kannadigas to appreciate the language in a special way, one that really inspires a love for who we are and where we come from. I feel that the spread of English and Hindi makes it really easy for people of all regional backgrounds to discard their identities in favor of something expedient.

It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place, because on one hand, using English or Hindi makes it easier to do business and get ahead in society, but when you have all the money and material things that you need, you don’t have much of a personal identity anymore. You end up spending so much time using another language for finite ends, you lose the ability to appreciate something that really lasts.

“Sankata” – The pain of separation, grief from parting, and the sorrow of nostalgia. 

The dissolution of all these identities into the whole, in my humble opinion, is not a good thing. It’s not only easy to gloss over people’s issues this way, but it also dashes an opportunity to understand more visions of the human experience.

The only ways to really keep our languages alive is by using them in art and in our media. I know that my Kannada is not absolutely perfect, but it would make it so much easier to reconnect with my culture if I knew that there was niche culture scene where it was the predominant medium of expression. There are languages that are close to dying out (and Kannada isn’t even one of them), and I can only imagine how some young people in those communities feel. The helplessness of watching your culture die before you is horrible. To have someone else essentially tell you “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” when it comes to resisting a dominant prestige culture is even worse. Hindi is not the only language of India, and English is not the only language of the world. I won’t let my language, my history, or my people be erased, if I can help it.

A Duolingo Course in the Works

Sorry for not having posted in so long! I’ve been very busy with studying and schoolwork in general, so I haven’t been the blog as much as I should. As I mentioned in a previous post, I thought it would be a great idea to create a Duolingo Course for minority languages. As it happens, for the past two months, I’ve been writing a Kannada Duolingo course curriculum, and I recently finished the first draft of it. Hopefully, the beta will be up sometime this year, assuming we can get clearance to actually start the course.

For those of you who do not know, Kannada is a South Indian Dravidian language, related to Telugu, Malayalam, and Tamil. It is spoken in the state of Karnataka, India as an official language alongside Hindi and English. The primary focus of this course is not for Indians living in India, but rather expatriate families living abroad. When I was growing up, there were very few opportunities to learn my mother tongue aside from my parents. Many parents wish to impart their mother tongue to their children that grow up in the United States, and try to send them to classes that will help them learn. However, sometimes, the only classes available are non-secular (as was the case in my area), to which some Indian parents would rather not send their children. My effort to create a Kannada Duolingo course is to provide a secular alternative to provide Kannada language education to Kannadiga Americans as well as other Kannadigas born outside of India.

I can’t exactly reveal all the details, but I would greatly appreciate it if you can share this post so that it reaches a lot of people, including interested contributors to the course! If you want to contribute to the Kannada Duolingo course, apply to be a moderator at https://incubator.duolingo.com/, by clicking “Contribute to a Course”. This way, we can speed along this project. It is unfortunate that the staff of Duolingo have actually stated: “the reason [they] don’t teach a lot of Asian languages is we are now sticking to languages that don’t require explaining a whole new alphabet”, said Gina Gotthilf. Also, “The choice of languages being added to the incubator depends on a lot of factors including Duolingo’s internal knowledge of them”according to the Duolingo wiki. I can assume that Kannada will be more easily done, since Hindi is already in the incubator, and they are teaching the alphabet. I highly encourage the Kannada Kootas of the United States to come together and increase demand for the creation of a course for our mother tongue. I’m currently in New York City, but my home is in the Bay Area of California, so if any of the Kootas are interested in contacting me, I’ll be in one of those two areas. To contact me, you can use the “Contact Me” tab at the top of the page.

I will be trying to write more posts soon, so please keep reading! Don’t forget to share this post wherever you can!