Maharashtrian Ethos — Pathos?

While every­one is writ­ing about India’s first female pres­i­dent, let me take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to note anoth­er first for India’s pres­i­dent: that Mrs. Prat­i­b­ha Patil is a Maha­rash­tri­an.

Rajdeep Sarde­sai writes about the eupho­ria among the Maha­rash­tri­an com­mu­ni­ty on his IBN Live Blog.

pratibhapatilafp203 While I would dis­agree with him about this, he goes on to fur­ther explore Maharashtra’s role in Indi­an pol­i­tics, and more specif­i­cal­ly, how and why they’ve nev­er real­ly achieved a ‘nation­al leader’ sta­tus. On a psy­cho­log­i­cal lev­el:

Mr. Sharad Pawar, in a sense, exem­pli­fies the fail­ings of the con­tem­po­rary Maha­rash­tra polit­i­cal elite. If the Ben­gali left has been bur­dened with an innate supe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex (many of them still gen­uine­ly believe in the Gokhale dic­tum of a cen­tu­ry ago that what Ben­gal thinks today, India thinks tomor­row), the inward-look­ing atti­tude of the Maratha lead­er­ship has bred a cer­tain infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex, and made it dif­fi­cult for them to adjust to a wider, more com­plex world (which is why Mr. Pawar needs a Pra­ful Patel as his polit­i­cal brand man­ag­er).

Which brings me to Kumar Ketkar’s op-ed in the Indi­an Express. He opines that Mrs. Patil’s vic­to­ry is a non-event in Maha­rash­tra, and says:tendulkar203

The fact is that the aver­age Marathi per­son is far less eth­ni­cal­ly chau­vin­is­tic than he is made out to be by the Shiv Sena and the Eng­lish media. With mal­ice towards none, one can say that Maha­rash­tra does not have the eth­nic-cul­tur­al-lin­guis­tic pride which is so dom­i­nant in Ben­gali, Tamil, Tel­ugu or Pun­jabi soci­eties.

He describes the dif­fer­ent Maha­rash­tra regions hav­ing sep­a­rate iden­ti­ties, and there being no com­pre­hen­sive Marathi ethos.

 As an exper­i­ment, I tried think­ing of famous Indi­an per­son­al­i­ties and what my imme­di­ate thoughts about them were. If I had no spe­cif­ic thought for even a sec­ond, I moved to the next. It went some­thing like this (in no par­tic­u­lar order):Lata203

  • Man­mo­han Singh. Intel­lec­tu­al. Sikh.
  • Sachin Ten­dulkar. Great bats­man.
  • Saurav Gan­gu­ly. Great cap­tain. Ben­gali.
  • Amitabh Bac­chan. Super­star.
  • Satya­jit Ray. Great Ben­gali film­mak­er.
  • Amartya Sen. Great econ­o­mist.
  • Rajnikanth. Tamil Super­star.
  • Lata Mangeshkar. Great singer. Marathi.

Obvi­ous­ly, the results were mixed. Now, giv­en that artists (singers, film­mak­ers, actors) are inti­mate­ly involved with their lan­guage, it is not sur­pris­ing that their eth­nic­i­ty is close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with them. But sports­men, politi­cians, etc. are good can­di­dates for this test. I found that for me, the Marathi-ness of var­i­ous Maha­rash­tri­an celebri­ties is not a fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tic. Does this res­onate with Ketkar’s view and Rajdeep’s infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex the­o­ry? What do oth­er Maha­rash­tri­ans think? Are Maha­rash­tri­ans less proud of their language/culture/ethos than they should be or oth­er Indi­ans are?

How do oth­er Indi­ans relate to Maha­rash­tri­an celebri­ties? Does their being Maha­rash­tri­an strike you in a def­i­nite in-your-face kind of fact?

All Pho­tos Cred­it: BBC

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  • To be very hon­est (as usu­al, if I may say immod­est­ly), provin­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is some­thing I have nev­er felt. Ever. So I real­ly can’t relate to those who feel Marathi pride or Ben­gali chu­vin­ism, etc. In fact, I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly feel an Indi­an pride as to an indi­vid­ual (say Suni­ta Williams) being great. I would feel on top of the world if the whole coun­try does some­thing superla­tive, like say, make mon­ey, or stop spit­ting, or aban­don­ing the license Raj.

  • I can’t believe I am agree­ing with KuKe (he is a mess!). Strange­ly enough there was a time when Marathas ruled the whole coun­try. Yet, Maha­rash­tra itself is strewn with dif­fer­ences.
    In Mum­bai, its com­mon to see two Marathi guys com­mu­ni­cate in Hin­di. I can’t stand it. I’d give the lan­guage anoth­er 50 years. Then it might be de-list­ed as one of our nation­al lan­guages. Hon­est­ly, I have no clue why peo­ple take pride in not speak­ing Marathi.

  • I am proud of being a Maha­ras­tri­an which you all prob­a­bly know because of that north south post on my blog. 🙂
    I feel peo­ple should take pride in being Maharashtrian…but at the same time I don’t believe in hav­ing heroes who are maha­rash­tri­an only. I don’t much like Sachin or Lata mangeshkar! I like jhan­si ki rani. 🙂
    at the same time let me say I do not like maha­rash­tri­ans or in fact peo­ple from any region who are chau­vin­is­tic about their state. For exam­ple insist­ing on talk­ing their lan­guage with peo­ple from oth­er regions! with a maha­ras­tri­an I like to talk in marathi though and I like Priyank I get bugged if I see maha­rash­tri­an talk­ing to each oth­er in hin­di.
    I think we need to define what is being a proud maha­ras­tri­an. I am proud because of the cer­tain traits in our com­mu­ni­ty like sim­plic­i­ty, aus­ter­i­ty, lack of osten­ta­tion, hon­esty, straight­for­ward­ness, help­ful­ness, respect for women etc. I feel Maha­rash­tri­ans are strong in these traits…but ofcourse I am not say­ing oth­er com­mu­ni­ties do not have these traits or that all maha­rash­tri­ans have them. Speak­ing marathi is only one aspect of it, the least impor­tant actu­al­ly!

  • Ram­bodoc: I am almost as non-provin­cial as you, but not com­plete­ly. For e.g., I do feel a cer­tain pride when some­one Maha­rash­tri­an achieves some­thing, but it is no greater than the pride I feel as an Indi­an when a Ben­gali achieves some­thing. My emo­tion­al response when Ray received the Life­time Achieve­ment Oscar, for e.g., was far greater than any­thing I’ve ever felt for any Maha­rash­tri­an.

    Priyank/Nita: So, two Maha­rash­tri­ans more or less agree­ing that we should be more proud of it, mean­ing you tend to agree with Ketkar/Rajdeep. I like the dis­tinc­tion between pride and chau­vin­ism.

    Regard­ing two Marathi folks con­vers­ing in Eng­lish — to me it depends. I would exclude Mum­bai in this debate as a com­plete excep­tion. Oth­er than Mum­bai, this trend is not preva­lent any­where in Maha­rash­tra. On a per­son­al lev­el, for me it depends on the sit­u­a­tion. For e.g. I pre­fer Eng­lish in pro­fes­sion­al sit­u­a­tions. Or even at home or among friends, if I’m elu­ci­dat­ing a com­plex intel­lec­tu­al thought, I auto­mat­i­cal­ly switch to Eng­lish. So it depends.

    I don’t feel any­thing if two Maha­rash­tri­ans talk to each oth­er in Eng­lish or Hin­di. And this is pre­cise­ly what I want­ed to find out about — is this “lack of pride” about my moth­er-tongue? Is this gen­er­al­ly true in the case of most Maha­rash­tri­ans? Are oth­er Indi­an folks not this way at all?

  • the rea­son I like to talk to a Maha­rash­tri­an in Marathi could be due to the fact that I rarely get a chance. I live in a place where there are hard­ly any Maha­rash­tri­ans and my clos­est friends are non-Maha­ras­tri­an (except for one who is now in the US) so I miss speak­ing Marathi. Unfor­tu­nate­ly this has made my Marathi weak­er as well.
    But at times I do talk to Maha­rash­tri­ans in Eng­lish, actu­al­ly I express myself best in Eng­lish and this is due to the edu­ca­tion I had plus the fact that we nev­er lived in Maha­rash­tra as such. Tho I was in school in pune it was in St, Mary’s which had hard­ly any maharah­s­tri­ans (1–2) in a whole class at least at the time. I had close maha­rash­tri­an friends in my neigh­bour­hood though. But they are far away now and have lost touch with sev­er­al. I thank my moth­er for my decent marathi today and I blame myself for my kids pre­fer­ring hin­di or eng­lish.
    I resent talk­ing in hin­di with a per­son whose moth­er tongue is hin­di only if they know eng­lish and try­ing to be smart by speak­ing in hin­di. This is quite com­mon, its region­al­ism.
    Always always I have been sur­round­ed by non maha­rash­tri­ans and in fact get along quite well with peo­ple from any part of India except those who are very region­al mind­ed, includ­ing maha­rash­tri­ans.
    First and fore­most I am an Indi­an. This is anoth­er trait I like about Maha­rash­tri­ans and as you point­ed out Mahen­dra, many maha­rash­tri­ans are like this. You will find they are more Indi­an than any­thing else…but this can also be seen as a weak­ness as it can lead to a destruc­tion of iden­ti­ty over the next 50–100 years.

  • Ah. Just a reminder that Rajnikanth is Shiv­a­ji­rao Gaik­wad, was a bus con­duc­tor in Kar­nata­ka and became a star in tamil films 🙂

    To Priyank’s point about the immi­nent death of marathi, I have seen that in many oth­er states as well. In fact, some of the faux Tamil that I use on my blog is con­sid­ered to be the sad indi­ca­tor of the demise of what is con­sid­ered by some to be the old­est lan­guage in the world. But to restate the old­est cliche in the world, change hap­pens. So if the evo­lu­tion of Tamil means that tamil, tel­ugu and eng­lish will mix to form some sort of new patois, so to speak, so be it. I dont know. Per­haps Marathi could be under­go­ing such a tran­si­tion. Is that good or bad? I am not sure. What I do know is that every gen­er­a­tion tends to resist change to its exist­ing language/norms/culture as much as pos­si­ble.

    Nita’s point rais­es anoth­er inter­est­ing ques­tion. Let us look at this pat­tern — sub­caste, then caste, then town, then state, then coun­try, con­ti­nent and then the entire world. At any point in his­to­ry, one or more lev­els in this tax­on­o­my become “the most impor­tant iden­ti­ty” to peo­ple. In the past in India, caste iden­ti­ty was more impor­tant than any­thing else. The inde­pen­dence movt per­haps helped cre­ate, at first, state iden­ti­ty and then sub­se­quent­ly nation­al iden­ti­ty. But will it stop at that? In a grow­ing­ly con­nect­ed world, what will nation­al iden­ti­ty mean 20 yrs from now? Could it become as quaint and irrel­e­vant as caste iden­ti­ty is today for a lot of peo­ple?

  • Nice thoughts, Ashok.

    Regard­ing change — I’ve a cousin who has a Ph.D. in San­skrit, and speaks it flu­ent­ly as if it were her moth­er-tongue. You can imag­ine the nature of our dis­cus­sions! 🙂

    The oth­er point is also tricky. I some­times have a prob­lem with the con­cept of ‘patri­o­tism’ or regional/provincial ‘pride’ — because I find it dif­fi­cult to jus­ti­fy it philo­soph­i­cal­ly. Com­ing from an indi­vid­u­al­is­tic bent of mind, I believe pride is some­thing that is jus­ti­fied if you have con­tributed to the achieve­ment in some way. What have we con­tributed in the case of our region­al or nation­al ‘pride’? It is our par­ents who gave birth to us in a cer­tain state, in a cer­tain coun­try. Do we then get the right to be proud about it?

    But I can’t deny that it is there to a cer­tain extent. Regard­ing oblit­er­a­tion of nation­al iden­ti­ties, I think it is a far, far, way off. With the cur­rent polit­i­cal sce­nario in the world, I’m not even sure if reli­gious iden­ti­ties will over­take nation­al ones! I hope not. My ide­al world is where we are all cit­i­zens of the earth — with a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed pres­i­dent. But then, that’s almost like sci­ence fic­tion.

  • Nita — I can empathize with your need to talk in Marathi! Let me say that I didn’t want my child to start life in the US cul­ture, hence I moved back to India before we start­ed a fam­i­ly. I want my daugh­ter to have expo­sure to Marathi as well as Indi­an cul­ture and it is just not pos­si­ble if you live in the US.

    And yes, I also observe Indi­an­ness more preva­lent than Maha­rash­tri­an-ness (god, I hope there were a bet­ter word) in Maha­rash­tri­ans. In fact, they say that this is the only state in the coun­try whose name embod­ies a nation — Maha Rash­tra. That we do not live in Maratha, Marathasthan, or Maratha Pradesh — itself says it all.

  • Cheers to that. 🙂

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  • deep­an­jali

    जे आपल्याला आवडते ते इतरांपर्यंत पोहचले पाहीजे.
    असा लहानसा प्रयत्न आहे.म्हणूनच मला वाटते .
    की तू सूद्धा आमच्या अड्डयात सामील व्हावे .
    एकदा येऊन पहा आमच्या ब्लोग अड्डयावर