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