Saturday, September 26, 2009


The other day AC Milan coach, Leonardo, said of the twenty nine year old Ronaldinho that today he is no more the player he was. Two days after, the great footballer said that was not thinking of retirement at the end of this season. All this is sad, very sad indeed; just about three or four years back he was the darling of the connoisseurs of "the beautiful game” all over the world.

I took note of this Brazilian genius in Brazil’s quarterfinal match against England in 2002 World Cup. What a creative pass he gave Rivaldo to score the equalizer for Brazil! And what a spectacular goal he himself scored soon after from a free kick from about forty yards! The winning goal! Let football experts debate whether Ronaldinho’s hit his target or the ball just happened to land in the net. For us, the goal remains imprinted in our memory. That World Cup did not see a better free kick.

He was red-carded soon after, perhaps a bit too harshly. In any case, he had already won the match for Brazil. The English football scribes still haven’t gotten over the fact that England could not beat the ten men Brazilian squad in that quarter final match.

The two times World Footballer of the Year played such artistic, masterly football for Barcelona. He was the happy face of football then; there was always a cheerful grin on his face as he played. His energy seemed to be endless. When he played, the whole field was his territory. On the eve of a crucial Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League match, the redoubtable Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho, not known for complimenting the opposition, said of a not-fully fit Ronaldinho that he could be dangerous even if he was only seventy percent fit!

Brazil, for ever the favourite to win the World Cup, was expected to walk away with the Cup in 2006, with such attacking players as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo, Robinho, and Roberto Carlos in the team. But it was going to be Ronaldinho’s World Cup. That under-prepared and overconfident team under an overconfident coach played unattractive football and were out of the World Cup in the quarterfinals. For the first time in twelve years Brazil was not playing a World Cup final match. The one who disappointed most was Ronaldinho. His passes were abortive and awful, and his free kicks sailed well over the bar. He did not score a goal, but more importantly, he played unimaginative and unappealing football.

World Cup finals create and destroy reputations. In the more recent years, his two headers in the 1998 World Cup final made Zinadane Zidane. World Cup 2006 harmed Ronaldinho’s reputation, and probably undermined his self-confidence. He of course had a successful 2006-2007 season with Barcelona, but Dunga, the new coach of Brazil, was not impressed. Ronaldinho has played for Brazil under him only a few times, and when he did, he hardly figured in the starting eleven. He was not picked for the Confederations Cup. It looks like 2006 was his last World Cup.

One heard of his injury, his late night parties, his petulance, absence during training, indiscipline, differences with the Barcelona coach Rijkaard, and his colleague Eto’o. Some held him responsible to an extent for Barcelona’s poor performance in 2008. There wasn’t much sympathy for him when he was virtually shown the door.

It is always sad when not merely a great footballer, but a supreme artist like Ronaldinho fades into the background too suddenly, and so quickly. I for one would like to think that his unexpected and inexplicable decline is due, to a considerable extent, to his feeling responsible for Brazil’s poor show in the World Cup 2006. It looks like I will miss – sorely miss - his endearing grin in the football stadiums of South Africa next year.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


New situations, sometimes engineered, may bring about new divides among people, marginalizing many who cannot benefit from them. It is difficult to anticipate what might cause a serious social divide: people’s body weight or height or complexion, the body language they use, or the cultural practices they follow. Or the language they speak!

One often tends to ignore that like religion, race, caste, etc., language too could give rise to exclusion. It is generally viewed as a harmless, innocent thing, just a medium of communication. So, despite evidence from time to time in the form of language-based violence, etc., one is not always alert about its negative potential.

Alongside so many divides in our country, there has been, for sometime, the “English divide”. It has intensified now, with computer having entered the society as the main instrument with which to gain best access to the resources of what has been called the “knowledge society”. Literacy stands redefined, and has now come to mean computer literacy. And computer literacy is not just about knowing how to operate the computer; it is about knowing English as well. The computer has bolstered the English divide considerably.

There is yet another social phenomenon that has contributed to strengthening the said divide. In the recent years there has emerged in our country a parallel educational system for a host of reasons. The so-called tutorial colleges constitute one of its most visible institutions. These non-degree awarding institutions aim to offer quality training so that their students qualify for admission to the best institutions in the country or get attractive jobs. These being expensive institutions, many cannot join these, and stay excluded from these opportunities. The dominant language of instruction here is English.

The way English is taught at school complicates the problem. The traditional method of teaching the language by the so-called “grammar-translation” method was discredited some years ago as being unscientific. Its success was ignored. The method that was recommended in its place emphasizes the idea that a language must not be taught with the help of some other language, except perhaps very minimally; so English must be taught almost exclusively through English. The expensive English medium schools are better equipped to adopt this method than the government schools. The latter cannot also go back to the earlier grammar-translation method, thanks to the prevalent negative attitude to it which is reflected in the present policy of English language teaching. The result is that in the non-English medium schools learners hardly have the opportunity to learn English reasonably well.

Our response to the English divide has been emotional and inadequate. Many tend to hold English responsible too for the neglect the Indian languages have suffered. Some still think that the solution lies in doing away with English, and developing the Indian languages, the scheduled ones, to start with, so that they successfully substitute English. Apart from the fact that it is easily said than done, this leads to exclusion – speakers of the non-scheduled languages get excluded. Besides, substituting English by the Indian languages does not eliminate the need for a link language for interstate interaction, and a global language for international communication. Our refusal to learn English would lead to our exclusion from the rest of the world, and making English available to only those who would need it for international communication would amount to promoting a small section of our population.

Friday, September 11, 2009


The rich linguistic diversity in India has been generally viewed as a national treasure. However it has never been free from threat; ironically but not unexpectedly, helpful environment for it hardly exists in multilingual societies. Especially when such a society is hierarchical.

Some education in the mother tongue, as recommended in the “three language formula”, can ensure that the language remains functional, and thus the linguistic diversity protected. But in India the languages are many, and the speakers of some are too few. Demands are made from time to time to recognize one dialect or the other as language. Some languages are still oral. In such a scenario, mother tongue education in practice has become education in some scheduled language. What has happened is that every individual, who has studied in an institution where the three-language formula has been implemented, has become multilingual. However, more and more Indians becoming multilingual for reasons of education or compulsions of day-to-day life is one thing, and the preservation of the linguistic landscape of the country is quite another.

Preserving our rich linguistic diversity basically amounts to ensuring that there is no language death. According to a recent UNESCO Report many Indian languages are under threat. The central government has recognized the need for affirmative action in this regard, and has initiated a programme of action. But what can be realistically achieved, under existing circumstances, for a language more likely to become extinct than survive, is the documentation of its lexicon and the grammar, its proverbs, folk songs and folktales, etc., and the knowledge of its speakers in terms of which they lived their daily life. This would ensure that an extinct language (and the related knowledge system) remains in the archives and is not lost to the world. A language (or dialect) need not die when all its speakers die, or when all its speakers shift to another language (or dialect). But such an archival approach to the preservation of language derives from the acceptance that language death cannot always be successfully fought.

But doesn’t it amount to compromising with the goal of preserving the multilingual reality of our country? In the present circumstances this goal does appear to be rather idealistic. We live in the age of “information”, and in a world made small by technology. For everyone to have access to the opportunities the world offers, the role of language cannot be underestimated; after all, it is through language that knowledge is created, disseminated and acquired. Now languages under threat are those that do not (or have ceased to) function in the domains of education, governance, and economic activities. The knowledge available in these languages, in terms of which the speakers of the same had once negotiated with the world, has become unhelpful for them to deal successfully with a different world. This creates a compelling situation for speakers of such a “disadvantaged” language to shift to the language of education, opportunity and privilege in their own context. It comes as no surprise, then, that so many languages are endangered.

A social or cultural practice is safe as long as its practitioners attach some value to it; even symbolic, but the same does not hold for language. Language must have a much more significant role in day-to-day life. Therefore it might be easier for a community to preserve its cultural practices under unfavourable conditions than its language. An aggressive cultural localism may not be the best solution to the problem of language (or cultural) endangerment. Exclusivist in nature, and it would create more problems than it might solve.

A language is safe if it has a function in day-to-day life. An organism would not survive if its habitat were destroyed. Mother tongue education would give a language its habitat, but it is no simple task. It appears that India can protect its linguistic landscape only if its commitment to it becomes as strong as it is to equality, democracy, secularism, and similar other socio-political values. Is this a likely scenario?