By Ramesh Bijlani
Not many perhaps know that February 21 was declared the International Mother Language Day by the United Nations in the year 2000. Instead of getting into the controversy whether ‘mother language’ is the same as the ‘mother tongue’, let us turn to the mother of all Indo-European languages, Sanskrit. Hence, Sanskrit, can be called the ‘grandmother tongue’ of every Indian and European!
The United Nations has observed: “When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity.” Thus, when a language dies, a whole culture dies. Indian culture is almost synonymous with spiritual wisdom, and to that wisdom the world has repeatedly turned for healing its wounds. They need to thrive, not just for India, but for the world. The world, seeing the importance of Sanskrit language, has started learning it. The British now have besides many universities, at least one school, St James School, London, which teaches Sanskrit to every child for the first five years. Germany, which leads in the number of colleges and universities teaching Sanskrit in Europe, has more students applying for admission than the seats available.
In a country as diverse as India, the mother tongue may not be the same as the regional language, and the regional language may not be the same as the national language. The child learns, quite effortlessly, the mother tongue and the regional language since birth. If the national language is neither of these, it is considered desirable that the child should learn that too. Further, English, which is seen as the lingua franca for national and international communication, is also considered a necessity. If a child has to learn Sanskrit too, the child may end up learning five languages. This may be a burden, but if learnt early in life, and if taught properly, it can be easy for children. They not only pick up languages fast, but they can also sort out various languages that they are learning almost simultaneously with astonishing accuracy. Further, research shows that multilingual children have a better mental development, and when they grow old, they are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.
The ancient Indian scriptures are a window to the national soul of India, and most of the scriptures are in Sanskrit. Translations are available, but no translation can ever do justice to the spirit and elegance of the original. Learning both Sanskrit and English well enough to get into the spirit of the literature in both these languages will be great. To repeat a cliché, education should give the child both roots and wings. While English gives wings, it is Sanskrit that can truly give roots to the Indian students. One may do without wings, but the roots are indispensable.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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