Nationalisms Revisited

In an earlier post, I talked about language based politics in Karnataka. Today is the day to talk about Kannada chauvinism since it is the anniversary of the formation of the state of Karnataka as a linguistically demarcated territory. Like all official holidays, both at the centre and the state level, many stores are closed and the streets are empty because people dont know what kind of trouble is in store for them. While Independence day and Republic day have been hijacked by terrorism related security concerns (that is to say, security threats to VIP’s), regional holidays drive people indoors because there is the fear of mob violence (by Kannada chauvinist goons in this case). What a contrast with Deepavali or Id or Holi when everybody is outside and having fun. Tells you something about the atmosphere around nationalist politics doesn’t it?

While I was walking outside a few minutes ago, I noticed that all the non-Kannadiga businesses such as private banks, cafe chains etc had “Karnataka Rajyotsava” posters stuck prominently on their front doors. It struck me that the Rajyotsava posters were like a modern version of the old South Indian practice of hanging frightening faces painted on pumpkin shells in order to ward of evil spirits (i.e., goons). My suspicion was confirmed when I went to the Cafe Coffee Day on Sampige road and the entrance to the cafe was partially blocked by a framed “Karnataka Mahotsava” poster leaning against the back of a chair. The poster was garlanded with flowers and had a brass plate in front for offerings. Soon after I went inside and ordered a coffee, they cranked up the music level to a deafening level and started playing Kannada renditions of old Abba songs. As I was leaving, I asked the staff why the music was so loud. One of the servers told me that normally they play Hindi or English songs (which, believe me, is loud enough as it is) but today some customers had asked for this particular album to be played loudly and since it was Karnataka Mahotsava he was afraid that if he didnt play it loud enough these customers would create trouble. 

If you want to know the future of language and ethnic nationalism in India, look no further than Abba songs remixed with Punjabi beats and set to Kannada lyrics. Not that these chauvinists realize (or would admit it in case they were so self aware), but the very definition of local pride is being determined by globalized, commodified and generic corporate culture and entertainment. Ironic isnt it?

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