Monday, April 13, 2009

Canarese Obstinacy

Because I signed up as research assistant on a government task force on Centre-State relations (yes I’ll do anything for money), I recently had to read the bulk of the Constituent Assembly Debates of India. Plowing through 165 days’ worth of debates could have been a drag, but every now and then, funny passages would crop up to relieve the tedium.
Mr. T. Channiah: (Spoke in Canarese)
Mr. H. V. Kamath: Mr. President, the Honourable Member knows English and I suggest that you request him to speak in English.
Mr. T. Channiah: I have got option to talk in any language. I like (continued to speak in Canarese)
Mr. Shankar Dattatraya Deo: Sir, We must at least be told in what language the Honourable Member is speaking.
Mr. President: My information is that he is speaking in Canarese. (Laughter)
Shri Mohanlal Saksena: How do we find out whether he is talking in Canarese or not?
Diwan Chaman Lall: On a point of order, Sir. Are there any arrangements for a translation to be made into some understandable language of the speech that my honourable friend is making?
Mr. President: There is no arrangement for translation. If an Honourable Member chooses to speak in his own language, I cannot prevent him. The other members miss the speech and the speaker himself is not in a position to influence the bulk of the members present here. So the loss is more on the side of the speaker than on the side of the members who do not follow him. I don’t wish to interrupt any member who wishes to speak in his own language.
Mr. T. Channiah: Thank you, Mr. President. (continued to Speak in Canarese)
Mr. M. S. Aney: Sir, on a point of order. Are you in a position to know whether he is speaking relevantly or not?
I could not proceed beyond this point because I was laughing so hard the tears were streaming down my cheeks.
If you’re an outsider, or a certain kind of pessimist, you might read the extract above and form a low opinion of the Members of the Assembly. “What folly to leave the destiny of a nation in the hands of such buffoons,” you might be thinking. But that wasn’t the point of this post.
The point of the post was this: that it is somehow fitting that the Constitution of India – rambunctious, exuberant, fissured, chaotic India – should have been drafted by a bunch of 299 idiosyncratic, garrulous and argumentative people such as this. India has been described as a functioning anarchy; the phrase is a fitting description of the Constituent Assembly Debates too. In the face of disagreements, tomfoolery and obstinate Canarese gentlemen, they somehow managed to come up with a Constitution that has served us reasonably well for six decades.
Going through the speeches, I found a wealth of self-deprecatory wit and good-humoured badinage. At a session five days after independence, the following exchange occurred.
Mr. H. V. Kamath: Mr. President, I submit that the loud speaker system is not behaving as well as it used to till the 15th.
Mr. President: It has caught the infection of being independent. We are going to have it checked up and put right.
A short while later on the same day, the President urged the Members to cut down on rhetoric, formalities and points of order “because the deadline is looming, and there is very little time.”
But time enough to crack a joke on loudspeakers, I thought, and the thought was strangely comforting.
At his closing speech during the final session, Shri T.T. Krishnamachari said:
[T]here have been contradictory criticisms, one cancelling the other, and perhaps if the whole lot of criticisms are put together, it might be that we might feel – the Drafting Committee and the Members of this House might feel – that we have not done a bad job after all.
No, gentlemen, for what it is worth, I can answer you today. You did not do a bad job after all. And it looks like you enjoyed every bit of it.


Rick said...

WOW! Some job you've got there! It looks like you're enjoying it too, well, occasionally at least! Now, i had no idea of such untold entertainment that these guys subjected themselves to!

Linguanerd said...

Thanks for the laugh.. I read it with the appropriate accent, and it is even better!

Rahul Saha said...

Not a bad job?! Not a bad Job?! *Jumping up and down and tearing the few remaining hairs from his head* We have the most dysfunctional judicial system backed by a the most contradictory constitution in the semi-developed world and you say not a bad job?!

I submit that India has reached where it has in spite if its constitution and judicial system not because of it.

Priyanka said...

(still laughing at saha's comment)

This post is fabulous. I wish they'd included all this when we studied the constitution in class twelve.

Which part of India is Canarese spoken in, btw? And is this related to Canara Bank? Google ain't helping.

Indecision Personified! said...

Well, since I have stopped being the benign spectator: Nice Post! I like CAD too (and not just because they have funny charecters). Read CAD for my projects & Article - they were always the best part of the research... tho must confess I don't remember reading anything quite so funny. :)

@ Saha: hmm... I actually believe that the Constitution is actually one of the best things that have happened to this country since Independence. If only we adhere to it in both letter and spirit, we'd be a lot better off.

@Priyanka: Hello, Canarese as far as I know is how Kannada used to be pronounced and spelt in 'dem 'ol days. It was / still is the language spoken in the State of Mysore / Karnataka. And so yes, it is related to the Canara Bank. :)

btw: I too got an actual word in WV 'mingly' - yaay!!! finally!

Indecision Personified! said...

btw: I might not be posting too frequently - but that's no reason to remove me from your blog roll. *looks away in anger*

Sarbajeet said...

Manavi read the CAD for her projects!!

Priyanka said...

@ indecision personfied: why thank you! :)

Sroyon said...

@Sarbajeet: Ki bolbi! Not a bit ashamed about it either! Admitting the fact on a public forum!

@Priyanka: Don't be fooled for a moment. She's Canarese herself and is plugging her own lingo.

Anonymous said...

@priyanka - Canarese is Kannada.

Rohit said...

@ Sorbo- Thats why she is Manavi !!!

Pratiti said...


new age scheherazade said...

This is brilliant. It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
I canNOT wait for summer.