Feb 6, 2015, 11.21PM IST [ Vaibhav Purandare ]

MUMBAI: On a day he was declared winner of the 2014 Jnanpith award, India’s highest literary honour, Marathi writer Bhalchandra Nemade described English as a “killer language” and calling for its banning from the field of education in India. He also sharply criticized two Indian-origin writers, V S Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, for “pandering to the West” and dismissed their works as being of little value.”Primary as well as secondary education should be in the mother tongue. What is so great about English? There isn’t a single epic in the language. We have 10 epics within the Mahabharata itself. Don’t make English compulsory; make its elimination compulsory,” Nemade (77), who himself has been a teacher of English and comparative literature at various universities including the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said. He was speaking at a function in Dadar organized by the Matrubhasha Samvardhan Sabha.

Nemade is only the fourth Marathi writer to win the award, after V S Khandekar (1974), V V Shirwadkar aka Kusumagraj (1987) and Vinda Karandikar (2003).

Espousing his pet theory of ‘Deshivaad’ (nativism) that rejects globalization, the writer of the 1963 novel Kosla, which is considered one of the seminal works of 20th century Marathi literature, said English had destroyed languages. “In North America, there were 187 languages 150 years
ago. Now just 37 remain. Australia had 300 languages; only 65 remain, and of five languages in the UK, only Irish has survived alongside English,” Nemade, who is also a linguist, said.

While urging Indians to look up to the works of Premchand and others, he excoriated Naipaul and Rushdie in particular. “When Naipaul came to India, he saw an area of darkness. Then he saw a wounded civilization and blamed Islamic rule for the wounds and not the British because he was staying in England. This is how you get your knighthood,” Nemade said, quoting from the poet Derek Walcott’s acerbic attack on Naipaul in verse. He also questioned the literary value of most of Salman Rushdie’s works after Midnight’s Children, saying much of the stuff such writers had written did not have a great deal of literary merit.

Nemade, who is now working on the second part of a tetralogy (the first part is titled Hindu), said he was rooting for the mother tongue not out of emotionalism but pure science. “Cognition is possible only through the mother tongue,” he insisted, and quoted from a 1963 UNESCO document, a statement by linguists made at a Paris convention in 1968 and even a World Bank report to make the case for education in India’s native languages.

Finally, making a concession for English, he said, “It’s not that we shouldn’t learn English. We should. But we don’t need education in English. Let us treat it like footwear. Keep it outside the home, to be used when needed outside the home.”