Techie and comedian Anup Maiya was listening to his favourite radio show, when he hit upon his million dollar idea. Surrounded by urban migrants struggling to learn the local language, Maiya decided to take Kannada to them, in a way that was fun and effective. Far from learning conjugations by rote, Maiya’s students gather for LOLbagh, an initiative designed to use comedy as a teaching method. A trained singer, it wasn’t long before Maiya began to look at music as a medium, collaborating with musicians like Vasu Dixit to help spread the word. He talks to Ralph Alex Arakal about spreading the love of a local language through technology, humour and art.
Kannada Gottilla! The phrase, which translates to "I don't know Kannada", is overused and abhorred in equal measure, depending on which side of the fence one happens to be on. The journey from there to "Kannada Baruthe" (I know Kannada) conjures up ideas of swotting over conjugations, tenses and participles - too much trouble, yes, for someone who has only found a temporary home in the city. Fret now, however, learning a language can be a lot of fun, especially when you can do it through comedy and music! And when Anup Maiya, decided to help newcomers learn the basics, he named his initiative after everyone's favourite phrase: Kannada Gottilla.
A standup comedia, Maiya attributes his idea to Mad Mornings, a radio show hosted by KJ Prithvi. In one episode, Maiya recalls, the presenter prank-called a non-Kannadiga and made him translate a Hindi song to Kannada. The segment went on to talk about "teaching Kannada over the phone," an idea that made Maiya think. The show aired in September 2014 and by November that year, Anup Maiya was the founder of kannadagottilla.com.
The techie recalls his brief stint at Pune, where he felt handicapped without knowing the local language, Marathi. His friends helped him better his game and by the end of his stay, Maiya had gained a certain proficiency in the language. He had also enjoyed every bit of the process. "That's when I realised friends can be better teachers than any app, which would require extra-dedication from the individual. Luckily, I was introduced to Whatsapp at the same time and this helped me bridge language gaps for those in need," he tells DC.
The initiative grew on whatsapp and led to the formation of a 12-member team. The model was honed through several rounds of student-feedback. Over the years, Kannada Gottilla has helped some 8,500 urban migrants with the language, thanks to the 30-member Whatsapp group that includes three trainers. The live classes for interest groups at apartments, corporate offices and the like have seen varied takers every month since their beginnings, he adds. "With more than 27 monthly classes at the Rangoli Metro Art Centre and 36 free workshops at different venues, the reach has been more off the record," he claims.
Teaching the language through forms that guarantee better retention was at the heart of Anup's approach. "LOLbagh, our Kannada youth stand-up and improve team started providing non-Kannadiga members from the audience snippets of dialogue dubbed in Kannada. The audience will have to navigate its way out of the situation using language skills. This exercise was very popular and post-event discussions helped us realise that the outcome is much more fruitful. It's a unique method, but it worked."
Learning language through music is another formula that the team hit upon to great success. To Maiya, a trained Carnatic singer, the method seemed rather obvious. City based musicians like Vasu Dixit and Hemanth Joisis joined him as well, helping propagate the use of Kannada
It's not all fun and games, however. When the subject of the regional language being forced on people through violence and coercion is raised, Maiya admits that this is a concern in Karnataka. "Intitiatives led by the likes of Vasanth Shetty, Arun Javgal, Ganesh Chetan and others have helped popularise regional culture at various levels," said Maiya. Danish Sait's fim, Humble Politician Nagraj, released on Friday and has found great popularity amongst non-Kannadiga audiences. "This is a measure that people have a natural love and inclination towards new languages and cultures, irrespective of their own backgrounds."
Commenting on the move towards making Hindi a national language, he corroborated concerns raised by MP Shashi Tharoor in Parliament. "Forcing a single language down the throat of a nation that has 22 official languages is simply not practical," Maiya remarks.
The huduga from Puttur now hopes to draw investors who will support the initiative's expansion into other languages as well. "If things go well, Tulu Gottijji (I don't know Tulu) might be up for grabs," Maiya says. Crowdsourcing video content with subtitles through social media platforms is also in the pipeline, as is reaching out to the hearing impaired.
The team now begins upto four Whatsapp groups on a monthly basis, while Maiya ponders the possibilities of extending their outreach through the day, by coordinating with his team and trying to garner more support from artists and thinkers across disciplines.
Bring down the number of people who say "Kannada Gottilla" on a daily basis- the ultimate goal the youngster wants to achieve in life!