How many children are reading poetry?

Javed Akthar

Knowledge of vernacular language is limited in India now. How many children are there who would have read a poetry book or seen their parents read one? ….asks Javed Akhtar

Javed Akthar
Javed Akthar

Indian cinema’s wizard of words Javed Akhtar feels the quality of language in dialogues and songs in present-day Hindi films reflects the lack of command that most youngsters have on vernacular literature, and said that sometimes, the society gives too much importance to learning English.

A balance should be maintaind, he said, pointing out that the solution lies in parents inculcating healthy reading habits in their children. It is something that comes naturally to his own children — filmmakers Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar, he said.

At the launch of Zee Classic’s new show “The Golden Years 1950 – 1975, A musical journey with Javed Akhtar”, the veteran writer-lyricist, asked about the deteriorating quality of lyrics in Bollywood, said: “It is simple to accuse a lyricist or music director, but if you see carefully, it is a very complicated situation.

“Vocabulary itself has shrunk in the society… One reason is our education system, in which literature is not on the list of priority. For the last 30 to 40 years, we are not exposing our children to literature and poetry.”

Expressing dissent over the limited use of proverbs in speech, Akhtar said: “Knowledge of vernacular language is limited… How many children are there who would have read a poetry book or seen their parents read one?

“When they are not exposed to poetry and have not been taught importance of language, the language will shrink, and it will reflect in dialogues and songs.”

Javed Akthar
Javed Akthar

He said that “because of liberalisation and corporatisation, English has become too important for us”, but was quick to add that he does not undermine the importance of English.

“What is wrong is that we are learning that language at the cost of (not knowing) our mother tongue. This should not happen,” stressed the 71-year-old, who has penned films like “Zanjeer” and “Sholay” and is adept at Urdu, Hindi and English.

The problem, he feels, lies in the fact that while the upper middle class section of the society is sending children to English speaking school, it is the “deprived classes” who are going to vernacular schools.

“Language is gettng nurtured in harsh and deprived socio-economic conditions. And priviledged class is learning English. In every society, it is the middle class that nurtures language, but our middle class has nothing to do with our language (nowadays).”

Delving upon the state of the film industry, he said that young filmmakers who are below 30 “haven’t really read their language”.

“He does not know Hindi or Urdu well… He dreams also in English. So how will he understand?”

In this scenario, Akhtar feels “children should be bilingual” as they become smarter.