Even though I had been right there at my reserved front row seat at Nishagandhi auditorium, my account of their speeches was entirely second hand
Malayalam is not just the official state language of Kerala, it also seems to be the language of choice here at IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala). From the opening ceremony to the seminars, whenever the speaker is a local, they speak their mother tongue, proudly and unapologetically.
I came to the opening ceremony all pumped up to write my own exclusive quotes of the ministers and other special guests. But among the 16 guests on the stage that day, only one spoke English, and that wasn’t the emcee.
The next morning, I picked up The Hindu from the threshold of my hotel room. The headline glared on the second page: “IFFK a forum of resistance against autocratic traits: CM.” The official IFFK bulletin’s headline read: “Freedom won’t flourish where art is repressed: Pinarayi Vijayan.”
A quick search online confirmed that every Indian newspaper printed the explosive inaugural statements of the Chief Minister.
Even though I had been right there at my reserved front row seat at Nishagandhi auditorium, my account of their speeches was entirely second hand.
The language barrier managed to cross over to the seminars as well. I attended an open forum on the third day of the festival on December 8. Of the six speakers there, only one spoke in English. The moderator conducted the session in English thankfully, but the speakers replied in Malayalam. Ironically, the topic of discussion that day was to incorporate subtitles in commercial films whereas the forum felt very much like a foreign film without subtitles.
In person, the same people spoke to us in fluent English. But they chose to speak the local language to connect with the local audience better.
As inconvenient as it may be, this love for the Malayalam language deserves appreciation; specially in a time where linguistic appropriation is severely stalling the advancement of many languages, including Bangla. However, an optimal way to have your cake and eat it too in this situation would be to hire an interpreter to provide English translations.