Why are we starting SW.? An honest answer would be for no particular reason, and with no specific agenda. Quite often, manifestos that become either obvious, or implied, when products are launched have either a pure ideological purpose or forward a technological leap or quite simply seek to plug a market vacancy. We claim to do nothing of the sort. We just want the mind to unhurriedly graze a vast tract of land; allow the retina to build its own, slow narrative from free reflection of images and alert the ears to form a semantic string to voices that glide over its drum. This may sound like a slothful, listless, apolitical dream. But it isn’t. To quietly survey complexity and diversity that envelops us in all its forms, and come to terms with it, with a certain poise and peace, in itself is, and should be, the biggest and the most dynamic political project of our times.
A couple of months ago, we started The State, a first-of-its-kind digital native platform in any Indian language. We were buoyed by the response we received. Our text was being widely circulated. Our videos were being watched. And more interestingly, our podcasts were being listened to. Podcasts were a pioneering new experiment in the Kannada language, and we should claim a fair degree of success. We have scooped an exclusive rendering of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s autobiography. We have a rationalist-scholar doing a show on the Bhagavad Gita, obviously not for bhakts, but for a thinking person. We have another scholar hosting a podcast on the 15th century classic Mahabharata text by Gadugina Narayanappa or Kumaravyasa, which is on Sheldon Pollock’s list for Murthy Classics at Harvard University. We picked up the Jnanpith-winning Ramayana text of Kuvempu for yet another show, and finally, we devised a podcast on ‘the idiom of abuse’ in Kannada by a sociolinguist. As a result, there was an eclectic audience that was directly reaching our site. We were not on the crutches of social media promotion. Even in the age of the Internet, word-of-mouth had proved worthy enough.
This response gave us energy to explore a unique bilingual space, via an English sub-domain to the existing platform. Here we thought of English as an extension with Kannada as the motherboard. Usually, the process is reverse. We think of English first, and then proceed towards a regional tongue. There are many arguments as to why this happens, but anyway, in Kannada, we were situating ourselves, avowedly, in a rootedly cosmopolitan tradition, and we felt a similar experiment in English would add fresh perspective to the political and cultural discourses surrounding us. Instead of just Kannada, amplifying the experiment with the richness of languages that neighbour Kannada, that is Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu (all of them with a written literary tradition of over a thousand years), we thought would enrich English, and would be far more rewarding. That is how SW. was born.
This worldview should ensure that we are spared the accusation of fostering a culturally provincial, linguistically chauvinistic, ethnically Dravidian identity project or even a South secessionist programme just because we have chosen to geographically demarcate ourselves as SW.. There is enough bigotry around us and we do not wish to further tip the scales of hatred.
Every South Indian is a trilingual. Not in rigid literacy terms, but in a manner of exposure, experience and importantly, expression. There is a seamless transition of ideas between these linguistic worlds that inhabit a person living here. The expression of this complex circuitry is unique, and that is what we’ll endeavour to capture in what we publish.
There is so much linguistic variety in the South that besides mainstream interactions between official tongues, the rich harvest of dialects offers an even sharper spin. Each language and each dialect is a cosmos by itself and they have their own epics and legends. Say for instance Karnataka: The Old Mysore variety of Kannada and the Kundapur variety never perhaps get to interact at the market place. Similarly, Dharwad Kannada and the Mangalore variety are not extensions of each other. The Kannada of the tribes and the Kannada of certain caste groups may never mingle. They are independent domains and sovereign imaginations. With the dialects changing, the spices too change every 25 km. But all of these are contained in a political idea called Karnataka. Similar is the case with Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam. To conceive a hegemonic play here, and seek to flatten multifarious expressions of these multitudinous worlds would be preposterous and dangerous too. But, sadly, that is what our politics and politicians try to do.
SW. may have demarcated its territory, but that will not stop us from seeking South Indian diversity in the rest of the world. To apply the sensitivity that comes from the recognition of plurality to the rest of the world is an immensely beneficial exercise. Therefore we’ll have copies from London, from Mumbai, from Delhi, from Punjab, from Kashmir and every other corner and farthest reach. This is to assure ourselves that the world is similar to the South in only one respect and that is in its diversity. In the same breath, we assume no epistemological challenge if we argue that the humble, ubiquitous South Indian sambar is a broth-relay that runs across cultures.