Dhivehi – A Language on its Deathbed

Most days, there’s little to be proud about when it comes to being a Maldivian. The corruption and injustice running rampant in this small country of ours makes the country I was born and raised in a trifle bit hard to take most of the time. But then again, Maldives is home, it’s people are mine and I theirs, and there’s always that sense of belonging here that I have never found elsewhere. Though my inner free spirit lusts to travel to all corners of the earth, Maldives would always be my home.

In recent times, not a day has gone by without one local news or the other causing an uproar in the Maldivian community. The last one to hit us was the news that our language academy aka ‘Dhivehi Bahuge Academy’ had spoken out on the need to change the taxi boards affixed to every taxi as per new regulation should in fact be in the local language. An advisement that came a trifle bit too late in my opinion.

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Image created by Waddey which depicts the ridiculousness of Dhivehi Bahuge Academy’s statement regarding Taxi boards

Yes, Dhivehi is our own language. Our mother tongue. A language that bears characteristics of and has evolved from a mix of Arabic, Sinhalese and Maharashtri, a language spoken in ancient India. The prospect of having our own language unique to us while is a novelty in the sense that the language is part of the definition of our race and culture, many would disagree with the fact that Dhivehi contributes in any positive way to our lives. While it also helps immensely when you need to share a gossipy tidbit with the friend next to you when you don’t want non-Dhivehi speaking individuals to know what you are talking about, there’s also the current generation and the one that will rule this country tomorrow that does not feel overly emotional at the prospect of losing our own language.

Dhivehi as Part of our Education

Some might argue that Dhivehi as a language is dying its imminent death because our education curriculum barely touches the subject as students move through their primary, secondary and high school education. From someone who has been through every stage of Dhivehi learning that the Maldivian curriculum has to offer, I have to say I was never impressed with the delivery of the language nor the teachers that came bearing the ‘goodness’ of the language.

Imagine, a sleep deprived teacher who walks in with a pinched look on their face to take a 45 minute class thrice weekly. First and foremost, the teacher alone serves as a turn off for students. Teaching a language is definitely something quite different when compared with various other subject matters. A love for the language one is teaching is a must to convey that sense of ‘I’ve got to learn this’ feeling to the students. From the moment the Dhivehi teacher walks into class everything starts going downhill. An uber bored ‘what the heck am I doing here’ voice will ask students to open to a page number, read what’s there, answer a couple of questions and then? Nothing. That’s it. There aren’t activities that would help a student learn what the language is about, to fall in love with it and see it as a language that could prove to be useful in their future. So how do we blame the current generation that has been bored to tears by teachers who couldn’t care less of the knowledge they were leaving their students with?

Lack of Proper Language Standards

I am no guru of the Dhivehi language. I barely managed to get a ‘C’ grade in both the SSC (Secondary School Certificate) exam and the HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) exam later on. My handwriting would have definitely been on par with that of a doctor’s scribbles on a prescription if not for my father who was hellbent on working each of us to have a good handwriting when it came to Dhivehi as well as English. While I took to English like a duck to water, needless to say, Dhivehi came with its own dose of Valium pills in the mix.

What struck me most then and even now is the fact that Dhivehi lacks proper standards that are agreed upon and documented by the various ‘scholars’ of the language. While reading an article written by Hui Ali Didi might be the rage, it definitely does not instill the love a student ought to have in the language to seek more materials to read and learn from. With one teacher agreeing on one concept and the other the opposite, as students we remained confused and most of the time didn’t give it much of a thought except when it came to passing exams. Even then, unlike an English exam where one knows what is expected of them, Dhivehi exams always lay in the unknown; no one knew what was expected apart from writing essays that suited the current teacher’s accepted mode of essay writing. All in all, language standards remained the prerogative of the teacher in residence. So who do we blame for this confusion that has led everyone to correctly assume that Dhivehi as a language is not going to be viable for long if something drastic is not done to counter this effect?

The Language that Lies Stagnant

I don’t think most would disagree with me when I say that one of the most severe problems facing our language is the fact that Dhivehi as a language doesn’t seem to grow and expand to encompass and embrace the constant changing world that we live in.

If I were to be cruel, I’d have to say Dhivehi develops, if it can even be called that, at the rate it’s people develop. Our dictionary aka Radheef remains absolutely obsolete. There’s just one online version and that too no thanks to the department that was apparently ‘protecting’ the said document from going ‘viral’. Dhivehi linguists (most of them so darn proud of the fact) boasts about how rich our language really is. I fail to see the point. Perhaps because I have little or zero interest in reading most Dhivehi literature (those things just scream at me not to touch them), I really don’t see all that many words that can be used in multiple contexts. I judge a language to be rich by that. The words that ebb and flow and give meaning to the letters that you write on a page. Yes, our ancestors and current generation included are quite adept at cursing and throwing foul words around using the language; apart from that? Zilch, nada!

What Lies Ahead?

So in the end, whose responsibility is it to develop Dhivehi as a language? To make it grow and infuse it with very much needed life that could perhaps help bring it back from the throes of death. Where is the language academy’s role in all of this? Is their role limited to giving advice as to the bare minimum the law on the language asks from us, and that too when the time for the advice has come and gone? Or is their job a more vital one in terms of bringing the language to the people, to make it a highly usable one in all contexts?

One thing is dead certain, pun intended. Dhivehi as a language currently lies at the language academy, stagnant and half dead, just as the academy itself, barely breathing while the said academy ignores that and pushes on more important reforms needed to run the taxi services in this country. And as I see it, if something is not done soon enough, I don’t see it reviving and being able to keep up as the world continues to hurtle its way through tomorrow after tomorrow into the yonder.

Thoughts? Feel free to share! :)

 

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Oh Dear China, How I Miss Thee…

Exactly a year ago today, I got the opportunity to fly off to China for a seminar that was held in Beijing, all arranged and financed by the Chinese government with the added bonus of tours arranged to Shanghai and Hangzhou as part of the seminar. I was excited and apprehensive and excited, well you get the drift. I’m not such a fan of air travel or for that matter sea travel, but hey I love going places. Either way a 7 hour plus journey was one factor that contributed to the apprehension but the flight was smooth sail from start to finish though the bumpy return ride three weeks after wasn’t what I signed up for.

A snap of the rainbow of colors left behind in the wake of the sunset, high up in the air.

A snap of the rainbow of colors left behind in the wake of the sunset, high up in the air.

We landed after midnight, Beijing time, and even though exhaustion had set in by the time, sleep wasn’t easy to come by as the body hadn’t yet received the memo that we were operating in the said timezone. There was also the teeny fact that we managed to reach the Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) where the seminar was to be held way past 2 am. A fitful 2 – 3 hour sleep later, the seminar began and thus began the best out of country experience of my life.

My name, in Chinese ^_^

My name, in Chinese ^_^

The most interesting lecture that we had was on the Chinese Constitution, how it came to being, the struggles the country went through to become what it is today. Yes, none of it is perfect, nor would the West agree with the Chinese path towards development but it was fascinating to see China through its government’s eyes. The one thing that struck me was that China was slowly loosening its shackles on the freedom component. We all know how well unlimited freedom and democracy has worked in this country and perhaps countries in the Arabian penisula struggling for the same tells the story all by itself. China might not be galloping towards the total freedom policy anytime soon but it is taking those first hesitant steps towards opening itself up to the global community, the series of seminars with participants from all over the world one of the methodologies adopted by the country to achieve the said goal.

The Chinese Academy of Governance; Beijing

The Chinese Academy of Governance; Beijing

I met some wonderful people and the not so, learned factors about countries and its people that I wouldn’t have if not for the seminar. One thing I am going to say is I was darn glad that there were no Indian participants in the seminar. The Pakistanis and their egos could barely fit in as it was and Indians to the mix would just have been disaster.

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A shot from one of the lectures at the seminar; I think this one was on Chinese Economics

Now lets talk food! China being a country where anything is a go would’ve proved to be quite difficult for a Muslim to find edible and halal food from. Luckily, the institute had its own Muslim restaurant which served meals thrice a day. Dinner was served from 6 to 7 pm; can you imagine? The first couple of days, hunger pangs continued to fight the battle for freedom inside my tummy. By the fourth day, I could appreciate an early dinner. Goes to show its all about psychology and how the body adjusts to what it is subjected to. The human capacity for perseverance is amazing, is it not?

Meals served at CAG

Meals served at CAG

Some lectures were certainly snooze fests. But then again a gal can’t complain with a trip every now and then tossed into the mix. Our very first outing was to the Olympics Stadium.

And lookee there; its the Birds Nest

And lookee there; its the Birds Nest

One thing I would say about Beijing is that I didn’t get to encounter the infamous smog that blankets the city throughout the year. There was a bit of sun every now and then and mostly just cool weather that settled well with me. And I loved the flowers blooming in pots down the streets, a beautiful sight in a cosmopolitan city with its busy roads and highways.

"Pots" of beautiful multi-colored flowers down the road.

“Pots” of beautiful multicolored flowers down the road.

Next came the trip to experience one of the successful establishments of a “modern village” in the suburbs of Beijing. The trip was my first & last experience in juggling with chopsticks to eat! Turned out, not such a traumatic experience after all. What do you know huh?

Eating with chopsticks!

Eating with chopsticks!

And then there was the trip to the Forbidden City. The tales our guide Jack told us, some of them stuck, like the fact that Emperors had 100 plus wives+concubines in the same compound in the different rooms in the city. Count on my brain to retain that bit of information.

A mere glimpse into The Forbidden City

A mere glimpse into The Forbidden City

The visit to the Great Wall of China was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! I don’t think I would ever be able to make my way towards any other world wonders in my lifetime. So I treasure this unique experience with all my heart. Though I don’t remember the muscle fatigue my legs underwent afterwards that fondly; I tell you, my legs felt like they were turning into goo! I feared that a dashing figure out of nowhere might have had to carry me away! All kidding aside, climbing the Great Wall though it looks like a bunch of stairs is no easy feat. It takes endurance of the likes you might not think would be required. But the experience is definitely worth all the leg shaking that ensues. And just think, somewhere along those walls, is my name written with the date, a piece of myself in black permanent marker left there for the rest of the world who visits the wall to see! Good times!

The Great Wall of China! ^_^

The Great Wall of China! ^_^

One of the most exciting aspects of the seminar was the travels to Shanghai and Hangzhou, one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. The ferry ride around Shanghai to view its skyline lit up in all its glory was definitely a sight to behold.

I love Shanghai! I certainly did though I barely got a glimpse of the commercial hub of China that almost never seems to sleep!

I love Shanghai! I certainly did though I barely got a glimpse of the commercial hub of China that almost never seems to sleep!

Next came the trip to Hangzhou, where our seminar concluded. A beautiful place teeming with Chinese culture and lots of greenery to appreciate. I took to the place like a duck to water! Our trip to Hangzhou took us to the theater performance of “The Romance of the Song Dynasty”. Beautiful is a word that is inadequate to describe the performance; outstanding and bedazzling are words that barely do justice.

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The Romance of the Song Dynasty – Beautiful!

I would remiss if I were not to mention the fabulous lunch banquet that was thrown in our honor as part of the closing ceremony. A full 6-7 course meal that was beautifully presented and a delight to the taste buds!

Soup in a pumpkin; not my usual kind of thing but uber delicious!

Soup in a pumpkin; not my usual kind of thing but uber delicious!

I don’t think life will throw in another trip of this variety with different shades of experiences thrown into the mix to make everything so memorable. Best of all, I remember the people I met, especially the coordinator of the seminar and the translator who have become friends that I miss deeply. Perhaps one day, I will yet again make my way to the beautiful country that is China and visit some of those places that I wanted to visit but could never get to. Someday.

The translator & the coordinator

The translator & the coordinator :)

It would be quite the impossible task to sum down all the experiences of the trip, perhaps I should’ve written a post sooner. But then I instagrammed pretty much the whole experience, a diary of sorts that I can revisit whenever I want to; provided that Instagram doesn’t go out of business anytime soon. All pictures included in the post were taken by myself to capture all the moments that would help in recalling memories perhaps when the time comes that I am old and grey and hit with memory loss. A gal can only hope.

The beautifully landscaped grounds of CAG. I spent many a solitary hour just enjoying the bliss of it all.

The beautifully landscaped grounds of CAG. I spent many a solitary hour just enjoying the bliss of it all.

I guess what prompted this post was in part my way of remembering a trip, the memories of which I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Everyone should get to go on a trip like this, one filled with visits to exciting places and great food not to mention the fabulous company as well. Until the next such trip, if ever!