Nepal is the only country in the world that can see its borders from the capital,â€ remarked a Nepali poet once, referring to the high Himalayan ranges that one keeps watching all the time while moving in Kathmandu.
But in Irelandâ€™s capital, within few hours, you find the opposite to be true. To know true Irish culture and listen to the rhythm of the national language, you might have to move to its borders, to the little known pockets of the nation.
Entering Dublin with Cathal O Searcaighâ€™s Kathmandu poems in Nepali translation was an intriguing and revealing experience. Everything expected turned into a myth. The first surprise lay in not encountering anyone who spoke the national language. You might hear all other languages including Chinese, Urdu, in addition to Polish and Turkish and of course, English, but not Irish, or say Gaelic, to be precise.
But I soon realised the fault was entirely mine. I had become accustomed to landing up in European capitals and feeling the vibrant heat of the native languages. The moment you enter Amsterdam or The Hague, you feel the intense heat of turning into a dummy.Â Frankfurt or Berlin would instantly give you the flavour of what German language sounds like. In Italy, I faced great difficulty last year seeking basic medical aid for Shreejana as no one in the hospital understood what we were looking for. I donâ€™t think I need to talk of Paris or Barcelona or Madrid or Eastern European capitals and other cities to explain my position.Â
Secondly, the trouble also lay with my literary conditioning over the years. As a Nepali translator of O Searcaigh and other Irish writers, I had taken my visit to Ireland to be a practical course in Gaelic language learning. But time had the opposite in store for me. In Asia, we are accustomed to reading the history of Irish freedom struggle and towering figures like JM Synge, WB Yeats, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney and their exploits to save the Irish language, culture and heritage. Since I translate from English translations of Irish originals, I had never heard anyone except Oâ€™ Searcaigh, at certain events, speak Gaelic.
That is why the moment I checked in at Juryâ€™s Inn, I made a fastidious rush through the Irish TV channels. Nothing, only international English channels with local station networks. Surprisingly I saw clippings of a documentary on the Nepali gaine folk singers being advertised as a major forthcoming attraction.
I went out to Oâ€™ Connell Street and moved in the crowded supermarkets and crossed over Liffy river and faced the famous Trinity College. Not a grain of Gaelic.Â
And as I was drinking tea in a Chinese cafÃ© with a very Gaelic name, I saw a bright Sun come out to give me another surprise. Cathal had often complained of murky Irish skies and incessant downpour, but throughout my weeklong Dublin stay the sky remained clear blue.
The truth is that the Celtic tiger has undergone a dramatic change. The Irish economy has achieved unprecedented growth. Is it probably because of its very English international character it appears so vibrant globally? The question remains unanswered.
Cathalâ€™s response was quite defensive, â€œWho would speak Gaelic in Dublin ? Itâ€™s only in the national language in the constitution. Irish is spoken in the remote pockets like Donegal, where I come from.â€
Others, including my host, attributed the absence of the Irish language to the 800 years of colonial rule. A country without a mother tongue?
In spite of everyoneâ€™s desire to learn and speak English, even in Nepal, any visitor will feel the intense presence of Nepali or Newari or Tamang language, the moment s/he steps out of the airport. Even in India, or the rest of South Asia, in spite of centuries of colonial rule, the local languages and dialects thrive.
The problem remains elsewhere, Mark Leslie, an Irish scholar, suggested. Irish sea divides Ireland from England. So, unlike in Wales or Scotland, the need for a linguistic barrier or border was never crucial to the Irish psyche. True to Markâ€™s thesis, most of my Irish friends in Dublin were cool and without much remorse toldÂ me â€” to see Irish speaking people you have to go to remote pockets like Donegal, or Galway.Â
To unravel the paradox of mighty Celtic tigerâ€™s heart, I finally realised, one has to travel to the fringe to come back to the centre.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)