But now I am taking a 180 degree detour from my established approach to how others contributed to India and how others influenced us! First and foremost which comes to my mind is Herman Gundert,a German. But for him I would not have used my mother tongue Malayalam the way I am! We are that much indebted to him. He introduced the punctuation marks- comma, full stop, question mark , semi colon and colon to our language Malayalam, the least of his contributions for us !! As a foreigner he came, learned our language and contributed to improve our knowledge of our language!
How a German happened to contribute to our regional language, culture and society long back? How much he contributed to growth of Malayalam , I would leave to experts in that field but it remains a fact that Kerala is one of the the most literate states in India today which is on par with Washington DC which is ranked as the most literate US city!
Please read now... Thank you Gundert.. Thank you Germany
Surprisingly when it comes to Malayalam language , even one's religious influence has little effect . That's why Malayali Muslims use their mother tongue Malayalam, unlike their counter parts in other states who prefers Urdu. Christians also prefer to use Malayalam unlike theirs in Goa,Mangalore or elsewhere who would go after English than their mother tongues! In fact the common language Malayalam binds the Kerala society to one and has strengthened integration of various communities and cultures over the centuries.
Keralites expect expatriate communities from Gujarat or Punjab settled in the state to use Malayalam while the most of the Keralites who go to other states and abroad would even prefer to speak Malayalam in public and that too loud when met !! At the same time there are some Keralites in the state or abroad who prefer to use only English because they wrongly think it is superior to do so . Over the years I have seen many children are trained to use English as 'mother tongue' although their mothers may not be speaking good English!! Strangely this peculiarity could be found only with Keralites in the world as well!
It is said that there are more than just similarities between German and Sanskrit languages. I understand that 'Shakunthala' the Indian epic written by Kalidasa in Sanskrit is translated to German as back as in 1791, which was a 'hit' those days having immensely appreciated by a number of German writers including Goethe.Another German scholar Eduard Roeer translated Rig-Veda to German in the eighteenth century.
In the modern times the 'swastika' which was logo of the erstwhile Nazi party in Germany which is banned now has the origin in India . Unfortunately it became synonymous with the Nazi party and as such it is looked down. From the Indus Valley civilization time to this day 'Swastika' is related to all 'Dharmic ' religions- Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and used as an auspicious sign!
Why the Germans were different to others
I would say that these German ' Indologists' were good hearted ' linguistic adventurists' in their sphere of activities and mastered alien languages and cultures, contributed towards growth of those languages while taking home what they learned from these 'strange' lands. Few of these Germans are Christian missionaries, but I think they never had any 'colonial' ambitions unlike other European visitors to India those days- British,Dutch,French.... In my limited knowledge on the subject there is no single English man who scholared in any Indian language and contributed towards the growth of it during the span of few centuries of colonization.
The British instead preferred to propagate English Language in India - now the Indians got an advantage of having learned English those days which has come out as the most popular International language is a different matter.
He never knew Malayalam language till he landed in Kerala.He was a missionary of Basel Mission and the basic driving force in him to translate The Bible in local language might have urged him to learn the language from local tutors, I presume. But soon not only he learned the language but mastered it and started teaching the Malayalees! He wrote the first Malayalam grammar book in 1851,school text book- 'Paathamala' in 1860 and published the first Malayalam newspaper in 1847- 'Rajya Samacharam' . The English Malayalam dictionary he published in 1872 is considered to be a scholastic contribution in its field to date. He also mastered other Indian languages - Bengali,Hindustani,Telugu and Tamil!
Gundert had returned to Germany due to poor health with a huge collection of Malayalam books, something he is 'accused' with by few ,which he donated to Tubingen University, Germany along with his works with his own hand. ! In fact the 'Thalasseri Manuscripts' -works of Gundert in his own hand during his stay in Kerala was found out in the University by accident. Recently Tubingen University has launched a scheme to digitalize works of Gundert in Malayalam and make available on line for free.
One of the grandchildren of Gundert , Hermann Hesse became a Nobel laureate in Literature in 1946. He has published few works including one novel titled' Siddartha' with an Indian background!
Hand writing of Herman Gundert