In times when nearly all the pleasant sounding news turns out to be fake and all the dependable news is getting unpleasanter by the day, it is so very heartening to hear our president give some sober advice to the Hindi zealots on the annual Hindi day at a function held recently! The president observed that the cheerleaders of Hindi are in the habit of antagonizing the speakers of other languages by their insistence on imposing their language on others. As a result, all the attempts at the promotion and advocacy by the Hindi supporters end up backfiring. This happened recently in Karnataka when protestors blackened signboards at a Metro station, earning the language avoidable hostility and a fresh stint of dislike among the local populace that had had no occasion for such anger till provoked. With a large population of the Hindi speaking population employed in Bangalore including a fairly significant labour population, the multilingual Bangalore society that was spontaneously taking to Hindi word by word, sentence by sentence may now show resistance that you often see in Tamilnadu.
What the zealots do not seem to get into their heads despite the several decades of violent protests is that a language grows when it’s needed or preferred and not due to policy dictats. Way back, I remember when my school authorities tried to impose a laughably silly policy of ‘afternoon conversations only in English’ among students, the school turned into silent graveyards during the entire duration. The purpose behind the move to improve our English speaking skills was thus given a quiet burial. The fact is Hindi has grown largely through its cinema and the media, apart from political communication, commerce and large scale migrations. Increasingly, with politicians and businessmen trying to make a dent in North India, Hindi is already inching closer to becoming a second link language in street terms, and even the first pan-Indian language among the quasi-literate who cannot speak English. This is leading to some interesting breeds of Hindi-dominated pidgins all over the country. Unlike earlier the Hindi speaking populace rarely break into contemptuous jeering at the most exotic of south Indian or north eastern accents and smug amusement is all we now show at these phonetic adventures of non-Hindi speakers. I feel the worshipers of Hindi should take satisfaction in this spontaneous growth instead of making so much ado over a lost cause.
The president had another point to make, a token one perhaps but of a great emotional import – the Hindi speaking people should learn the greeting words from the other languages such as ‘aadab’ in Urdu and ‘vadakkam’ in Tamil by way of creating general goodwill and a gesture of acceptance instead of derision. The Hindi zealots may have found such a generous gesture on the part of our first citizen somewhat out of place on a day when Hindi should have received all the devout attention, but I entirely agree that we, the Hindi speakers have been very small hearted in more than one sense. On the one hand we deign to believe that the growth of Hindi depends on our schmaltzy fantasies, and on the other indulge in what can only be termed ‘linguistic cruelty’ of imposing the language on others either overtly or sneakily.
The fact is that Hindi lovers suffer from anxieties that may be rather unique and require a deeper appreciation. First, Hindi is a language of fairly recent origin, going back less than two centuries. Second, although Hindi is now the first language for a very large population, till recently it was only a second language for languages and dialect speakers from Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Awadhi and Braj regions, a fact we are reluctant to admit pushing the entire matter under the patriotic carpet. Third, if that is not bad enough, the Hindi speakers may be among the least loyal linguistically, eager to switch to English fulltime as I have found while moving around the Hindi territories. To top it all, the Hindi regions are also known for their backwardness and low levels of literacy and urbanism. All these make a Hindi speaker much more insecure and jittery compared to let’s say the Bangla, Tamil or Marathi speaker. As we all know, aggression towards others is often an outcome of the fears emanating from within.
We should thus feel grateful to a president who is nudging us to come down a few rungs and assess the state of our language a bit more coolly instead of trying to rouse the primal passions often associated with the languages in our country.