In connection with the Hindi Week that was observed in an institution last week, a lot of speeches were delivered asserting the greatness of Hindi as a language and its worthiness to be not only the national language of India but also to be studied, if not mastered, by every Indian who loves his country. “One who does not love Hindi does not deserve to be an Indian,” one of the speakers asserted passionately. Another speaker, who held the audience spellbound with his rhetoric that eloquently combined passion with personal conviction, sought to project those Indians who do not care to learn Hindi as depraved creatures by comparing them to a person who does not love his mother.
I tried to carry the logic of these orators a little further. Their logic is that if you love your country you should learn its national language. What if I love the whole world, not just my country? That’s what occurred to me while listening to them. Then, by their very logic, I should learn the lingua franca of the world, instead of confining my linguistic pursuit to my country. English is the lingua franca of the world and I am comfortable with communicating in that language for most purposes. Does that make me a non-Indian?
My knowledge of Hindi is very meagre. I can just manage to communicate meaningfully enough in Hindi (though hilariously sometimes) with those people who do not know English or my mother tongue (Malayalam) but know the language that came to be the national language of India solely by virtue of being spoken by the larger section of the country’s population. I have no emotional connections with Hindi. I do not believe a person’s patriotism has anything to do with his knowledge of the official language of his nation, particularly in the Indian context. If I am a little passionate about English it is merely because it is the language which has given me most of my knowledge and has helped me express myself intelligibly to a larger audience.
This led me to another question: do I love Malayalam (my mother tongue) as passionately as I love English? To my surprise, I found it difficult to answer that question. I’m sure of one thing: I have a soft corner (a sturdy one too) for Kerala (the place where I was born and brought up) and its language. Though I have lived outside Kerala for more years than inside it, I still make sure that I follow the Malayalam news regularly by subscribing to a Malayalam newspaper and watching the Malayalam news channel. I also find time to read some Malayalam books, novels especially.
The time I devote to read Malayalam and to know about developments in Kerala is insignificant compared to what I devote to English and world affairs. Does this detract from my love for Kerala? I don’t think so. According to my thinking, it merely indicates my passion for knowledge about wider things, a passion that takes me beyond the boundaries of states and the nation.
Similar is the case when Hindi is concerned. If I did not care to learn it properly, it’s merely because I never felt a need to do so. If the practical affairs of my life had demanded mastering Hindi I would have mastered it. If mastering Hindi would bring me any specific advantage I would have mastered it. Merely because it is the consensus national language it need not (and does not) entice me at all.
One of the speakers (mentioned above) implied that Hindi is the language of the freedom fighters. I think such rhetoric, while serving well to win the applause from young and impressionable listeners, is libellously insinuating. It is a serious distortion of the country’s history and much more dangerous than trying to strike off some people’s national identity with their ignorance of the national language.
The divisiveness that underlies the arguments of fanatical advocates of anything (language, religion, race, almost anything at all) is what I find most detestable.
Like every nation India should have a national language and Hindi best fits the bill. Fine. Let Hindi be the national language. Let it be promoted too by the government as best as it can be. Let as many Indians as possible learn it and use it if they can in their day-to-day life. (I wonder how a person in a village in South India or Northeast India would ever be able to use Hindi in his day-to-day life.) But Hindi should not become another cause for fissiparous tendencies in the country. It should not seek to swallow the hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects spoken in the country. The multi-dimensional diversity in India is its sheer beauty. Let that beauty continue to flourish.