Home > 2021 > Why Hindi Votaries Need to Shut Up | M R Narayan Swamy

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 26, New Delhi, June 12, 2021

Why Hindi Votaries Need to Shut Up | M R Narayan Swamy

Saturday 12 June 2021, by M R Narayan Swamy

I am a South Indian born and raised in Delhi and my mother tongue is Tamil. Let me quickly add that while I am at home in English, my working language, I simply love Hindi – and I am not exaggerating one bit. I want to, however, make it very clear that I hate it when some people try to put Hindi on a higher pedestal and try to make it out as if knowing and not knowing Hindi is tantamount to being a true Indian or otherwise.
If I know three languages (Hindi, Tamil and English), then my wife – born in Bengaluru, schooled in Thiruvananthapuram, graduated from Anantapur (AP) and who did her post-graduation from Pune also knows, apart from the languages mentioned above, Malayalam, Telugu and Marathi! Her Sanskrit is good too and I can speak a smattering of Bengali. Between us we are a mini India. But I say it again, I hate people who claim that everyone must know Hindi or else…

But for this pernicious mindset, no hospital in Delhi would have dared to put out a note ordering that the nursing staff cannot converse in Malayalam while at work. Worse, they were reportedly responding to a complaint from a patient! Surely, the nurses would not have tried to speak to the patient in Malayalam for him to get upset. If a patient did complain, and someone in the hospital thought a ban on Malayalam was the need of the hour, both of them would be among the specimens who feel that talking in any language apart from Hindi while at work is equivalent to disrespecting Bharat Mata!

A long time ago, my late father-in-law, a scholar in Sanskrit who also wrote extensively in Malayalam, taught Hindi through correspondence from his home in Delhi. The course was free for a certain class of people. Believe it or not, the largest number who enrolled was from Tamil Nadu prisons! These were men who wanted to learn Hindi because they thought, rightly so, that the language would help open more windows to them. The number of people knowing if not speaking Hindi in Tamil Nadu is also much more now. But the moment the Hindi chauvinists try to thrust the language on unwilling people, one develops hatred for Hindi, which otherwise, in my view, is a great language.

When I was born in Delhi’s Kidwai Nagar area, being a south Indian in the then Punjabi-dominated city in the 1960s was not easy. Our parents did not speak Hindi at home and so we picked up bits of the language from the younger crowd in the neighbourhood. Naturally, we were not good at it initially. We often erred while speaking, triggering derisive laughter, lots of boos and some nasty teasing. I would come home crying every evening and my mother would keep assuring me that I one day I would speak such good Hindi that others would envy.

Her blessings did play a role. Today, I am very comfortable speaking in Hindi. I can speak in the language for hours without fumbling. In fact, my Hindi is not only far better than my spoken Tamil but there have been times when I felt I spoke better Hindi than many whose mother tongue it is.

My late parents and ancestors hailed from Palghat and I make an annual visit there to our family temple. Each time I travel to Kerala, I regret not learning Malayalam from my mother. If I had listened to her advice, I would be speaking Malayalam also today.
It is good that a large number of sensible people in and outside Delhi denounced the hospital’s fiat on Malayalam. It is equally gratifying that the hospital withdrew the notice and a Delhi government official asserted that the nurses had every right to converse in their mother tongue.

A language is an integral part of a culture. No language is superior or inferior to another. The beauty of our country is the co-existence of around 120 languages (Census 2001) and more than 1,000 dialects. Can we afford to dilute the cultural diversity by majoritarian imposition?

But I know that subtle attempts are constantly being made to quietly replace English with Hindi. This must be resisted. The mindset which dislikes English is also opposed to regional languages while paying lip service to the latter.

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