The Hindi Imbroglio – Videshi Nationalism? Rita Kothari

Guest post by RITA KOTHARI


We live with multiple Hindis – one for instance, in railway and flight announcements, the other in cinema, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, or Hindustani,  the kind Gandhi wanted India to adopt as its national language. The former kind – sarkari Hindi – survives only in its ceremonial avatar. This  was acknowledged in a rare moment of honesty when   the Rajbhasha unit of Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order in December 2011 to provide relief to beleaguered translators who came up with words like ‘Misil’ (for file) and sanganak (for computer). It suggested using English words or words from Indian languages instead of  coining new ones but to be written in the Devangari script. It is interesting that this remained unnoticed, for it was business as usual when it happened. How is language both incidental and central at the same time? I wondered.


Government Order dated May 27, 2014 on use of Hindi

Ganesh Devy helped, in his characteristically charming aphoristic manner – “Because people think in language, they do not think of language.” And yet on some days we are ready to wage wars, and fight battles of life and death over language. Once settled, we go back to business as usual. However it is in times of “peace” that language needs to be observed, shaping as it does men, women and lives, manipulating messages, shifting terms of argument, excluding and including people. It is on those days that language articulates identity politics subtly, and invisibly and as an example of language-as self-fashioning.

For instance when Nehru gave his famous speech “Tryst with destiny…” speech at Lal Qilla in 1947, it occurred to few, least of all to Nehru himself, that there was something ironic about announcing the political freedom from the British in a language we learnt from them. More seriously, how many people would have understood English, especially the eloquence of Jawaharlal Nehru? If,  by all counts, English is still a language of a miniscule (however powerful that group might be) of Indians, how many would have been using English way back in 1947? However, this question in time of “peace” remained unnoticed in history. What  did make hackles rise was a discussion on national  language in the Constituent Assembly  debates, one of the most bitter debates memorialized recently in Shyam Benegal’s Samvidhaan.  Given the fact that the first Prime Minister of independent India spoke most comfortably only in English, was it surprising that English found its firm footing in the Nehruvian era, making not only midnight’s children but also midnight’s grandchildren proliferate. It’s a different matter that we witnessed the expansion of English in a global economy much later, after the 1990s.

Meanwhile Hindi, despite the insistence of a large number of representatives from the North, met with severe antipathy in the South. The life-and-death intensity was provoked by the State’s desire to impose Hindi. Once this was put on a backburner, and over the years Hindi cinema and television serials such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata came to be associated with stories (summarized in daily newspapers for Tamil-speakers)  some of the old memories of imposition faded. A few years ago when I traveled to different parts of the country to understand the mixture of Hindi and English, popularly called Hinglish, it seemed the resistance to Hindi had receded in the urban parts of Tamil Nadu, while states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh showed little, if any resistance at all. Thus when the State deso not make languages imperative and symbolic, language wars do not take place. Similarly, few noticed  that when Narendra Modi, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, ,  after winning the Legislative Assembly elections of 2012, gave his victory speech to Gujarat in Hindi, it was a window to an unannounced but enlarged role he was going to play in the months to come.  This was a time of “peace.” When he got closer to seeing a distinct possibility of becoming as a serious nation-maker, there was a clear waning of aspersions at others, couched in Urdu words such as “Miyaan” and “Shehzaada”. Hindi text of a more sedate nature took over. Again an unnoticed moment, drowned in the ubiquitous givenness of language.

However a recent development seems to have produced a nation-wide, albeit unreflective outcry about the imposition of Hindi. The new government’s diktat to its officers to use Hindi in official correspondence and social media has come as much-needed evidence of an oppressive Hindu nationalist and retrogressively swadeshi State.  In the spate of articles voicing opinions, there is little acknowledgement of the fact that this is not such a new development, after all. It is drawing attention only because the State has expressed a view on it. Hindi had, after an abortive attempt to be Rashtra-bhasha (national language), not ceased to be the Raaj-bhasha (language of state). Government institutions continue to pay ceremonial tribute to Hindi. Staff and employees are made to fill up forms confirming or denying their proficiency in Hindi. It’s a different matter that even filling up this lesser-known form requires more than proficiency in sarkari Hindi. Dormant departments of Hindi translation continue to invent words that Hindi had hitherto not known. So the new development is not so new, but the outrage it has evoked is interesting for it comes with a symbolic, rather than real, reminder that nations must have a national language.

And I believe that this is the more enduring question we need to deal with. Is it possible to conceive of nations without a national language, or avoid thinking of language as a build up to a nation? If Germany is the nation of German speaking people, and France the nation of French speaking people, why is India not the nation of …… speaking people? Which language needs to fill that gap and with what, and should it at all? India has been challenged every now then by this conundrum and presents to us the most complex moment of nation-making in that respect. Does Hindi come closest to being the candidate to fill that gap? It is undeniable that comprehension of some kind of Hindi can be taken for granted a minimum of eight states. Do eight states India make? They cannot. And while it is customary for the promoters of Hindi to blame the “South” (almost as an abstract category), there are parts of the East where Hindi is neither available nor acceptable. The atrocious Hindi spoken in parts of the West I come from, encapsulated in sentences such as, “Bhaiya, meri camera se phota paado” can best be left alone. Then there is the question as to which Hindi should, if at all it should, be the national language? Scholars working on this issue have documented the construction of Hindi and simultaneous  appropriation of distinct languages such as Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Braj, Maithili etc. This cannibalistic feature of Hindi and its rise to a hegemonic power over languages that go much further back than its own history, created an absurd situation. As the famous Gujarati writer Sitanshu Yashashchandra put it vividly, this produced the “curious image of a thirty year old mother combing the hair of her sixty year old daughters.” Be that as it may, no government in India  can impose a national language out of thin air, its ingredients do not exist, and creating one as nations in Europe have done (with Norwegian for instance), is not only impossible, but goes against the grain of “Indian” nationalism.  It may achieve some of its goal in quiet ways, but not by policies and diktats. Unwittingly, the new government appears closer to the European idea of nationalism than the linguistic economy of India that functions well without creating a common language.

Is its moment of being swadeshi, in fact a moment of being videshi, I wonder.

Rita Kothari teaches Humanities at IIT Gandhinagar, and is the author of Translating India; The Burden of Refuge: Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat and Memories and Movements: Borders and Communities in Banni, Kutch, Gujarat

25 thoughts on “The Hindi Imbroglio – Videshi Nationalism? Rita Kothari”

  1. It is interesting that while the masses seem to accept the imposition of English (a foreign language) as the primary medium of communication in schools, university and offices in India; they oppose Hindi.

    In Pakistan (I live in Muzaffarabad, Kashmir) we have Urdu as the national language. So one can travel, live and work down from Karachi all the way up to Kashmir and have no problem communicating with the local population (as Urdu is understood and spoken well by all). While many argue that the Urdu/Bengali language caused the 1971 war and subsequent split of Pakistan. It is interesting that Bangladesh (opposed the imposition of Urdu); yet comfortably accepted the imposition of English in its schools, universities and offices.

    I think Urdu has worked beautifully for Pakistan (post 1971). I have travelled from Karachi, to Lahore, to Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Swat etc. The fact that the local populations in every Pakistani city has a good grasp on Urdu serves as a strong unifying force.

    I imagine it would be extremely difficult for a Tamil man in Chennai to communicate with a Punjabi man from Amritsar? Perhaps this language divide has caused the extreme North-South divide in India as well.

    I think it is important to have one national language the unifies a country.

    1. Pakistan has one national language but is it a unified country? Is it love that we see on the streets of Karachi when an ‘Urdu-speak’ meets a ‘Sindhi’? Do you think Urdu is a native language of Pakistan? Don’t you feel Sindhi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Balochi, Saraiki and Pushto have more claim to Pakistaniat than foreign language of Delhi called Urdu which was imposed on us?

      The modern Pakistan state has reduced the native languages of its people to the status of regional language while it has systematically imposed a completely alien language as a national language.

      I believe imposition of one language betrays an authoritarian tendency. A belief that one language for that matter one religion unifies a country is a majoritarian disease which is contemptuous of difference.

      So yes Shahida your views are welcome because perhaps only a Hindu Nationalist can perhaps understand the deep yearning for singularity that a Muslim majoritarian nationalist country like yours was able to achieve.

  2. “a mixture of Hindi and Urdu,” I wonder how would the author of this essay or for the matter anyone be able to distinguish spoken Hindi from Urdu?

    I also wonder as to how the official version of “Urdu” which uses the Persian script and tries to gravitate towards words derived from Arabic & Persian repudiate its grammer which is of Sanskrit origin!

    1. As Urdu speakers we can tell the difference within seconds if one is speaking actual (khalis) Urdu or Hindi. The first and foremost difference is: as Urdu speakers we use much much more arabic and persian loan-words (even in day-day conversational language).

      For example, Urdu speakers would call their Mother: valida/ammi (arabic loan words), whereas, Hindi speakers would call their Mother: maata/ma. Similarly, Father in Urdu is: Abbi/Abu whereas in Hindi it is: Pita. In addition, the days of the week are also completely different. In Urdu, Friday is Jummah (same as Arabic), whereas, in Hindi Friday is shukravaar. In essence, Urdu is very persianised and arabised, whereas, Hindi has become very Sanskritistised.

      Further, Urdu was heavily influenced by the Persian language of the Indian courts, and still has many flowery polite expressions, which in normal conversation are used in place of everyday words.

      When asking someone into your house, as well as saying aie (come in) you can also say tashrif laie, which literally means “bring your honour”. When asking someone to sit down, as well as the ordinary polite expression baithie, you may also use tashrif rakhie “place your honour”. These are phrases which are common in conversational Urdu (and much less in conversational Hindi).

      And the most important (and obvious) element that enables us to distinguish between conversational Urdu from Hindi is the pronunciation of the phonemes: /f/, /z/, /kh/, /gh/ and /q/. These are unique phonemes that Hindi speakers typically cannot pronounce and do not pronounce. These phonemes occur mostly in loan-words from Arabic and Persian; and they act a key discriminator between Urdu and Hindi at the spoken level. For example, most Hindi speakers will not be able to pronounce “Khan” from the epiglottis (but almost all Urdu speakers will be able to; as it is a phoneme common in Arabic and Persian loan words). Another example is the word “ghalath” (meaning wrong). Most Urdu speakers will pronounce the “gh”, whereas, most Hindi speakers will say ‘Galath”. This all derives back to Hindi speakers inability to correctly pronounce the phonemes (borrowed from arabic and persian) embedded in Urdu. It is the large infusion of Arabic and Persian loan-words that has made Urdu so unique, poetic and rich.

      In summary, one can (especially as Urdu speakers) easily determine if one is speaking Urdu or in fact Hindi at a conversational level.

      1. I think you have got it wrong. Just by using the words like mata/pita or baithiye oneI cannot guess someone is using Hindi or Urdu. Also I know very many Hindi speakers who have better pronounciations of fe khe and qaaf than native Urdu speakers. Most Hindi shayars are a prime example as are lawyers who have learnt Hindi and Urdu. I think u only had the UP dialect of Urdu in mind spoken by majority UP Muslims with that comment. In reality it is difficulty to distinguish when someone is speaking Urdu or Hindi in day to day language until it’s is very chaste.

      2. This is what Wikipedia has to say on this issue:

        “Hindustani, commonly known as Hindi-Urdu is the lingua franca of North India and most of Pakistan. It is an Indo-Aryan language, deriving primarily from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi, and incorporates a large amount of vocabulary from Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and Turkic. It is a pluricentric language, with two official forms, Hindi and Urdu, which are standardized registers of it. The colloquial languages are all but indistinguishable, and even though the official standards are nearly identical in grammar, they differ in literary conventions and in academic and technical vocabulary, with Urdu retaining stronger Persian, Central Asian and Arabic influences, and Hindi relying more heavily on Sanskrit. Before the Partition of India, the terms Hindustani, Urdu, and Hindi were synonymous; all covered what would be called Urdu and Hindi today.

        The grammar and base vocabulary (most pronouns, verbs, adpositions, etc.) of both Urdu and Hindi, however, are the same and derive from a Prakritic base, and both have a heavy Persian influence. Thus linguists usually count them as one single language and contend that they are considered as two different languages for socio-political reasons.”

        At the end of the day, it is a beautiful way of communicating among ourselves. Lets not politicize it.

  3. My experience, across India, has been that it is much simpler to get along with Hindi than in any other language.

    Some incidents have been truly unforgettable.

    a) I had a customer who owned the largest fruit pulping set up in the country. He was from Madanapalle (AP). His CFO was a TamBrahm. They used to communicate to each other invariably in functional Hindi.

    b) I had to go and meet a customer at a place about 100 kms from Hyderabad. Not being familiar with the local language (Telugu), I took a colleague who knew Telugu. Everywhere between Hyderabad and Nizamabad wherever we stopped to ask for directions (in Telugu) we got the reply in Hindi!

    c) Another colleague who is ethnically a Maharashtrian but born and brought up in Hyderabad and living there for the last 60 years can hardly speak or understand Telugu. When I asked him, how come. He told me that in Hyderabad one really does not need to know Telugu!

    d) While travelling from Pondicherry to Chennai by road, we were stopped by some guys in police uniform who just loose a torrent of Tamil. We were totally at a loss and the guys were quite belligerent. I could just about make out that they wanted to search the vehicle and I let them do it to their heart’s content. After the search was over, I asked them again as to what were they expecting. Then one of the guys explained in pretty decent Hindi that invariably private cars with Bangalore number plates travelling out of Pondicherry carry liquor (because it is cheaper in Pondi) and my car had Bangalore number plates! We became pally after that and he told me that he was an ex Army guy and that is how he was comfortable with Hindi and he was ensuring that his children learnt Hindi.

    e) Apart from rural Tamil Nadu, it is easier to get around with the local populace by communicating in Hindi anywhere in India

    f) I have been living in the GCC for the last 8 years now. Nearly everyone (except white expats) speak or at least understand Hindi. Locals, Malyalees, Tamilians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Afghans you name it. In fact I once encountered a Bahraini conversing with a Filipino (at the local Post Office) in Hindi!

    g) While conversing with a Pakistani, the guy remarked that I speak very good Urdu. That is the time I understood that what we call Hindi is known as Urdu, the only real difference is in the script. Some research on the net thereafter revealed that the grammatical base of Urdu is neither Arabic or Persian, it is Sanskrit!

    In Patna we used to achieve our quota of correspondence in Hindi by having a standard printed forwarding letter in Hindi to which the original letter in English was attached!

  4. There is something interesting, lofty, and disconnected about the language debate. It neither reflects the ground reality nor the aspirations of the masses.

    What is the reality?

    That Hindi works when you don’t know English. And regional languages work to connect you with your own or even to get into that which is not your own. The hierarchy of language is set by utility – not by political expediency. .

    As Kancha Elliah said, English as the common language for India is the most appropriate because it is the hammer that destroys every single barrier be it caste, gender, class, or region.

  5. @Sushil Prasad> My experience, across India, has been that it is much simpler to get along with Hindi than in any other language.

    Arguments by anecdote are really very helpful. I could derive any number of lessons on linguistic unity from the fact that “some guys in police uniform” on the East Coast Road, Tamil Nadu, spoke Hindi. I’ve been spoken to in Hindi by a farmer in Bhumthang, Bhutan and it made me wonder. And in Tamil by a cab driver in Singapore not two days ago, from which I inferred that there is at least one cab driver in Singapore who speaks Tamil but of course it could mean several other things.

    We Hindi speakers are naturally baffled – and offended – that the rest of India stubbornly refuses to embrace the language of Premchand, not to mention many other famous writers, some living, some dead. How often have we pointed out that Hindi is a beautiful language (unlike their own which, according to an Anthony Burgess story, was made by God farting in His bath-tub), that it is simple (unlike, say, Malayalam which, for reasons unknown but possibly sheer bloody-mindedness, shows scant respect for the gender of chairs and kitchen stoves), that it has a wonderful literature, that it is spoken by all manner of people in unexpected parts of the world and that, well, it *is* Hindi, our official language, do you mind?

    Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan… remember?

    Guru Golwalkar, god bless him, arrived at the unassailable conclusion that “for the Nation concept to exist and be manifest, it must have as its indissoluble component parts the famous five unities”, viz., Geography, Race, Religion, Culture and Language, and that “the loss or destruction of any one of these means the end of the Nation as a Nation”, and what could be fairer than that?

    I think we are pretty much done with Geography, except for contiguous bits of Muzaffarabad, but we really need to work on Race, Religion, Culture and Language. Of these, since we have met policemen in Tamil Nadu who speak Hindi, language seems to be the most tractable. Actually, Golwalkar thought we already had a common language: Sanskrit, the dialect of the gods. Personally, I find it somewhat difficult to explain to my motor mechanic either in Hindi or in the dialect of the gods that my sedan’s reciprocating whatsis is not synchronizing maximally with the rotary doohickey, but he’s from Karunagapally, Kollam district, and you know what they are like.

    1. @Sajan> It is very enlightening to learn of your experiences with using Hindi across India, and of course you are welcome to derive your own opinions and conclusions from those experiences. But I take strong exception to your offensive parenthetic statement “(unlike their own …… made by God farting in His bath-tub)”.

      I would urge the editors of Kafila not to censor or delete Sajan’s comment but to politely but firmly condemn it for all the readers to see.

      1. @Vivek: I’m sorry I offended your sensibilities. I wasn’t referring to any Indian language in particular. Still, by editing my parenthetical statement, you make it sound as if the comparison were my own which, as I’ve said, it isn’t. You’ll find it in Burgess’s ‘Earthly Powers’, in which “a smoking Sikh taxidriver in the FMS Bar in Ipoh” gives the protagonist the origin of the language of my ancestors.

        My point, in case you missed it, is that to the English ear, or the Punjabi ear, or indeed any other kind of ear, one’s own language sounds sweet whereas another language could be a fart in a bath-tub (or “worrabarrahotwarrerborrel”, as Burgess says). There’s nothing so steeped in prejudice, pettiness and puffery as linguistic chauvinism.

        Nevertheless, my apologies for the poor choice of anecdote. I’ll go with Arun Nambiar who puts it more elegantly: the hierarchy of language is set by utility – not by political expediency.

  6. Having one language as national language wont work in a country like India. We need a policy framework that recognizes the diversity in languages and enables all languages to grow and flourish. Linguistic diversity is part of cultural diversity. If people prefer to send their children to English medium schools and consider that learning English from LKG is important what does that signify. Let all languages mentioned in the Constitution be declared as national languages.

  7. One cannot fathom this obsession with equating identities to symbols and commonalities. The various peoples that came on board the Indian Republic did so because of a common narrative of struggle against colonialism and the promise of swaraj. It is the stories and characters of the nationalist movement, and the Constitution it culminated in that make us Indians, not any language or religion.

    But the peoples of India have stories that far predate the Indian nationalist one. Let their Indian story complement, not destroy these.

  8. Former Indian PM Narasimha Rao was reputed to be a polyglot who could fluently lie in all the 13 languages he knew. The problem of the people who run India is not one of which language to speak but the insincerity with which they speak every language they know. In other words the dilemma is not one of the mother tongue but the forked tongue. Time to sharpen our scissors folks!

  9. Kothari seems to betray an disregard for history when she writes about “a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, or Hindustani”. Quite the contrary, modern Hindi is a fabrication of the government. Hindustani is the real deal. Historically, Hindi was just another dialect of Hindustani.

    I disagree with the bulk of the article, but not its conclusion.

    > that there was something ironic about announcing the political freedom from the British in a language we learnt from them.

    Nothing ironic about it. Our cultures interacted for a few centuries. We were all influenced by each other. Indian English is as Indian as Hindi is. Ironically, if the author had written her article in Hindi, I would have ignored it, as I ignore all Hindi articles. Though I can speak Hindi fluently, I have never really made an effort to read it fast. And why should I? I make my living through English. Hindi is useful to me only for some news reports. And no, I’m not some sort of a “powerful” person. I am just one of millions of engineers who justify the adjective in “modern India”.

    I applauded the Tamil government’s past efforts to dub DD’s Hindi serials with Tamil. They were making an effort to communicate to the hard-working tax payers. I no longer live in Tamil Nadu, so I am not sure if they still do that.

    > while states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh showed little, if any resistance at all.

    Why would Andhra Pradesh with its rich Urdu tradition show resistance? I don’t know what resistance Kerala showed, but I can assure you that none of my Malayali colleagues speak or understand Hindi.

    > If Germany is the nation of German speaking people, and France the nation of French speaking people, why is India not the nation of …… speaking people?

    “Indian” speaking people? I get that this is not the author’s own opinion, and she is merely voicing attitudes she has come across. However, it’s attitudes such as this that make me join the Tamils in their fight against the imposition of Hindi. If the question is “enduring”, well then, so is the revolt. Why is Switzerland not the nation of …… speaking people? Why is Belgium not the nation of …… speaking people? Why is Singapore not the nation of …… speaking people? The bottom line is that language, like religion, does not unify us. The moment you assume it does, we are no longer united.

    1. modern Hindi is a fabrication of the government. Hindustani is the real deal. Historically, Hindi was just another dialect of Hindustani.

      Actually, this is the statement that shows disconnect with history। When Ramchandra Shukla wrote his encyclopedic and historic Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas, he didn’t call it “Hindustani sahitya ka Itihas”. The book was written in 1929, when the “government” which was to invent Hindi was about 18 years from being born. Premchand referred to the languages he wrote in as Hindi and Urdu, not as Hindustani and Urdu. Hindustani is just an after-the-fact umbrella term to combine the various Hindi continuum dialects (most of which have significant grammatical differences from Hindi or Urdu, which for all practical purposes have the same grammar) and Urdu.

      1. Shouldn’t Kafila do fact checking before passing of this kind of ignorant comment by Ahannasmi? S/he seems to know nothing about the history of Hindi/Hindustani. Hindustani an ‘after the fact umbrella term’?? Where does s/he get that from? Hindustani is an old language, dating back to the medieval period – a time when the distinction of Hindustani, Hindi and Urdu did not exist.
        As for the development of a pure Hindi, ‘cleansed’ of Urdu and Persian, it is definitely intimately linked to the nationalist project of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan. ND in his/her comment used the term ‘government’ which is misleading – what produced Modern Hindi as we know it today, was the nationalist movement. (The same thing happened with Urdu – the cleansing).
        Ramchandra Shukla’s Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas is a red herring in this context, which Ahannasmi invokes only to counter the ‘government’ argument – kind of like “Ha-ha, written in 1929, 18 years before the government came into being!” what sort of historical understanding is this!

        1. Well, let’s do some fact checking. The terms “Urdu” and “Rekhta” are certainly well documented, and were apparently used even by Ghalib. Similarly the term “Hindi”, “Hindvi” and “Dehlavi”. What was a product of the nationalistic movement was the term “Hindustani”, designed to unify Hindi/Urdu as a candidate for a national language (note that neither Hindi nor Urdu had nationalistic connotations, though they might have has religious ones, but “Hindustani” certainly had very strong nationalistic connotations in those days). That’s why we have Premchand saying in the 1930s that “Progressive writers” should ditch both heavily Sanskritized Hindi and the Persianated Urdu in favor of the more down to earth and “recently born” Hindustani, which would have a wider pan-national appeal. Here is an actual quote from his speech (translation mine, the original in Hindi follows):

          But they [Hindi and Urdu] were not individually able to fulfil national requirements and hence a process of their unification started naturally. And that combined form of the two languages was born which we very rightly call Hindustani.


          परंतु वे अपने व्यक्तिगत रूप में राष्ट्रीय आवश्यकताओं की पूर्ति नहीं कर सकीं और इसलिए संयुक्त रूप से स्वयं ही उनका मेल और संयोग आरंभ हो गया। और दोनों का वह सम्मिलित रूप उतपन्न हो गया जिसे हम बहुत ठीक तौर पर हिन्दुस्तानी ज़बान कहते हैं।

          So Premchand unambiguously says that Hindustani was the common denominator of Hindi and Urdu that was necessary for a “national requirement”. Premchand’s essay is full of other characteristically blunt observations about the politics of Hindi and Urdu, and I recommend it.

          Also, Ramchandra Shulka’s book is hardly a red
          herring: it is considered an important work in the history of the various Hindi languages, and opinions expressed there in cannot be summarily rejected.

          Perhaps Kafila published my comment because by and large, they believe in evidence-based discussion, and do not succumb to outrage about how a comment disagreeing with someone’s political opinions could possibly be published.

  10. Ahannasmi’s point is completely off the mark, though he seizes on an error in ND’s comment. Certainly, Hindi was not the product of the government of Independent India. The term Hindi or Hindustani do not and have not always referred to stable objects/ languages. In the older days right from Amir Khusrau’s time, the term Hindi and Hindavi were in use but please remember that the word ‘Hindi’ then did not mean what it does today. In those days, Hindi was a derivative of Hind, which was more of a geographical descriptor and Hindi the language spoken by the inhabitants of Hind. The term Rekhta too has been in use to denote pretty much the same language and Mirza Ghalib refers to himself as a poet – now of Hindi now of Rekhta (rekhta ke tum hi nahin ustad…). The division of this one language into Hindi and Urdu was a phenomenon of the 18th and 19th centuries. The division became institutionalized under colonial rule under the aegis of Fort William College. Thereafter, Hindustani, occupying the middle ground, started being used to refer to the older Hindi/ Hindavi/ Rekhta. The division created two languages that were both to be increasingly removed from their common history and Hindustani became the term for a refusal of that division. Gandhi was amongst the most illustrious champions of Hindustani.
    In this history, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukl’s Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas was part of the problem – the magnum opus that produced Hindi as the overarching language, incorporating actually vibrant literary languages liked Braj as dialects of Hindi. It is one of the milestones of the institutionalization of the division and reinvention of Hindi and can hardly be produced as the ‘proof’ of the argument the way Ahannasmi wants to. The saying in Sanskrit ‘alpa vidya bhayankari’ (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) is perhaps appropriate here.

    1. In fact, I agree with all of your comment! As I said, in my latest comment in reply to geeta (which was posted before I read your excellent comment), my point was not that Hindi had never been “reinvented” but simply that the terms “Hindi”, “Urdu” and “Rekhta” are older than teh term “Hindustani”, and part of the cachet for the term “Hindustani” came from nationalists trying to unify the various Hindi-Urdu languages under an umbrella term to create a candidate national language. It is certainly unfortunate that Shukla labelled a whole gamut of dialects and language under one term, but what it was a symptom of the political ascendancy that the “khari boli” dialect (which is grammatically indistinguishable from Urdu) had gained over the others around that the time.

      In any case, thanks for your comment. However, as an occasional commenter on Kafila, I am still trying to get used to the gratuitous belittling (witness the last sentence in your comment) of opposing views (or in this case, similar views perceived to be opposing) that seems to be so popular.

    2. Given the history lesson, I gratefully accept the label of ‘alpa vidya’, though it does not seem to be directed at me.

      I thank Ahannāsmi, geeta, and you for pointing out my error, and for providing additional context.

  11. The recent decades have been unfortunately a time of “purifying” languages, whether the Hindi enthusiasts or their Tamil Counterparts who removed Sanksrit origin words and letters that denoted Sanskrit sounds from Tamil usage. The language issue in India appears to me to be a fairly settled one as far as I am concerned at least for now. English usage is growing and we do have our own version of it, and for economic reasons, it will only get stronger.

    As for communicating with each other, we have always been using whatever is necessary, whether a Tamil in Ooty talking to North Indian tourists in Hindi, a Goan talking in French to outsiders, a Bihari labourer in Coimbatore speaking smattering of Tamil [yes, some North Indians in South do speak in other languages], and of course vast numbers of people who are biligual or sometimes even tri lingual in border areas [ Tamil/ Telugu/ Kannada ; Tamil/ Malayalam; Kannada/ Marati]. We should be celebrating this rich heritage and ability to be multilingual, and perhaps this is what helps us communicate with each other. This would also help preserve the diverse regional languages. I feel sad that Hindi seems to be destroying local languages in the North. Thankfully in the South, our languages are so different from official Hindi that we can learn it and use it outside home while speaking in our own mother tongues.

    Just as now we seem to be developing and using our own version of English, we do have a functional version of Hindi/ Urdu/ Hindustani — it doesn’t matter what we call it, and this is spoken and understood widely. This will only change when we do not have any more use for it — someday in future when perhaps a critical numbers all over the country start speaking our versions of English ? From where I am in Tamilnadu, “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan” seems a faraway dream of delirious minds.

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