Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Whole Language Debate is Redundant

I have been reading for ages about how English is killing off other languages in India, and how Hindi hegemony is being used to bully non-Hindi speakers. To me, these myths have no standing in today's India. Let me illustrate my own experiences to explain how.

I essentially belong to a family that has Pahari culture. Our ancestors hail from a region called Kangra. However, Kangra has for the longest time been a part of Punjab, and so both our local Pahari dialects and Punjabi have a lot of cultural and linguistic affinity. Since the Pahari culture extends all the way up to Jammu and Bhaderwah, we can even communicate, and have familial links all the way, with Dogri and Bhaderwahi people. My father speaks Punjabi with his Dogri cousins, who respond in Dogri, and laugh at the same jokes and cry over the same sad stories.

I grew up studying with English being the medium of instruction for all my schooling and English is what I say my first language of thought. I had been a long standing advocate of promoting English for various purposes, and still do. However, with time I started to realize that I lacked woefully in communicating with people at large due to my poor Hindi language skills in North India, especially the kind of official Hindi that I see. I forced myself to read Hindi literature of yore, that was based in the Rasa philosophy of India. I must admit sheepishly that I could not understand much, and Premchand opened my eyes along with translations from other languages, to an India I would never get to see from the comfort of my urban home. Reading Acarya Chatursena's masterpiece on Amrapali opened up a door into a history not discussed today in India.

My study of Sanskrit in school helped me retain certain linguistic abilities. Living in Hyderabad I had nearly picked up the verbal Telugu skills to have decent conversations. Of course, after moving out of the city, I lost it. However, the appreciation of languages came in. Also, it led me to ponder over why I was so far away from my own linguistic roots, and I consciously tried to pick up Punjabi, and feel glad that I have developed some skills in the same. Now I can appreciate Amrita Pritam, Surjit Patar and Shiv Batalvi in their language and realize the gems that they have been. Whenever I travel to Maharashtra or Bengal, I find no problems in understanding what people say in their native languages, and in fact understanding of these languages helps me connect with the people more and more.

In essence, in times where Indians are becoming more and more multilingual, and with good if not excellent command over languages, language debates are dead. Of course, the language propoagation at a personal level has done more than all the jingoists put together to teach people the need to learn and reach out and be a part of their own and each others' lives. Let me end this random rant with my own small anecdote.

In Baramati, our team was searching for a hotel that we had a booking in. However, after some questioning from puzzled people, we eventually reached an old man who despite repeated questioning in Hindi by our drivers was clueless about what we were asking. Eventually, I decided to shout out - Bhau! Ya _____ hotel kudhe aahe?".

We got instantly, much to our relief, the correct directions.  And amidst much stares from my team, I .became the hero for the day

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