Has Hindi been defeated by English?
Translated by Mangal Murty
[ Only months before his death, Shivapujan Sahay, wrote an article ‘Kya Angrezi se Hindi har gayee?’ which was published by the famous Hindi poet and writer, Dharmveer Bharati, in the epochal Hindi weekly Dharmyug (July 1, 1962). Bharati was running a serial of articles on this burning language issue of the time, and had requested Sahayji for his views on the matter. The relevance of the question is all the more substantial now when things seem to have gone beyond control, with Hindi being pushed behind and discarded increasingly at every step. The full Hindi article, which appeared in a heavily edited form in the journal, excluding the first two introductory paragraphs, is being presented here in English translation for the first time. The original Hindi article is available in volume 3 of the Shivapujan Sahay Sahitya Samagra ( 10 volumes) recently published. – Translator]
Our national leaders love their power, and not Hindi. We, the Hindi people, could have easily taught these autocratic leaders a good lesson through the ballot boxes if we really had a united force. Unfortunately we don’t have that. Even the capable and popular Hindi newspapers which could have actively sustained a movement in this regard are owned by capitalists. No competent leadership for the movement either was allowed to develop. Rajarshi Tandan was ousted primarily for his championship of Hindi’s cause. Left alone, Seth Govind Dasji also has become powerless.
Hindi has been deliberately hamstrung and crippled by having English as a burden on its shoulders. The whole Hindi world is deeply discontented by the government’s Hindi policy. The idea of promoting a foreign language in an independent nation for nurturing national awareness is a clear sign of the government’s lack of foresight. The thought of national integration sans an Indian national language is merely a fool’s paradise. Even emotional integration can never be achieved by devaluing the native Indian languages. The enthronement of English through the disregard of the chief Indian languages is a grievous blow to our nationalism.
As our national language, Hindi can fully serve as the language of governance, with the mutual cooperation of all its sister Indian languages. But instead of strengthening and augmenting this natural capability of Hindi, the idea of according supremacy to English is a totally anti-national endeavour – a clear mockery of democratic norms in a great republic like ours. But, unfortunately, we have absolutely forgotten what Gandhi had so consistently taught us – the method of compelling even the mightiest government to conceding our demands. We also seem to have lost the capability to use the unassailable weapon which he had given in our hands to bring a government back to the right path; otherwise our own government wouldn’t have been able to indulge in such wilful acts. If we had genuine concern for our language, such injustice couldn’t have been forced on us. Regrettably, even the supporters of regional languages would not arise and proclaim that all our Constitutionally approved languages can join hands amicably in managing all the linguistic needs of governance. There is no need to offer the crown to English. But sadly, the regional language supporters also are happy to cut off their noses to spite Hindi’s face. It is as if the whole well of the nation itself is polluted with cannabis [‘bhang’].
Hindi has always helped in the spread of all the regional and local languages on a nationwide scale. It has rid them as far as possible of their ‘frog-in-pond’ism. Even so, all those who are intolerant of Hindi’s progress are happy to find their antipathies succeeding. Indeed, it is a matter of outright misfortune for a great nation like India. And when we look at the language policies of our neighbouring countries it appears to be all the more disgraceful. It shouldn’t be so mortifying to say that though the English are gone, their progenies still remain with us. Countries that gained their independence after India are managing their affairs in their own languages quite well. But a gigantic nation like India which is historically, culturally and civilizationally much older to them can unabashedly profess to the world that it cannot work with its own native language.
It’s a matter of the greatest astonishment that even our best educationists, politicians, and leaders crying hoarse with their nationalist slogans, would not care to look towards Asian nations like China and Japan, but rather gaze fixedly towards England. How exhilarated our erstwhile ‘white masters’ must be feeling to notice this ‘slave mentality’ in the Indian people’s consciousness! The headache of a Pakistan that they successfully gifted us would, perhaps, cause only a faint smile on their lips, but the spell that they have cast on us through their language, English, would surely make them burst in laughter! The soul of that far-sighted Macaulay must be laughing its heart out on our myopic vision. Our heart bleeds as we say this, but it is like banging our heads against a stone wall if we try to emphasise the integral relationship between our culture and language in a country, the heart of not one of whose leaders is charged with a national spirit.
Numerous ambitious plans are being put forward by our government for the expansion and advancement of Hindi. Various efforts to promote Hindi like publication of books and magazines, translation programmes, book distribution, institutional grants, regional seminars, note-writing in Hindi, etc are being made, but the perpetuation of English has thrown cold water on all that. The Hindi people are not mere children to be diverted by toys and dolls. Whatever ambitious projects are being implemented by the government for the propagation of Hindi, the blind devotion towards English has put paid to them all. Our heads bow down in shame to find our populist government pleading for the inexorability of English. But those who now rule us, who hold the reins of government in their hands, it’s their logic that must be seen as impeccable. It’s an eternal principle that the power of governance can be held only in an iron fist. Even so, there can be no authoritarianism in a democratic set up. But had this been a reality, the vox populi of the Hindi-speakers would not have gone absolutely unheard. One has a distinct feeling of contrition in calling oneself the citizen of a country which holds its language and script to be incapable of national use and shows its helplessness by accepting the efficacy of a foreign language for its domestic purposes. In fact, according to a rustic adage: whom to swear by, when both the husband and the son are equally dear; the government is as much our own as is Hindi – that’s the biggest problem. The tyranny on our own by our own is truly insufferable.
It would be quite relevant here to quote rather extensively from an article published in the famous Bangla weekly Desh. In its 17 February, 1962 issue, the Head of the English Department of the Yadavpur University and an eminent Bangla litterateur, Shri Buddhadeva Bose has written a heart-touching account of his travel to Japan. The lines are quite eloquent in themselves.
“The part of Japanese life that has left its deepest impress on my mind is the position of English there. The Japanese are not proficient speakers of English. Even among the intellectual elites, the learned and the scholarly, it is rather rare to find a person who can freely talk in English for long. What is more interesting is that they don’t even try, or don’t even consider it worthwhile, to try overmuch. Among the ordinary people, most would use the same kind of workaday English; that is, they would mostly remain within a limited perimeter of workaday use of English. Beyond that, they would have no use for another language. I found many ladies always carrying a pocket English dictionary in their vanity bags; if they don’t understand an expression they would sooner browse into their dictionary. Even university Deans who taught English or French literature would generally respond only with a mystifying smile, without any apparent sign of having understood or not, the questions I put to them.
“ I think this last observation of mine would turn the brows askew of many of our countrymen – ‘How is that possible, teaching English, but not conversing in it?’ But the straight answer to this is that from the primary to the highest levels of education the medium of instruction there is solely Japanese....Literature, science, engineering – everything in Japan is taught through the mother tongue. Textbooks and examinations are done in mother tongue only. Criticism, scholarly writing and knowledge discourse – all done in the mother tongue. Commerce, administration, government affairs, disquisition, jurisprudence are all carried only in the mother tongue. That is to say, Japan has consistently been following the most natural, vigorous, and world-acknowledged system of language use. But it doesn’t mean that they have turned their back on the world; scholars would frequently publish their researches in French, German or English. And yet they would always encourage foreigners to learn their language, Japanese. Many reputed journals would publish their papers in Japanese with an abstract in English just to attract attention of foreign scholars....For their interest in foreign literature and knowledge, they are always ready to learn a foreign language with seriousness, and would also teach it to their students, but it hardly occurs to these teachers and their students that they would also be expected, or are proficient enough, to talk freely in that language. Presently, it seems, the older generation is drawn towards English due to American influence; but even so, it is inconceivable for the Japanese that culture or education are in any way dependent on English....
“In our country India, English is all too important. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that among all the countries where English is not a native language, the highest proficiency in the use of English is to be found in India....It’s true that a handful of our countrymen have the same degree of proficiency in using the English language as is possible for a non-native user ( though there still would be a limitation). But it is also not true that we have any special advantage in the world as a consequence of this unnatural situation. Of course, English is of much use to us as our only window on the world. It has some special value for us because, generally, the world’s winds blow on us through this window alone.... But the main issue is whether it is desirable for English to have the kind of stranglehold that it has come to have on us. How can I call it proper when I find that in the whole world we are the only unfortunate people worshipping the stone idol of a foreign tongue – not benefiting from its true spirit, but only wildly exulting with its outer form.
“Whenever a foreigner comes to India they are paid due respect. Some of them would even mix in our society, or spend years and even their whole life here. But they wouldn’t bother to learn much of our language except a dozen or so of our words which they would only have to use with the servants. But in Japan nothing is possible without using Japanese – neither business, education or studies, nor marriage or settlement there. This is the main reason behind Japanese literature being translated into many languages even now. There are full-fledged departments of Japanese language in many American universities. That is only because it is imperative to know Japanese before establishing any kind of relationship with them. By our sheer subservience to English, we are not allowing our own language to raise its head in pride, and this is why our inner thinking - our heart’s voice has not been able to reach out to the world.
“Has Japan retrogressed in any field because of keeping away from English? Is it that we are more conversant with the wealth of world knowledge? I feel sad to say, it’s just the opposite. Not only in science, but in literature ,too, it is they who are the ‘world citizens’, and we are the ‘provincials’. It is, indeed, paradoxical, that the English which we consider as our window on the world, has only obscured our own world from us!
“The view of the Japanese about translated [world] literature is that just as it can be done into English, so also into Japanese. If it’s not possible to read it in the original, it is much better in their own language japanese. If translation [of world literature] is possible into English, it is equally possible in Japanese.
“Japan is an ideal answer to the question : whether the mother tongue can be the medium for higher education in India? Ideal because Japan also is an Asian nation, and its rise in Asia has been phenomenal. One reason for this, certainly, is that even the most updated knowledge in the West is disseminated in Japan through its mother tongue. In spite of its substantial assimilation of the best in the West, it has never committed the suicidal error of the slavery of a foreign language. It is often stated that though literature and such other subjects can be taught in the mother tongue, but for science and engineering education English is inescapable. Yet who are more advanced in the fields of science and engineering [or technology] – we the English-knowing Indians, or they, the mother tongue-educated Japanese? What Mahatma Gandhi had called a ‘slave mentality’ – we have still not been able to shed it off. And the proof of this lies in our helpless, miserable enchantment with English.”
No comments seem necessary on the above-expressed views of a well-known scholar of English, but regarding his last sentence, it must be added that Mahatma Gandhi’s language policy and national reconstruction policy were conveniently put on the back-burner; only his name continued to be utilized as a talisman on the ballot box. It’s a great misfortune that Mahatmaji’s blessing hand is gone forever from over Hindi’s head, otherwise our nation wouldn’t have had to face this humiliation.
As for the question of Hindi’s battle for victory or defeat with English, it’s only a matter of the victory or defeat of the mindset. If the mindset is defeatist, there is defeat, of course; but if it’s victory-spirited, it is victory ultimately. The mindset of the Hindi speakers is surely never defeatist, nor can Hindi be ever defeated. But as is the wont of our destiny-makers, Hindi can never win in this battle against English. It is only to their [dis?]credit that even after a self-rule of fifteen years they have not been able to build up sufficiently the strength of their centuries-old national language. If they had harboured true Indian nationalism in their hearts, English wouldn’t have secured the enviable position of a darling second spouse. But it is these same people who have forced Hindi’s defeat at the hands of English. This thorn in the Hindi speakers’ flesh would keep agonizing so long as English continues to grind its corn on the chest of Hindi. After bruising the hearts of millions of Hindi speakers with utmost cruelty, the big drum of India’s ancient heritage is being beaten all around the world. It’s a matter of unbearable pity!
What is more amazing is that those occupying the seats of power also consider themselves to be great linguists. They who are totally ignorant of its riches are, in fact, trying to weigh the worth of Hindi. One among them would even brag that there is nothing at all in Hindi literature, and another would profess that all 14 languages are national languages. They speak from the peaks of the Himalayas and their assertions resound throughout the land. But who can hold their tongue? It is these same people who are complicating the issue and spoiling the atmosphere. If the whole truth were to be revealed, lots of unpalatable facts would also come out in the open. But now it would hardly help or harm the cause of Hindi either to reveal or hide the truth. The pennant of English is firmly fixed on the fort of Hindi. And the soul of Hindi is fled from that fort.
From now on, I think, we should put all our energies into preparing Hindi for the future campaign. At the same time, we must earn the goodwill of the well-wishers of our other Indian languages. But before whom can we play our lute, singing of Hindi’s power and the wealth of its literature? Better would it be for us all to join hands in enriching and strengthening our Hindi language and literature. Acharya Ramchandra Shukla in his book Goswmai Tulsidas, while considering Tulsi’s devotional tradition, has aptly observed – “ The richness of Hindi poetry in Sur[das] and Tulsi is not because of their high recognition in the royal [Mugal] court; instead the high recognition in the court is the result of that literary richness. That rich literary heritage is the product of Sur and Tulsi, and they themselves are the products of the development of that devotional ethos, the foundation of which is firmly laid down by Rama and Krishna.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
All on a sudden, a goat-kid came frolicking, and started nibbling and chewing the soft, supple leaves of the chameli plant. I hadn’t by then developed the aesthetic sense to be totally entranced by the merry prancing of that little beauty, joggling her long ears in each which way as it nipped and munched the lush leaves, looking hither-thither with her large black eyes as it champed on, and also occasionally bleating meyn-meyn, as if calling its mother-goat. Rather, that day I felt such pity for the delicate chameli sapling which I had brought with great care from the neighbouring hamlet. Which I had planted with my own hands, watered it, and felt delighted to see its tiny leaves budding forth each day. But this little rogue had now undone all! Furious with anger I tried to hit it hard. But like a swift doe it leapt away, as I ran chasing it.
‘Don’t hit it, Babu.’ – This was Budhia. A small girl of hardly seven or eight years. A red rag with several patches wrapped round her waist, barely covering her knees. A totally bare body sullied with lots of dust. A dark face with black tousled mop of hair, also filled with dust and surely with lice. Yellow snot trickling out from nose which she tried to suck in every time. Hearing her words and looking at her grimy face I felt like slapping her cheeks instead. Till I looked down around her feet, and my child’s heart got riveted there.
‘Oh, what’s all that you have made?’ I peered closely at the clay figures spread around her small muddied feet. Clay toys she had freshly made of soft, wet clay from the nearby pond. Artfully decorated with little flowers of mustard, gram and peas growing all around in the fields. Toys not with properly carved faces, but of course with limbs like humans, and bedecked with flowers of varied colours, imbued with their own charm.
‘What’s all this?’ I asked. She felt shy.
‘You won’t beat me? Then I’ll say’.
‘Surely I’d have beaten you. But you’re pardoned’.
She stood smiling. ‘Please sit down here.’
But how could I sit in that mess. I only bent down for a closer look. And she started.
‘This is the bridegroom with the wedding cap’, she said pointing to the mustard flower stuck on its head. ‘And she is the bride, with her colourful skirt of the gram- and pea-flowers. They are getting married. With all the marriage music, of course’. And she tapped on her belly, and whistled with rounded lips – ‘With the drum and the pipe. And this is the kohbar, where they will spend the wedding-night.’ She pointed to a walled square, also made of clay. ‘And this, their marriage-bed’. A few green mango leaves sprinkled with tiny pink flowers. ‘Here they will sleep. And I’ll sing the marriage songs for them.’ And her crooning bagan at once. Singing and swaying. I was under a spell. For a while. Then I suddenly remembered my chameli sapling, and ran there, counting each torn leaf and lamenting. Swearing all the time of devouring the cursed goat-kid alive, and showering abuses on Budhia.
* * *
‘Babuji, would you kindly help me lift this load of grass?’ I heard a voice as I was on my evening stroll north of the village, lost in my own thoughts. My bent head rose up.
Daylight was waning into evening. Down in a field beside the road stood what looked like a young girl. A big tied bundle of grass lay beside her feet. I got irritated by her temerity. I was now a city man in clean clothes, keeping myself away from the filth of the village people. And after all I wasn’t a grazier or a grass-cutter to lift bundles of grass on others’ heads. Who in the village could dare ask me for such a thing. But look at this young girl...
‘Kindly, Babuji!’ She entreated.
I gazed at that face, sizing up the face and the voice. Arre, Budhia! A full grown young lass? Grown up so fast? I looked around. No one there. Evening’s darkening. Who could help this poor, lone girl here. Out of sympathy, I helped raise the bundle on her head. Soon swaying rhythmically she walked away with it.
Just then a loud laugh burst forth, and the next moment I found Jagdish by my side.
‘So now she has got a new fish in her net!’ Jagdish had an impish twinkle in his eyes, and raillery in his voice. Then he started his long recital of Budhia’s story.
‘Budhia is no longer that girl of patched skirt. She now has a flowing chooner that is ever colourful. And her choli is now stitched by the Sewaipatti tailor. True, you find her carrying loads of grass on her head every day, but her palms you’ll not find calloused, nor dirty. Her skin is still dark, but not with the sullenness of the stagnant pool. It now bears the rippling music of the Kalindi, with many a Gopal playing their flutes on its banks, and many other Nandlals dreaming of a romantic union with her. Wherever in the open fields she walks, life surges and sways. Her black locks are now set with fragrant jasmine oil, her forehead adorned with a resplendent tikli. In place of one Gopal in the Vrindavan with a thousand gopis around, you now have one gopi surrounded by a thousand gopals. Even Gopal wouldn’t have felt the gaiety in slinging the thousand-headed Kalia serpent and dancing on its hoods which this Budhia now feels in stringing together so many gopals and making them dance to her tunes. As if, Radha of the dwapar era is avenging herself through Budhia on today’s menfolk in this kaliyug. That Radha ever pined for Krishna’s love, and this Budhia makes all the gopals always crave for her company.
Damned wretch! – My virtuous soul cried. And in the growing darkness I slowly wended my way, with bent head, back to home. Jagdish, too, went his way. And hardly had I walked some distance towards the village when I suddenly felt an electrifying touch of someone rushing past myself. Instinctively, I looked back.
‘Kindly forgive me for this second fault’. She said and stood still. It was Budhia. I fumed in anger – ‘Wicked girl’, I shouted. ( I’d almost said – Slut!) But instead of blushing or looking bashful, she burst into a loud laughter. Coming closer, she giggled – ‘D’you remember, Babu, my goat-kid had eaten your chameli plant?’And her pearly teeth shone in the dark.
‘Get lost, naughty girl!’ My face must have burnished like red coal.
‘And that bridegroom and his bride, that wedding-night chamber, that flower-bedecked bed, and that song! Should I sing it again for you, Babu?’
The wedded bride goes to her hubby’s home, And yet she trembles in fear as she goes...
Singing it tunefully she ran away, swinging and laughing. Oh, how shameless, how brash indeed! – I kept muttering between my teeth. But her giggles and laughter kept echoing as she fled.
* * *
The wheat harvest was on. My brother said, ‘Bhaiya, there’ll be a large number of labourers today. They might try to steal. Come to the fields with me. You’ll have only to be there. The work will go on smoothly.’
It must be the farmer’s blood in my veins which made me walk to the fields just to have a new experience. The harvest had already begun in the small hours of the morning, so that the ripe corn would not be jerked off the stalks. With the pale moon still on the horizon casting its fading light in the fields. It was already over – the harvesting. The labourers were tying up their bundles of the harvest. And their womenfolk and children were picking up the stray fallen ears of corn. I had been deputed to watch lest they stole some of the harvested stalks instead of the fallen corn. I just stood there keeping an eye, when I saw, at a little distance, in a corner of the field, behind a labourer, a middle-aged woman, her children hastily picking up corn, and also, perhaps, doing some ‘foul play’.
‘Aye, you there, that woman, what’re you doing there?’
She seemed to be completely oblivious of my loud call. Though her man appeared to be warning her. Once, twice, thrice –all my shouting went unheeded. Seething in anger I proceeded towards them. Seeing me coming all four of her children – well within six years of age – all got close to their mother. The youngest one of a year and a half hid behind her feet. From a distance, I shouted again – ‘Aye, what’re you doing?’
Bending down in the field, without stopping work, she just turned her face towards me and said, ‘Salam, Babuji’.
‘ Arre, Budhia?’ It was Budhia, the same Budhia, the little girl who wore the red rag wrapped round her waist. The Budhia whose chooner never went faint. Uff, but what had happened to that merry childhood, that blooming youth...and now this old woman, in a torn sari, and even the choli gone, hair all dishevelled, face shrunken, cheeks and eyes – all sunken. And, oh, those two well-rounded, proud blossoms of her youth which once maddened the young men of the village, as she was bending at work, hung like the udders of an old goat – lifeless and cold!
Turning her faded face, she gave a faint smile, and went working. Her man, who had by then tied up his pile, called her – ‘Hey, come and give a hand.’ Budhia left her work, straightened up, gave me another wan smile, and proceeded to help with heavy steps. As she stood straight, I noticed a pregnant belly.
‘Wait, Budhia, let me help,’ I blurted.
‘Na, Babuji. I wouldn’t ask you to do it. You may get angry.’ Her two front teeth glowed with emotion. My heart missed a beat. Old memories cascaded in. That dark evening, her bundle of grass, her pleading for help, Jagdish’s sarcastic remarks, my exasperation, her frivolity. Just then her youngest child broke into a cry. She turned to the child, and I went to help her man lift the pile. The strong, hefty young man walked away in a swaying rhythm with his pile on his head. And Budhia, trying to push her shrunken breast into her child’s mouth, kissing, smooching and pacifying him, said to me –‘How many children do you have, Babuji. Look at these kids. The wretches are so wicked. They have sucked me dry, spoilt my body, and still would not let up. They’re a pest.’
The other three children stood by her side. She would stroke the head of one, and pat the other’s back, and with her moist eyes poured her love into each one of them, cuddling the one in her lap close to her breast. And yet, exuding contentment, she kept prattling of this and that. My gaze stayed fixed on her face. Eyes staring and the mind musing.
The rainy season was over. And the floods had receded.
The river again flows with a tranquil, serene visage. The floods are over, as is all the brouhaha of life. Even the mud has dried up, and all weeds and straw washed away. Absolute calm reigns on the river.
And I have angelic motherhood before my eyes – only to be revered and worshipped!
[Ramvriksha Benipuri (1899-1968),born in a middle-class farmer’s family, belonged to a village Benipur, near Muzaffarpur. Dropping out from school, he joined nationalist journalism during the first Non-cooperation movement, editing journals like ‘Tarun Bharat’, ‘Balak’,‘Yuwak’, ‘Yogi’ and ‘Janata’, spending over nine years in jails in several short or long spells, the longest (1942-45) in Hazaribag jail, where he was a co-conspirator in Jayaprakash Narayan’s daring escape from prison. A close friend of J.P., Benipuri was among the founder members of the Socialist Party, taking an active part in the Kisan Andolan in Bihar. But the full flowering of his literary genius came in the late 40s, after his release from Hazaribag jail. His prison writings include most of his masterpieces: ‘Patiton ke Desh Me’, ‘Kaidi ki Patni’, ‘Mati ki Mooraten’, ‘Ambapali’, etc. – a total of more than 70 books of stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and children’s literature. His biography of J.P. became a classic in Hindi. Later he also edited famous literary journals like ‘Himalaya’ (with Shivapujan Sahay) and ‘Nai Dhara’ – all from Patna. He was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1957. His ‘Granthavali’ has been published in 8 volumes by Rajkamal, Delhi. He died on 7 September, 1968.
‘Budhia’ (a name, not meaning ‘old woman’) is the last story in ‘Mati ki Mooraten’. The meanings of the italicised words are almost self-evident in the context. Kalindi, Kalia, Dwapar, Kaliyug, Nandlal, Gopis, Gopal, etc. refer to the Radha-Krishna story of the Hindu mythology. – Translator]
(c) Dr Mangal Murty