The dismal state of Hindi in its country of origin

"If there's any language that has been used as a political shuttlecock in India, it's Hindi,” trenchantly stated the maverick, Dr Rammanohar Lohia. There's no denying the fact that Hindi has always been a language in India without a definite status.

Its pitiable existence becomes all the more obvious on the perfunctory Hindi Divas that falls on September 14. Medieval India's greatest Hindi poet Goswami Tulsidas was born on this day.

To commemorate it, I was invited by a couple of colleges and institutes in Pune to deliver lectures on the development of Hindi as a national language.

Alack! Right from the beginning, I had to bear the most awful spoken Hindi by the so-called professors and their equally inept students. From there, I went to a couple of nationalised banks.

There's a Hindi section in all banks and its Hindi Development officers write a message on a blackboard every day, written of course with atrocious orthographic and grammatical errors. Mind you, all these officers earn hefty salaries per month. This had me thinking.

What are the reasons that have contributed to the deterioration of Hindi? Honestly, you can't even call it a deterioration because a thing deteriorates only from a higher pedestal to the lower and then rests on the lowest.

Hindi has never enjoyed a higher echelon to fall from. Right from the beginning, it has had a lowly status. From the perspective of linguistic history, Hindi originated and developed from Paishachi, Apabhransh  and Shaurseni Apabhransh (all dialects and sub-dialects of Sanskrit and Prakrit).

It traversed through a millennium to reach its present form. English phonetically and semantically started developing only seven hundred years ago. Yet today, it is a world language and almost a universal lingua franca. So why is Hindi in such a dismal state?

In his seminal essay 'Language of a subjugated country', French linguist and father of 'The Theory of Deconstruction' Jacques Derrida of Sorbonne University, Paris argues and analyses that an enslaved country first loses its linguistic identity, and then its national identity.

The language of the invaders is viewed as greater and better by the subjects because a certain kind of slavish mentality develops over the years. This analysis fits the history of the sub-continent. Muhammad Bin Qasim invaded Sindh in 712 AD.

That was the beginning of Islamic rule through a number of dynasties and lasted till 1857 when the downfall of the formidable Mughal Empire took place and the British took over.

India was finally free of all invaders in 1947. But the psycho-linguistic damage (to borrow Michel Foucault's oft-quoted phrase) had already been done. A period of 1200 years obfuscated our socio-psycho-linguistic identity and a sense of lingual pride.

The Burgeoning-Crack Syndrome (psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung's term) also contributed to Hindi's stunted, nay retarded, progress. This phenomenon needs some elaboration.

According to Jung, when something gets continuous jolts during its initial phase of development, its progress gets stunted. No aspersion to them but the relentless juggernaut of overwhelmingly refined languages like Persian, Arabic and English wheeled down Hindi.

These were not the languages people of the sub-continent could relate to emotionally. In this linguistically oppressive scenario, Indians couldn't develop a collective predilection for Hindi. Even Sanskrit suffered. Western scholar of Sanskrit, Sheldon Pollock is of the opinion that the finest works in Sanskrit from the sub-continent were not written in these 1200 years.

And from purely Semantic (about connotational facets) point of view, the slight linguistic ill-development of Hindi can be put down to a clutch of dialects jostling for space and supremacy.

Till 1550, Hindi had a raft of equally powerful dialects proving that too many cooks spoil the broth. So, Hindi took a rather long time to weed them out to emerge as an independent language. 

Now come the socio-political issues that have never allowed Hindi to grow freely. No state of India can claim that Hindi is its exclusive language. MP, Rajasthan, Bihar, UP claiming to be Hindi-speaking states is a myth.

Alongside Hindi, scores of dialects are spoken simultaneously in these states. Saying that these are Hindi's sub-languages is linguistically criminal, not just erroneous. To cite an example, until two decades ago, Konkani was considered to be a dialect of Marathi. Talk to a Marathi in Konkani, he/she will be all at sea and vice versa. 

Can there be a matter of greater shame that an Italian evangelist and missionary Father (Dr) Kamil Bulke had to nudge the venerable Dr Hajari Prasad Dwivedi, Dr Vidyanivas Mishra and Dr Namvar Singh to write to UGC to grant more funds for the promotion of Hindi? Kamil Bulke (Camille Bulcke) pursued his PhD from BHU in 1946 and his thesis was on Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas.

Till date, only three lexicographers in Hindi are considered to authentic-Hardev Bahri, Bholanath Tiwari, and Kamil Bulke. Bulke retired as HoD of Hindi from Ranchi University (Jharkhand). He'd converse only in Hindi whenever he met an Indian from any state.

He called Hindi his mother-tongue and Italian his wet-nurse! He once tellingly said at Allahabad University: Sach kahne mein kya buraai hai?/Hindi apne hi ghar mein parayee hai (Why shouldn't the truth be told?/ Hindi is marginalised in its own country). 

But are we passionate about Hindi? A few years ago, I was invited to an Army School on the occasion of Hindi Divas. The anglophile lady principal (A Brigadier's arrogant wife) requested me to deliver my note in English.

Imagine! Delivering a talk in English on Hindi Divas! Her logic was: Iss school ke students English mein zyada comfortable hain. Humiliated, I left in a huff. 

We need to change our pejorative attitude. I've seldom heard people converse in Hindi in elite gatherings. Our actors and actresses of Hindi films converse in English, most of them unable to read the Devanagari script.

A professor-friend told me that a few women’s colleges in Delhi where English isn’t spoken are considered bahan ji. This mentality must be changed to accord proper respect. T V Channels and their hysterical Hindi newsreaders require some tutoring on the language, too.

Many years ago, a Czech scholar of Hindi, Adonel Smikel, suggested that India should accept and establish Hindi as a link language. But the million dollar question is: Will South India ever accept that? Will West Bengal accept? What happened in Tamil Nadu in 1967 is still fresh in our memories.

Many people resorted to self-immolation in opposition to the language. Our linguistic chauvinism and respective lingual-ethnocentrism will hardly let us accept Hindi as the language of the country. The political power-play and unnecessary interference have further worsened and darkened its fate.

Lastly, an overall language consciousness is a must to learn any language properly. That's miserably missing in today's India. We are inarticulate. The androids have robbed us of our faculty of language/s.

Hindi can grow only when we all become intrinsically willing and impassioned about its projection, promotion and popularity: Three essential Ps to ameliorate a language and widen its horizons. Long live, Hindi. 

Sumit Paul is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.