(This piece was first published on 10 August 2018 and is being republished in light of recent calls for ‘One Nation, One Language’.)
How times change! Things that united us once joyously have suddenly become dangerously divisive. Gone are the days when kids sang in a happy chorus – “Hindi hain hum watan hai Hindostan hamara!”
Nowadays one has to think twice, nay thrice, before humming the Quasi Taraana penned by the great Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal, who is better known to the present generation of youngsters as the father of Pakistan.
‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’, once the war cry raised by ultra nationalists too, has passed into oblivion.
Discretion dictates that we use an idiom that is less hazardous for health. Vande Mataram and Bharatvarsha sound far more politically correct. Hindi that once dreamt of becoming the Rashtra Bhasha has now been reduced to the status of one among many rajbhashas (official language).
It isn’t English that has dealt the mortal blow to what those who dwell in the Hindi heartland derisively referred to as gobar patti (cow belt) by the Anglicised urban elite of India. But the poor thing has been done in by its own daughters/sisters, or some would say, maternal ancestors – the dialects.
Such are the ironies of electoral politics in contemporary Hind that those who speak Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi and Angika refused to recognise Hindi as their mother tongue. Nor are those who converse at home in Bundeli, Bagheli or Chhattisgarhi happy with the step-motherly treatment accorded to them. In Rajasthan too, there has been long simmering discontent that has surfaced, charged with politically explosive potential.
School textbooks have for years tried to educate students about the diverse mainsprings or contributory streams, if you please, that have enriched the Hindi ‘Mainstream’ – Brij and Awadhi, Khari boli. No one ever thought that a day would dawn when dialects with chauvinistic geographical indicators would get inextricably entwined with contending cultural identities.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to look the other way when the house of Hindi –badly divided against itself – is about to collapse like a palace of playing cards.
There are some dialects that boast of a long tradition of literary works – Vidyapati in Maithili, for instance, in the medieval period, to the satirist Khattar Kaka in more recent times. Others can bolster their claim for official/constitutional recognition by citing lively contemporary writing or filmmaking. Names like Vijaydan Detha spring to mind and countless haunting tunes from Bhojpuri films reverberate in the mind’s ear. Forget the biggies – even dialects spoken by a minuscule number have begun flexing their fledgling muscles to challenge the domination/imposition of Hindi.
Kumaoni and Garhwali, both have brought out great poets like Gumani and Mola Ram, who predate the legends in modern Hindi. It’s not the similarity that attracts scholars, it’s always the difference that leads to abuse and at times to blows.
Official standardised Hindi (stilted and stillborn) that no one uses continues to be the butt of all jokes while those who mock and ridicule it appropriate its slangs and idioms to pepper their smart presentation. For a very long time the myth has been propagated that it is Bollywood that has crafted the lingua franca of Independent India. The fact is it is the many waves of migrations and internal displacements that have allowed regional variants and dialects of Hindi to catalyse a jugaadu synthesis that the films have been constrained to reflect.
It’s not just Mumbaiyya Mawali mutant that is the currency of communication pan India – Chalti kya Khandala? More of Bhojpuri is heard in public spaces in the NCR than Khari Boli of Haryana and western UP where immigrants from Purvanchal have settled in large numbers, changing the demographic profile.
Bihari-Hindi, a shorthand for all dialects that dispense with rules of grammar about gender, singular and plural, and at times with tense, has been happily adopted by most Hindi speakers.
Proliferation of Hinglish and swear words and abuse from Punjabi have carved a special niche in different bolis.
Those who live life at the bottom of the pyramid don’t – or can’t afford to – live by any one language pure as snow or standardised in a straitjacket. Bolis too begin to fossilise as soon as they are recognised and appropriated by special scholars. Let’s not hasten to lament the decline in the fortunes of Hindi. Its far better to celebrate the resplendent diversity of its boils and learn to savour their joys while we can. Sare jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara!
(Padma Shri awardee Professor Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic, food critic and historian. He tweets @PushpeshPant. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)