The Narendra Modi government’s recent hustle with Tamil Nadu government over the supposed imposition of Hindi language is something that had been raising concerns in social media. Under these circumstances, when debates are doing the rounds, about India and its languages, I’d like to ask a question. Do Indians need to speak one language to understand one another?
We have been one nation for over sixty years with multiple languages spoken across several states; languages belonging to different families – Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman…
And, English, the colonizer’s language serves as the second official language. Most of the urban class is able to speak English, in varying fluency levels. Why can’t we just go on like we did for the past six decades?
My next question is quite simple and is aroused out of mere curiosity. Why Hindi? I have been looking everywhere for some valid reason to believe that Hindi can be that one language that is needed to bring the nation into some sort of convoluted togetherness. No one has been able to suggest a reason as to why Hindi is being chosen as the language the rest of the country should be learning. Is it linguistically better than other languages? Does it possess some distinct cultural traits that change the social status of the speaker? Or is it because it is believed to be spoken by the heartland of India? Newspaper articles and television debates fail to answer any of those questions that I have in mind.
Some people have a problem with me when I say that Hindi, as a language was imposed on me. I have never really realised why I should learn Hindi. It was forced on me when I was halfway through my schooling. One fine morning in the beginning of a school year demanded that I learn Hindi; along with Malayalam (my mother tongue) and English (the medium in which everything was taught). I felt stupid. More than that I felt angry. I was made to read and write a language that I had nothing to do with; a language that was of no use to me. At the end of that five year forced-learning of that language, I was able to read and write Hindi better than more than half of the native speakers of it. But when it comes to speaking, I would prefer acting like a dumb person.
When the Hyderabad stage of my life started, I was expected to pick up Hindi. With so many speakers of Hindi around, I was sure I will learn it. But my own stubbornness and the stubbornness of the Hindi-speakers to expect everyone else to speak Hindi, made me ignore it. All the girlfriends I have (had) were excellent speakers of Hindi and even that factor did not make it any important to me.
Some say Hindi is an easy language to learn. Is it? What if I argue that Tamil/Malayalam can be learned easily too. Why not try and teach some North Indians a bit of Tamil or Telugu? Why not put some young Hindi speaking kids through the ordeal of learning Malayalam letters, starting from their fifth standard? How about a including an option between Kannada and Telugu in North Indian curriculum?
Does learning Hindi makes me a better Indian? The idea of India itself is of a region where several cultures and languages cohabitate. Just because less that 10% of Hindi-speaking politicians had a loose motion does not mean that India and its non-Hindi speakers should ready their toilets. Native speakers of Hindi can continue to speak their language and keep on expecting others to speak it. People like me don’t give a damn.