Message to Those Who Wish to Impose Hindi: Multilingual People Like Me Know to Swear in Many Languages
- What binds all the different language groups in India is the common thread of freedom, human rights, and common aspirations.
Hindi is less than a few hundred years old. My mother tongue Telugu is well over 2000 years old, possibly as old as Tamil. Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Odiya, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, Assamese, Manipuri, etc. have their own unique scripts, many ancient and evolving, some recent. Whereas Hindi borrowed the Devnagari script.
Unlike Hindi, the above languages have a great history and superb literature dating back to a thousand years or much much more. These languages have also been the vehicle and instrument of social change and development. Moral tales, proverbs, folklore, and unique forms of expression. All of them have wonderful fiction.
In the 1960s it was said that one of the best works of fiction in Hindi was the timetable book of the Indian Railways.
Growing up in Hyderabad we learned to read write and speak Telugu, English, and Hindi. Urdu, Marathi and Kannada were not foreign to us in the neighborhood. Actually, when we went to the neighboring states they spoke to us in our language. In Bangalore, they spoke to us in Telugu or Tamil.
In Hyderabad, our buses had destinations written in Urdu, Telugu and English. We read them out for those who could not read at all. We knew at least three scripts. Some of us knew four. I learned and forgot another four scripts including Japanese and Chinese. I also spoke, read, wrote and taught French and German.
The most important thing is that we learned other people’s languages and cultures. We did not force them to learn our own language or culture. We valued the others’ language and culture and participated in each others’ celebrations.
Language is identity. Language is culture. Language is ideas. Language is one’s breath. Language is history. Often, language is literature, it can be the basis of art and music. Language is lore. Language is lyric. Language is a fable. Language is a song. Language is mythology. Language is our connection to the inside. Language is our connection to the outside world. Language creates community.
In Europe, countries are organized on the basis of language. Italy (Italian), Greece (Greek), France (French), England (English), Wales (Welsh) etc. In India, too, states are organized on the basis of language. And minority languages are protected at the same time.
Of course, language can also lead to hatred and fanaticism. To parochialism. Especially when you speak only one language. Or think that yours is superior.
Official Language is not the same as National Language. Apart from 15 languages on the Indian currency notes, there are at least 500 more — some with a script, some without. What would unite all the language groups would be the common thread of freedom and human rights and common aspirations. Shared hope, and common experiences. Sense of solidarity and belongingness.
Now, the first thing any sincere lover of a language does is learn the swear words in the lingo. When you know many languages you know many swear words. If single-language-speakers try to impose their language on those of us who are multicultural and broad-minded, you will soon find out how well we learned those special words in several languages.
Babu Gogineni is a humanist and human rights activist. He was Director of the London-based International NGO International Humanist and Ethical Union and is the founder of the South Asian Humanist Association and Science for Society. He ran a popular weekly Telugu TV show on science, ideas and history, “The Big Question with Babu Gogineni.” He is currently based in Australia.