Hindi, My Mother Tongue
India is celebrating the 100th birthday of Raashtra Kavi Ramadhaari Singh Dinkar. I wonder if many of people of Indian origin in the USA know that name but I felt guilty and contrite when I learned this from a child who eulogized him in our temple through his poem, Himalaya. The poem evoked in me the memories of my childhood when we used to read poems by Jaya Shanker Prasaad, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Nirala, Maithili Sharan Gupt and Maha Devi Verma. Through immigration I have not lost only my relatives and childhood friends but my native language, Hindi. I miss, chaah nahin madhubaala ke baalo me gunthaa jaun………. I lost the beautiful language that was bequeathed to me by my parents. In fact, when I visit India, I see that the whole country has lost this language. The Hindi that I hear people speak is only to get by with servants, labor, and shopkeepers and to understand and enjoy Bollywood movies. The latter have made my language a prostitute whom they use for money but do not love as a mother as we were taught to do. The language that I hear on the TV is also a bastardized language bereft of the beauty and fine nuances of the Hindi that I knew, Hindi that had four words for intelligence – buddhi, medha, pragya and ritambhara each with its own connotation; and three words for love – vaatsalya, prem and shradhaa. Few shops in Delhi malls have banners in Hindi and few youngsters speak or like to speak in Hindi. Indian Airlines are another example of the decline of the language. Although announcements have to be made in Hindi, all other transactions are done in English. On my trip to Kerala, I spoke in Hindi and the hostess replied in English. The Hindi announcer could not pronounce dh, kha, bh etc. Cultural heritage is a composite of language, mores, customs and celebrations. Besides culture a language is the vehicle of history. Our veer-rus kavis inspired a generation of freedom fighters when they made a clarion call- himaadri tung shring se swatantra pukkaarati. With the loss of literary Hindi we will lose both as I am seeing in modern India. Of all the countries in this global village, India is losing its culture at the fastest pace. Except for a few outer trappings of clothes and a few rituals to ward off misfortune the essential elements of our culture are being taken over by western glamour and glitz. It may be argued that learning Hindi does not bestow any economic benefit which is the sole purpose of life in modern India. However, human beings are endowed with the capacity of learning 2-3 languages. People who grow with multiple languages have fiscal and physical advantages over people who speak only one language. Dr. Ellen Bialystok of the Rotman Research Institute of the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Therese Sullivan Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL), learning two languages by a child increases cognitive skills of a child. Yet in India of today, only one language – English is being emphasized. With India emerging as a major player on the world economic scene, Knowledge of Hindi will allow people to conduct business in India. While English is important for global employability, Hindi should be taught until Higher Secondary as a full subject, not as an essential requirement that is fulfilled through a simple examination. Children do not develop cognitive skills to appreciate metaphor, similes and other figurative nuances of languages until they are in middle to late adolescence. Terminating their literary exploration of at earlier age will deprive them of the beauty of the language and they will know it only at the concrete level, which is what is happening to Hindi. In the USA, people are paying lip service to Hindi by sending their children to Sunday schools to learn colloquial Hindi but it is the parents who will need to learn it as well and that too at the literary level. Few parents write Hindi and few read Hindi books such as Kaamayani, Saaket, Mrignayani or Chitralekha. Most of the conversations at most homes are in English or Hindenglish. Let us pay homage to the great Kavi by resolving to restore Hindi to the glory it was.