Ever since the draft of the new education policy for schools came out, I have seen people fighting over language imposition being a part of the draft. That made me want to write about the two sides of this that I have always had in mind – especially since I was a trainer who had trainees from all parts of the country. I do hope that you read this completely so that you know I really am talking about BOTH the sides.
I have lived in Hyderabad for more than 6 and a half years now. Before this and during my stay here too I have travelled to multiple parts of the country where I was able to survive only because of my basic knowledge of Hindi. In fact, my Hindi became a lot more fluent after moving to Hyderabad because I have been using it a lot with people from all walks of life. And for that I am thankful for having learnt Hindi from my 5th grade and for a year during my B.A. as second language. In addition to this, I always had an interest in watching Hindi movies and programmes during my school and college days too. I had once written about how my mother, who never watches Hindi programmes and had only learnt Hindi as third language during school so many years ago, started putting together sentences in Hindi to everyone’s surprise when she came to visit us here. With only her schooltime learning of basic Hindi, if she was able to have a conversation with our neighbour aunty who doesn’t understand English or Malayalam, that speaks a lot about the importance of learning a language that can come in handy at almost every place North or East or West from Mumbai and even in major cities like Hyderabad or Bangalore down South.
So when people look at Hindi as a language that should be prevented from coming into the curriculum altogether, it is a little worrying. For the simple reason – why should we look at language as a way of domination instead of only a handy tool that can help a lot in life, whether you move across India for your career or you just travel across the country for the love of it? While loving your own mother tongue is amazing, why should that stop us from learning an Indian language that people of all social strata can understand in a number of states? Maybe not as a mandatory third language, I really feel that it should be included as one of the optional third languages for kids and parents who are interested in it. Let people choose what they want – instead of imposing it or rejecting it outright. Slogans like “We will not let Hindi come into our State” just seem a little fanatical and can be an obstacle for people who do want to learn it. I know this personally because a number of my trainees and colleagues from Tamil Nadu who had to move to Mumbai and up North for their jobs have told me how they wish they had the choice of learning Hindi in school so that they didn’t have to suffer in a new place where it would have been helpful.
Now the other side of it is this. Since I could survive with Hindi in Hyderabad, I did not have to learn Telugu when I moved here. Especially so since all the people I interacted with at that time were either Malayalis or people from other parts of the country. It was only when I moved into my home here and got neighbours or security guards who could only speak in Telugu that I understood the need to learn the language. I am not very good at it and whatever I learn and note down from Google translate is just enough to survive. I have never once felt irritated that these people could not speak in Hindi or English. I have never felt really bad when they spoke to each other in Telugu as a group and I could not understand much. Because this is not an office setup where I can ask them to use a common language, English. This is their home, their native land and they have every right to comfortably speak in their own mother tongue. If they try to help me by using broken English or Hindi, I am grateful for that. But that is in no way a privilege I should demand from them. If anything, I should only be a little ashamed of not putting in enough efforts earlier to learn the language of the place I reside in. As particular as I am about Vedu using Malayalam at home because she should grow up knowing and respecting her mother tongue, I am equally particular that she should understand the importance of learning the language of whichever place she lives in, now or later.
In fact, you go out of the capital city to any other part of AP, Telangana or Karnataka, chances are that you will have to rely on sign language with the locals if you don’t know Telugu or Kannada. You go to Tamil Nadu, Chennai especially, they might talk to you in English. But chances are that some people won’t reply in English even if they do understand the language. And just like in the other States I mentioned right now, there are people who only understand their mother tongue, Tamil. In Kerala a lot of people understand and can communicate at least a little in English because of the huge number of foreign tourists who come there. Hindi as a medium of communication is something that you should not expect much. There are also many who can understand only Malayalam.
Now the problem that I have seen is when quite a lot of people I have personally and otherwise known from Hindi-speaking places go to any of these Southern States for jobs and demand that the native people learn Hindi so that their lives are easier. How is that fair? I have seen construction workers from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu who learned and fluently speak Malayalam because they understand the importance of learning the vernacular language of the place they reside in. The State in turn tried to help them too by bringing in multiple languages, including Hindi, on bus boards, hotel menus etc., at places where there are more of these people. So when someone with a white collar job comes and says “I don’t believe this place! The people here can’t speak a word of Hindi or English!”, the question that has come up in my mind is this – Why should they, if they are happily settled in their own State, they don’t have to go out anywhere else and their work involves dealing mainly with people who can understand their own language? You go to a new place and you want to survive among the locals – you learn their language. Even if not a lot, at least a bit that you can use in common everyday scenarios. With technology at the tip of your fingers, it is not all difficult. You would do that if you went to a non-English-speaking country. So why can’t you do that in another State in your own country?
And to people like some of my trainees who used to bully others with “Hindi is our National language. You had better learn it if you want to survive in this project.”, I will say the same thing that I have always told all my trainees from every State. Colonialism was bad, a foreign language taking over as the official language of Corporates might not look good to you, Hindi might be one of the ‘official’ (not ‘National’) languages used in government offices or those affiliated to the Central Government. All said and done, until the official language of Corporates, dealing with partners, clients and employees from across the world, is English, you have only one choice – use it, especially when you work with a group of people from diverse backgrounds. No matter what your mother tongue is (and I am talking about every single one of them), if you use your own language with others who understand it and isolate someone else who doesn’t, that is nothing but unprofessionalism.