So really, who owns Hindi?

Alright, okay. So I am a North Indian, and someday I will be branded a Northie and questioned in Bangalore as well. I can take that, and would understand the sentiments and politics around that. But, at times, when I am called a Hindi guy as opposed to a Northie, I pause and think.

Would you have guessed that both my grand-moms (ajjis, as in daadi and naani) found it hard to talk in Hindi? One used angika, and another maithili, both of which I can describe as languages that sit somewhere between Bengali and Hindi. Yeah, one is more of a dialect today, but maithili has well documented grammar and literary history as well.

My parents speak (rather, spoke; dad is no more) Hindi, as well as their native tongues. And myself can just about comprehend angika and maithili. Why is it that my parents had to learn Hindi, and I did not take the pain to learn my parent’s and grandparent’s mother tongues? Argue if you would, that the two local languages I am advertising here are pretty close to Hindi. But whose language is Hindi anyway?

Lets start from Bengal, and move North-West towards Punjab. You hit into tribal languages of Jharkhand, santhali, ho, uraanv. Angika, maithili next, and then, some magahi and bhojpuri. You may not know that the reason Lalu Yadav and some others sound ‘funny’ when they speak Hindi is because its not really their ‘mother tongue’, its bhojpuri or magahi. Slide up North-West a bit more, and you run into awadhi, brij-bhasha and garhwali. Inch closer towards Delhi, and now is when you hit into a lot of Hindi (khari-boli).

Beyond Delhi, move further North or West to hear haryanavi and punjabi. If you have native friends from the Kashmir region, you may know about koshur (kashmiri) or Dogri as well.

Time to pause and recollect the Hindi regions now. Western UP, and Delhi? Its not exactly like calling a kannadiga, telugu or malayali a madrasi, but calling me a Hindi guy is kind of a similar thing. Hindi didn’t exist this predominantly even about a century ago! Hindi was and is a dialect continuum, sort of a nationalist movement a lot of North Indians bought into. You might say that all those languages I mention above are dialects of Hindi. But Hindi of today (khari boli) is a fairly new language, and quite a few of North Indian dialects existed long before modern Hindi happened.

The way I see it, there is no real owner of what we call Hindi today.


13 Responses

  1. Finally a post open for comments… I am fully with u on this.. the issues wudnt have been so big if India was not divided on basis of language… People have started associating language with a culture which is not true… for ex lets take Karnataka.. the customs in mangalore side are different from those here!
    Language + culture is a deadly cocktail which we need to get rid off soon!

  2. What do i say ??!

    May be we keep looking for reasons to fight among ourselves….be it religion, language….

    People are jobless I guess to fight over something like this….I find it really strange !

  3. Yeah Balu, its a cocktail waiting to be exploited.

    Meghana, you got it right, the reason some fight over all this is – people are jobless. As the focus shifts to economic activity, people would be occupied in the business of producing and making money. Folks wont have the time to argue about these things then, and perhaps a decade later or so, we will do what we should be doing with our multi-lingual multi-cultural setup – feel rich and proud about it.

  4. My parents mother tongue is Angika. I can only understand it, cant speak. I’m now confused what my mother tongue should be. Angika or Hindi?

  5. frankly its a fight without a reason.. a propaganda tool… which gives some people to beat up some other people… plain brainless… i am intruiged to find that you wrote almost the same thing i wrote on my blog… and actually before me… probably we do have a point there… :) hehe…

  6. Well… my father’s a north indian from Benaras in Uttar Pradesh. My mother’s a Kannadiga from Bangalore… her step mom is a Tamil mami from Chennai… now that i think about it, my dadi (father’s mother) was from Rajkot in Gujarat.

    I was born and spent the first few years of my life in Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E. I came to Panchagani, Maharasthra when I was about 12, shifted to Pune in time for junior college, right through to engineering college and then into my present workplace. I’ve been here ever since, and took the opportunity to actually learn Hindi (and Marathi to some extent, though I wouldn’t be very verbose, if you know what I mean).

    First person to accurately “categorize” me into a particular region of India gets a nod from me (I think nodding to a guy who achieves the impossible is enough, I’m much too stingy that way :-p).

  7. thanks for that educative post on the languages of the ‘hindi’ belt. i didnot know about angika. maithili and bhojpuri is what my knowledge was limited to. but i know that there is a branch of dravidian languages called central dravidian which has a few fledgeling languages in mp.

    however, awareness of languages is not spontaneous. you have to learn it. you have to acquire it. in school we learnt that there were languages like maithili, avadhi, bhojpuri, santhali and so i know them.

    but to me your post underscores the fears in the south-that modern day economics and politics will eliminate entire identities, cultures and languages.

    there is no divisiveness in this if you understand that india is mixture model and develop a india-view appropriate for that. the trouble starts when you artificially impose a broad stroke single identity model.

  8. Tarle, agree about your point on divisiveness, ours is a mixed model, though the “separates” haven’t really “mixed”. Ramchandra Guha’s “platter” model, we are more a “thaali” with separate compartments for each dish – make your mix as you like – than a “behl puri” or “churumuri” with all mixed up well and ready for you to eat.

    But at times it seems to me that English has become defacto “national” language partly because most regions don’t want to accept another Indian region’s ‘language” as “national”. In some way, Northies bought into the promise of Hindi helping them get jobs and become main-stream and national. But a lot of regions obviously don’t buy that, for they fear losing their identity.

    I respect the feelings behind those fears. But I don’t really like the fact that English is getting to be what an Indian language should have been (Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi, whatever – wish we agreed on any one) partly because ours is not a democracy where the minority can learn to accept and live on with the majority.

    Its fun though – this “to each his own” model of democracy that we have invented here. It gives us extreme freedom, and keeps most of us happy at our individual/smaller levels even as we struggle to realize our huge potential as single nation or culture :)

  9. realize our huge potential as single nation or culture…

    quick comment…
    if there is anything uniquely indian and if there is any strength and any residual potential then it is in the meta principle that – wise man think of IT in different ways and in asking chipa tha kya kaha kisne dhaka tha?

    ‘to each his own’ is not something we invented but something we inherited. my dad celebrates deepavali because of pandavas and my mom because of bali chakravarthi. yes, her folks, go out on the fields and plead bali, whom vamana trampled, to return.

    that is the most secular liberal ideas of them all. we dont need a sagaraika ghosh or a roy or a ram and other intelligencia thrusting fundas on us. there are people who celebrate bheema’s victory at vyshampayana and those who lionize duryodhana’s feats on that legendary lake.

    ‘single nation or cultures’ type of theories others have mastered and do much better than we will ever do. so if there is a battle on single culture there will neither be pandvas nor bali to celebrate deepavali nor will there be a bheema or a duryodhana. go ask people out of ‘india’ how many of their bheemas and duryodhanas are out of museums and living?

    hindi is just incidental in all this. things would not be different if it were marathi or tamil or punjabi or greek.

  10. India must be the only country in the world whose strength and weakness come from the same thing – diversity. Strong when secular, weak when divisive.

    I think the problem was not the dividing of states by language. It was arbitrarily declaring of one of these languages as a national language*, naturally creating resentment and division. That was such an obviously stupid idea one can only imagine it was a nasty parting shot by the stragglers of the “divide and rule” brigade.

    The official language of bureaucracy could have just been English, which everyone could be angry at equally, uniting in their indignation. (However, to anyone inclined to resent English – what do you think India’s USP is in the outsourcing wars? You go to a tiny town in Bengal or Tami Nadu, you are more likely to find someone who’ll understand English than Hindi.)

    *Relevant excerpt from the constitution here:

  11. Ultimately all languages will die… its only a matter of time.

  12. I wonder how many languages and dialects die each year…

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