The first time I realised my education in an English-speaking, Bible-hugging convent was not helping was when I went to buy myself a sandwich in a ‘mall’. Millennials would understand the awe that ‘malls’ used to inspire in the early 2000s, where we used to go to hang out. This was a place where most of your favourite pizza places used to adorn the food court, but where we invariably ended up having overpriced bhelpuri or chhole-bature.
As I reached the counter I found a quaint little young woman doing her customary namaste, and asked me what I would like with a hard Marathi accent (this was in Navi Mumbai). Being the convent-bred fool that I was, I quickly spouted my instructions of the kind of bread, the veggies, the sauces I would like in the sandwich. She was confused with the deluge of information I had just unloaded on her and struggled to process any of it. She asked a colleague for help and they both couldn’t decipher anything I was saying. I finally ‘heaved’ and resorted to Hindi and they understood what I said within no time. That was the first time I reflected upon myself as a Hindi-hating, classist douche. I was 13.
Since then I have time and again thought about why speaking in Hindi is so looked down upon. In fact, anything to do with Hindi is just looked down on, as I saw during school. Even when one discussed music one could hardly go around bragging about their love for masala Bollywood music, since it was *not cool*. You couldn’t even tell people around you, how much you enjoyed the nonsensical Govinda comedies and instead talk about stuff closer to The Matrix. Why is it that anything desi doesn’t get the same respect as something from the West?
Why is that a desi singing an English song without a wannabe accent is looked down upon? At the same time we see Chris Martin’s deplorable rendition to Channa Mereya being celebrated? Just because you speak a certain language well, doesn’t make you an elite or a pleb. Instead we should strive to use all languages as effectively to our advantage. And effort should be made to speak each language with the ‘right diction’.
I fell in love with Hindi thanks to an amazingly tenacious tuition teacher who really turned around my perspective on the language. A language that my ignorant, 13-year old version considered ‘not cool’ presented me with literature from everyone ranging from Maithilisharan Gupt to Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ and Harivanshrai Bachchan to Premchand.
Only after my 5-year stint with that teacher who tried to teach me the intricacies of Hindi grammar, did I discover the beauty of the language. Having understood many other things in the five years did I realise, how it was only juvenile to look down upon a language. And in fact, we should make an effort to not shove a language down someone else’s throat which they might not follow. The goal should be to be equally deft in most languages.
What’s with the douchebaggery surrounding English speakers correcting the grammar, pronunciations of those with a vernacular background? We need to understand Hindi is spoken by most number of people in the country (approximately 430 million), then how did it get labelled ‘vernacular’ in the first place? As opposed to English which was imported and is spoken by only about 125 million people. Then why is the elitism of English speakers so ingrained that they patronise those who mispronounce something in English. While mispronouncing in Hindi is considered cute?
National language or not, Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India. Therefore, it about high time that we give it the respect it deserves. The key to it comes from being secure about the fact that no language is ‘uncool’ once discovered fully. Just listen to Amitabh Bachchan who eloquently articulates his replies in both English and Hindi with equal aplomb. Exactly the kind of command over language we should aspire to.