Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pandit Nehru & Mahatma Gandhi



During the national movement, the leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Azad etc. also found time to engage themselves with the intellectual pursuits. The books like Hind Swaraj, Discovery of India etc show their vision as well as the restless zeal to understand the national predicaments through intellectual and visionary ideas. However, these days, at best a political leader is able to come up in the form of a book relates to recalling of his life, memoirs, autobiographies etc.

Books as Political Tool-- Alas! By Default

Reflections on Book Burning, Book Banning, Book ‘Delisting’ and What Not…


 Cynically and ironically, it appears that the fundamentalist political forces seem to know the significance of books as the medium of mass awareness much more than the liberal and tolerant ones. In Mumbai, Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey fell prey to the increasing number of irrational and intolerant behaviour of extremist form of politics when it was summarily ‘delisted’ by the Vice-Chancellor of the Mumbai University from the prescribed syllabus of the graduate classes after its copies were burned by the youth brigade of Sena. This has of course not happened for the first time and such acts—often brushed aside only as being ‘intolerant’, ‘sectarian’ etc—need also to be seen as the use of books as a political tool, though by default. The mainstream and liberal political forces as well as media take notice of the book world only when copies of books are burned or books are banned. Editorials are written; talk shows take place, opinion polls are held and what not.

However, in the normal circumstances, the space for discussions about books is shrinking day by day. Very few newspapers carry book reviews or interviews with authors or have any section dedicated to the world of publishing. Among the electronic channels, the scope for any kind of intellectual discussion is minimal, to say the least. Similarly, the political parties suffer from intellectual bankruptcy all the more. We have political parties that offer colour TVs, motorcycles to voters. It is almost impossible to think of political parties offering free books as sops to its voters. It is rather sad in a country that needs more books and more education to offer meaningful life to its more than 650 million readers if we take the literacy percentage into account. The value system emanating from the political circles is enough pointer to the little importance that we attach to books as a political tool to influence voters, people, opinion makers etc.

During the national movement, the leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Azad etc. also found time to engage themselves with the intellectual pursuits. The books like Hind Swaraj, Discovery of India etc show their vision as well as the restless zeal to understand the national predicaments through intellectual and visionary ideas. However, these days, at best a political leader is able to come up in the form of a book relates to recalling of his life, memoirs, autobiographies etc.

This trend indicates that the contemporary leaders could at best write about what they have gone through and not really put before themselves and the nation any vision or meaningful political agenda. This is reflected in their speeches, in their manifestoes, in their agendas—where no special attention to books as possible political tool to use can be noticed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nehru on Hindi

It has become customary to dub English as the language of the ‘elites’, thus very comfortably eclipsing the elitism that guides the Indian languages--Hindi, in the present context. Without being passionate about the desirability of Hindi emerging as ‘the’ national language in true sense, it will be instructive to have a peak into the damage done to the language in the post-independence decades when the clamour for according Hindi its due position in national life as a corollary to the attainment of independence ran highest at all levels.

The root cause of the lack of the growth of Hindi as the language of social, economic and cultural discourse, can be traced to the ‘sectarian’ as well as ‘purist’ mindset with which the ‘job’ of the development of Hindi was taken up. This was ‘detected’ with lot of concern by none other than the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself, whose best of the intentions to promote the interest of Hindi and other Indian languages seemed to have been sabotaged by the conservative language enthusiasts.

Five letters written by Nehru, two each to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, his Education Minister, and Ravi Shankar Shukla, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and one to Jagjivan Ram, the Minister for Communications (1952–56), in October 1953 in quick succession, show the highest concern that Nehru accorded to the apparent deterioration in the development of a ‘modern Hindi’ with the aim to project it as the national language.

Nehru (left) with Azad at the inuaguration of Delhi Public Library, 1951

The first of these letters, included in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Vol. 24, pages 212-217, (General Editor: S Gopal, Vol. Editors Ravinder Kumar & H Y Sharada Prasad; published by Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, 1999), was written to Ram on 11 October, enclosing a Money Order form in Hindi with these comments: “Reading it, I find myself wholly unable to understand a great part of it. I am quite certain that most of our people will not understand it. Whom then is it meant for? What kind of language are we evolving which is neither graceful, artistic, nor generally understood? As a writer myself and one interested in languages, I am terribly shocked at the way things are developing. The same day Nehru shoots off a letter to Maulana Azad enclosing a little booklet containing Hindi equivalents of official and technical terms in English with these comments: ‘In reading it, I found that a large number of words suggested were totally incomprehensible to me and seemed to be wholly inappropriate. I do not know what is happening to our language; but I see more and more evidence from day to day of rapid deterioration which will ultimately land us in complete chaos, so far as language is concerned.’ The letter ends on a rather somber note: ‘I suffer shock after shock as I see these.

The very next day, on 12 October, Nehru writes a letter to Shukla on a complaint of the All India Newspaper Editors Conference regarding an English-Hindi dictionary being got prepared by the Madhya Pradesh Government. Nehru writes: ‘I can only say that looking at these words, I have had a sense of extreme shock. I do not quite know where we are going in regard to language. But it is clear to me that if we pursue this course, we shall kill our language, apart from making ourselves ridiculous before the public…We have rightly decided to make Hindi as our National Language. But the kind of stuff that is being produced is not language at all, Hindi or other. It is purely artificial creation with no meaning. I might mention one word which seems to me typical of amazing length of folly to which we are being led into. “Zig-zag” is translated as “Gomutrakar”.

In another letter to Maulan Azad written on the 18 October, Nehru, while being quite aware that ‘there are strong forces at work’, (he actually names the people of his own government behind it) suggests, ‘This matter can not be dealt with our officials… It must be dealt with more vitally and personally. Both aspects have to be considered—the encouragement of Hindi and the discouragement of this new-fangled and distorted Hindi.’

The last letter of this sequence written to Shukla, takes a broad view of the issue and almost like a teacher Nehru tries to make the Hindi enthusiasts see reason and purpose of developing a national language: ‘The…question that arises is about the content of the language…It has to be related to the daily life of the people and cannot come out of the head of a scholar living with dictionaries and lexicons…any word or phrase is a living throbbing thing and not a mere creation out of nothing. The content of each word is not its literal meaning, but the history attached to it in people’s mind.’

It is obvious that the point Nehru is making relates to Sanskritisation of Hindi by the conservative Hindi enthusiasts with their anti-Urdu bias. When we talk of UNO coming out with a list of endangered languages, we should realize how the death wish of certain languages lead them to be included in such a list. It is no wonder then that after 60 years of independence, a situation has got created wherein the marginalized class in small towns and semi-urban areas, which is coming up educationally now, shows more inclination to study English rather than Hindi as the latter is seen as a language carrying burden of a prejudiced past.

Certainly, the elitism of a different hue with their casteist and other conservative prejudices have worked overtime to dig the graves of a composite Hindustani language, which the Hindi litterateurs of the 1960s under the 'Nai Kahani' movement and modern Hindi poetry tried to save. In the hindsight, however, it appears that the Hindi officials and academics, with access to the social, economic and cultural power structure, have got the better of them thus reducing Hindi as a language of the globalised world meant only for translating ideas but unable to generate them on its own.

Reading

The blogs here will be more related to the concept of reading, writing, thinking intellectually, communicating etc. What is the role of reading in our life, our personality? Are we what we read?