Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maulana Azad on ‘Classical’ Languages Sanskrit and Tamil, ‘International’ Languages Urdu and Bengali, and ‘National’ Language Hindi






Studio/Nov.’51, (A22g) Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Education Minister of India planting a sapling at the Central College of Agriculture Hostel at Pusa (Delhi), the opening ceremony of which was perofrmed by him on November 3, 1951. Photo and Caption Courtesy: http://photodivision.gov.in/waterMarkdetails.asp?id=23015.jpg
Today (11th November) is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s birth anniversary, which is now also celebrated as National Education Day. As I had mentioned in my article written last year on this occasion, (you can read the article at this link on the blog http://aboutreading.blogspot.in/2013/11/a-finished-product-of-indian-culture.html)  Maulana Azad remains for me one of the greatest heroes of our times in whom I am yet to find anything that can slight him or his personality. While just going through the book Speeches of Maulana Azad 1947-1958 published by Publications Division (1st Edition January 1956; Revised Edition November 1989),  I came across an article that puts the issue of having a national language in historical perspective and also brings forth quite frankly the weaknesses that encompass the modern Hindi language and the challenges that it needs to confront in order to establish itself as a true national language. A reading of the speech, given as the Inaugural Address at the First All India Conference on Letters, New Delhi, March 15, 1951, shows that lot many issues that Maulana Azad flagged nearly 65 years back are still quite relevant and need to be viewed more closely. One of the arresting points of the speech for me is Maulana Azad’s clear-cut perspective about what makes literature of a language international’. For him, if the literature of a language has been translated enough into foreign languages, then that should be considered truly international. In the context of Urdu, he thus says,

Among the Indian languages, it is only from Urdu that some works had been translated into English and other European languages more than a hundred years ago. Garcin de Tassy published a French translation of Sir Syed Ahmad’s Asar-al-Sanadid as early as 1850. Maulvi Nazir Ahmed and Maulana Shibli Numani have also produced works which have been translated and quoted by well-known European scholars. In the third volume of his Literary History of Persia, Edward Browne has drawn extensively upon the works of Shibli Numani. In fact, a large portion of this book, particularly the Chapter on Hafiz, is almost a translation of Shibli Numani’s Shair-al-Ajam.”

Now, in the age of translations that we live in, it is of utmost importance to realise that translations are not one way process---foreign literature getting translated into Indian languages—but through translations if we hope to develop cultural and literary understanding, then our literatures, and views must get translated into the langauges of the dominant cultures. Otherwise, the bogey of translations will be, and to great extent already being, used to force down the throat of sub-ordinate or minority cultures the views of the dominant cultures. In this  sense, as somehow I always have the apprehension, translations can ultimately become a tool for spreading globalisation and its uniform ideas. Hence it is all the more necessary to look at the insights that Maulana Azad offers when he states: "...it is not enough if a language translates works from other languages. Valuable as such translations are, and greatly as they contribute to the development of a language, they cannot by themselves establish a language as a world language. A language or literature attains that status only when it makes some contribution which by its originality or depth of insight or beauty of expression marks an addition to the achievements of man."

Herein I reproduce the last 3 pages of the 7 page speech, which is published under the heading ‘Literature and Nationality’—Kumar Vikram



Photo Emporium, Cuttack/January. 1950, A22mThe Hon ble Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India’s Education Ministe, and Chairmanof the Central Advisory Board of Education, photographed after the inauguration of the Annual Meeting of the Board at Cuttack in January, 1950, with H.E. mr. Asaf Ali, Governor, Shri H.K. Mahtab, Pandit Lingraj Misra, Education Minister of Orissa, (in front row), Dr. Tarachand, Secretary to Education Ministry, and Mr. M. C. Padhan, D.P.I., Orissa. Phto and Caption Courtesy: http://photodivision.gov.in/waterMarkdetails.asp?id=12846.jpg
EXCERPTS FROM ‘LITERATURE AND NATIONALITY”

“...It is obvious that if any language is to attain recognition outside its own domain, it must contain works which are accepted as valuable contributions to human knowledge or culture. For this, it is not enough if a language translates works from other languages. Valuable as such translations are, and greatly as they contribute to the development of a language, they cannot by themselves establish a language as a world language. A language or literature attains that status only when it makes some contribution which by its originality or depth of insight or beauty of expression marks an addition to the achievements of man.
The fourteen languages recognised by the Constitution include Sanskrit and Tamil. Sanskrit is, of course, in a class by itself, and is rightly recognised as one of the most developed of classical languages. Tamil also has a rich and ancient literature and its poetry has been and deserves to be translated into foreign languages. We must, however, remember that Tamil is really a classical language, and most of the achievements of Tamil which entitles it to recognition belong to a past age.

If therefore we leave out Sanskrit and Tamil as classical languages, we must face up to the painful fact that only Bengali and Urdu among the modern Indian languages can claim to some extent international recognition. Urdu, in less than three hundred years, has achieved a progress that is almost phenomenal. Urdu poetry developed suddenly and produced poets who can rank with the immortal poets of the classical languages. Mir Anis can take his place after poets like Valmiki, Homer and Firdausi; Sauda, Mir and Ghalib have composed lyrics that are excellent, judged by any standard. Ghalib, in particular, has reached heights of originality and beauty that rank him with the greatest lyric poets of the world. In prose too, Urdu has, in about a hundred years, produced works in history and literature that have rightly attained international fame. Among the Indian languages, it is only from Urdu that some works had been translated into English and other European languages more than a hundred years ago. Garcin de Tassy published a French translation of Sir Syed Ahmad’s Asar-al-Sanadid as early as 1850. Maulvi Nazir Ahmed and Maulana Shibli Numani have also produced works which have been translated and quoted by well-known European scholars. In the third volume of his Literary History of Persia, Edward Browne has drawn extensively upon the works of shibli Numani. In fact, a large portion of this book, particularly the Chapter on Hafiz, is almost a translation of Shibli Numani’s Shair-al-Ajam. Browne has expressed his regret that Shibli Numani’s book did not appear ten years earlier, for in that case his first two volume of Literary History of Persia would have benefited by the incorporation of his material and interpretation. It is not only Shibli Numani’s work which has attained this status. There are other authors too whose books have been translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Russian and German.

Besides Urdu, the only other modern Indian language which has attained international status is Bengali. This is due almost entirely to the genius of Rabindranath Tagore. There is perhaps no language today which has not translated some of the works of Tagore. His name is rightly recognised as among the immortals and on account of him Bengali has an honoured place among the literatures of the world. Similarly, some of Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s novels have also been translated into some European languages.

If we exclude Sanskrit and Tamil as classical languages, and leave out Urdu and Bengali, it is a regrettable fact that none of the other modern Indian languages have yet attained world status or made any contribution to the literature of the world. It is true that Gujarati has one work which has attained international importance, viz., the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. Similarly, Tilak’s Geeta Rahasya in Marathi has also rightly won the appreciation of scholars throughout the world. But we cannot class a language as a world language on the strength of only one or two books. 


Studio/Oct.51,A22d(v)Dassehra was celebrated at Ramlila Grounds on October 10, 1951. The President, Ministers of Central Cabinet, members of the Diplomatic Corps and a large number of Delhi citizens attend the celebrations.Photo shows Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Education Minister and Lala Deshbandhu Gupta and others witnessing the Dassehra celebrations. Photo and Caption Courtesy: http://photodivision.gov.in/waterMarkdetails.asp?id=22671.jpg
I am sure that all the literary figures who have assembled here today will agree with me that we have to pay special attention to the question of Hindi. We have accepted it as our national language, and the Constitution provides that it must take the place of English in 15 years. It is therefore essential that Hindi should develop sufficient strength and wealth to fulfill this important role, and yet we have to admit with sorrow that Hindi has not yet developed a literature which has achieved international standards of recognition. I would like to remove one misunderstanding in this connection. What is called Hindi today must be distinguished from Brij Bhasha and Avadhi. It was in Brij Bhasha and Avadhi that during the 16th and 17th century great progress was made under Moghul patronage. From the time of Akbar to that of Shah Alam, there was always a Poet Laureate in Brij Bhasha at the Moghul Court. It was during Jehanagir’s reign that Tulsidas wrote his famous work in Avadhi. Brij Bhasha and Avadhi, between them, threw up a galaxy of talents of which some of the most distinguished names are those of Tulsidas, Amir Khusroe, Malik Mohammad Jaisi, Abdul Rahim Khan Khanan, Mirabai, Kabir, Dadu, Ramdas, Shah Barkat Ullah and Abul Jalil Bilgrami.

The poetry of Brij Bhasha attained a high degree of excellence and can rightfully claim a place among the literatures of the world. This, however, is quite distinct from what is called Hindi today. Modern Hindi started as a literary language in the beginning of the 20th century and was in fact only a variation of the same language of which the other variation is Urdu. The only difference between the two is that Hindi is more Sanskritic in vocabulary. There is no doubt that a great quantity of literature has been produced in Hindi since the beginning of this century. Many magazines and newspapers have been and continue to be published. Hindi can also boast of translations from almost all the Indian languages as well as from some of the languages of Europe. While therefore the quantity of literature produced in Hindi is extensive, the quality is not yet of a degree which can entitle Hindi to a place in world literature. This is a matter which is of anxious concern to all of us, for a language which we have chosen to be our national language must attain a status commensurate with that dignity. As nationals of India, it is therefore our duty to try to enrich the literature of Hindi and see that really first-rate literature is produced in it.     

I have mentioned earlier that apart from Sanskrit, Tamil, Bengali and Urdu, there are some important works in languages like Gujarati and Marathi, and one may add Telugu. It is, however, necessary that all these languages must develop rich literatures of their own so that the contribution of India to world literature may correspond to her past attainments.

I would like to draw your attention to one other problem which the present conference should consider. Though Hindi has been accepted as the national language of India, we have to recognise that it is not the mother tongue of people from the South, the East and the West. Till these areas take up the study of Hindi on an adequate scale and their people acquire facility in the use of Hindi, the problem of our national language in not rally solved. We must, however, be very careful as to how we proceed in the matter. We must respect the susceptibilities of our brethren from South, West and East India. They should never feel that they are being compelled to accept something against their will. We are grateful to them that they have accepted Hindi as the national language and we must work for the spread and development of Hindi with their willing co-operation. It was in order to tide over the difficulties of the transitory period that it was decided to have an interval of 15 years during which the use of English should continue. That decision should not be lightly changed and we must be careful to avoid doing anything which may create an impression among our brethren from these areas that it is proposed to change that decision without their consent. I would, however, at the same time, appeal to them to remember that if we are to succeed in implementing our decision to substitute English by Hindi after 15 years, the necessary preparation for the change must begin now. I have every confidence that we will receive the co-operation of all Indians – whether they come from the East or West, the North or South – in the proper development of Hindi as our national language.

I would conclude by saying that the question of the national language is not the concern of any particular section or group. It is a matter which vitally affects the whole country. I consider it an accident that the language which was chosen to be the national language was from North India. Under a different set of circumstances, it might have been a language of the South. Since, however, the choice has been made, it is the national duty of all Indians – Whether of the South or of the North – to do everything for the development and enrichment of Hindi. I am confident that, with the full co-operation of the North and South, East and West, Hindi will soon develop a literature which will enable it to claim its place among the rich literatures of the world.”

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, pp144-147, ‘Literature and Nationality’, Speeches of Maulana Azad 1947-1958, Publications Division, First Edition 1956, Revised Edition 1989.