By Gurmehar Kaur:
A few weeks ago, I came across an article on the Internet stating an immediate need for Hindi to upgrade from one of India’s official languages to the ‘national language’ of the country. This is not a new demand. For many people, this is a vital step towards fulfilling the long-cherished dream of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
But this demand scares me, to be honest. Not just because it threatens the plural fabric of my nation, but because in such a Hindi-speaking Hindu country, my tongue would never find a place.
My first language is Punjabi, which I inherited from my mother and nurtured with a healthy diet of Amrita Pritam’s stories and poems. However, somewhere down the line, English became my default language. I guess it’s only because a 10-year-old me believed that my command over this gift from our coloniser would determine my worth once I was older.
Sadly, between chasing an Englishman’s English and listening to my family chatter away in Punjabi, I lost Hindi. It remained a language of convenience. Something I use to communicate to buy samosas in the canteen or to direct the rickshaw wallah; sometimes just to have a simple conversation or crack a joke. But nothing more.
Moreover, I wonder if what comes out of my mouth is even Hindi? My Hindi is heavily accented – remains of Punjabi oozing out with every word uttered. Most of the time it sounds like a Honey Singh rap, but nevertheless, I’m proud of it.
This language limbo makes me feel a bit stranded, with my tongue a patchwork of cultures. But somehow, Hindi stitches together bits from here and there, giving me an inclusive bhasha for my inclusive India.
For example, pyaaz turns into kanda the moment I’m at my massi’s place in Mumbai –where all of a sudden, my aloo paranthas lack kanda, not onions or pyaaz.
I realised when I’m frustrated, all my Hindi sentences end with a “re”. Something I borrowed from my Telugu roommate, with whom I shared a room for four years. Her Hindi, though, was non-existent. Her Telugu was as fast as an Englishman’s English – something I was conditioned to chase.
Even though alien in many ways, English became an equaliser in our relationship. It provided a Punjabi woman’s daughter and a Telugu man’s child a middle ground to express their sadness, happiness, dreams, aspirations, heartbreaks and occasional facts about the Kardashians. We could always fall back on the comfort of English.
But when it comes to a competitive game of dumb charades, my Hindi is on point. Even a Bhojpuri movie can’t beat me. FYI, I am always on the winning team. #JustSaying.
After every heartbreak, it is not just my dil, but also my Hindi that is affected. The only way I can nurse it is shayari from Faiz, Ghalib or Khusrow. Urdu is the language that can fill an empty void.
My Hindi will always, by default, introduce me by my nickname, Gul. A name with roots in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Urdu and Koshur. Picked up somewhere along a stay in Kashmir, a name my parents thought would be perfect to go with my chubby rosy cheeks.
My Hindi reflects a myriad of cultures mixed together, just like my nation. My patchy Hindi is a “situational irony” of your Hindu Rashtra – a rebellion in every word.
Note: This article was first published in the Quint
(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here’s your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)
Click here to visit the Bol microsite.