For those born in a metropolitan city like Mumbai, Hindi is a language that one meets in their childhood itself. Where every moholla is home to a variety of language speakers, Hindi becomes a medium that binds all these languages together in a single thread. Be it in school or college, in local trains, markets or fairs: Hindi for me was like a stubborn child, clutching on to his mother’s saree, persistently following her.
Back in school, I would always score well in all my Hindi tests, but I never felt one with it. However, as soon as I began college, I don’t know why I took up Hindi Literature as a minor subject choice. My friends were surprised at my decision—and so was I. But today, four years later, as I write this essay, I realize studying Hindi literature was one of the most glorious decisions of my life.
Dr Asha Naithani Dayama was our professor. In the two years that we studied with her, everyone in her class of sixteen students began feeling a connect with Hindi. From crying after reading the fifth part of Rashmi-Rathi to mooring over the consequences of dictatorship in “Kaali Aandhi” and cherishing the beauty of Mallika’s heart in “Aashad Ka Ek Din“; I, too, fell in love with Hindi. I had understood the etiquette of speaking the Hindi language. I had finally learned to embrace the child that stubbornly clung onto the edge of his mother’s saree.
When college ended, I felt as though my lap would be forlorn again, but this was not acceptable to that prankster of a Hindi. I found a job in an NGO based in Lucknow and lo; there I was in Uttar Pradesh-the land of Hindi. I had begun running a school in the small village of Sitapur. The people there spoke in Awadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi. In order to better understand their lives, it was important for me to understand their language. And so in the process of learning Awadhi, my Hindi got even better. I even learned that with the proliferation of the Hindi language, many languages like Awadhi met their end. Due to the glorification of the Hindi language by the government, languages like Bhojpuri, Maithili and Awadhi are endangered today. We often talk about saving the Hindi language from the clutches of English, but who will save these languages from Hindi?
Today, as part of the Young India Fellowship, I am associated with the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, Across various districts of U.P., we speak to young women from self-help groups on issues of caste, religion, marriage and their own aspirations. A few days ago in Bareily, I spoke to a few village girls about the consequences of demonetization. On my return, while I was watching the recording of that interaction, I realized that Hindi was no longer the stubborn child I embraced on my lap. Instead, it had become a companion walking shoulder to shoulder with me. A companion in whose warmth I will continue to bask in.
Translation by Nidhi Harihar