Story of a lost journalist

August 5, 2008

National language, no national language

Filed under: My Musing Moments — Cris @ 22:37
Tags: , ,

Uff took a 2-day long break. Was caught up with a bit of eye trouble. Now back with all the energy gained from Magi noodles and tomato ketchup.

(Not follow-on eye-trouble) Yesterday I happened to see and hear ONV in person and felt quite good about it. Didn’t know the great poet was also a great orator. It was so amazing to listen to his conversation flowing from one thought to another. Mm let me think… what did he talk about? Oh yeah, language. I didn’t think there was such a lot of meaning to language, culture and communication.

Anyway relating to that I decided to write about another language-trouble that comes as an oft-seen scenario in India. Problem is having numerous languages and bigger problem is each person not proficient in all. Both difficult to solve, says aspiring language-destroyers and language-learners. So the only answer is to somehow make one language common in all states. Hindi was the national language when I last checked. Pretty sure it still is, national languages have this habit of clinging on. National language however turned out to be full of words that sounded quite alien from other regional languages of the country. Somebody forgot to add the qualification that national language had to be an, everyone-knows-it language. It is not compulsory in all schools, and even if it is made so, there are multitudes who do not get education so they’d be left out of the common language speakers club.

English came a little bit to the rescue to the educated lot. Well to a tiny, little, miniscule bit. Ok you get the picture. It was no good at all. Person C went to another state to start new career. C knew mother-tongue and English, might even understand a little bit of Hindi. But that unfortunately seemed minutely little when she found the rest of the fellow-career-folks happily conversing in Hindi, during work hours and outside work hours. Left out, C tried several times to interject a cough and say “I don’t follow Hindi, could you guys talk in English?”. This was sometimes received with huge apologies and the accused switched to English. But that bit of courtesy was exceedingly short-lived. After a while they chose to be oblivious of C’s presence in the premises and C in turn decided to be an anti-social loner.

I have also seen national-language speaking person S come to Mallu-land and sit helplessly in the middle of an ocean of Mallu exchanges thrown over and under his head!

This is a pretty common scenario and no permanent solution has yet been found. I have decided to personally take it to be listed in the Constitution the moment one is found.



  1. hmmm! difficult in Indian context to have a national language in that true sense which would be understood by one and all in India….
    But having said that; a bigger chunk of Indians know English and Hindi than ever before in past….And most probably India of 2020 will have majority ppl knowing English and Hindi! English due to compulsions at work front and Hindi due to ease of use and popular Bollywood!! Cheers!

    Comment by sajith — August 5, 2008 @ 22:47 | Reply

  2. @Cris: Hindi is not India’s national language, as against the ‘popular’ concept. In fact, India, technically, doesn’t have a “national language” defined yet.

    The Indian constitution defines Hindi and English as the “Official language” of the Indian union, ie, the Central govt. of India uses these two languages for official purposes and communication (ads, notices, circulars, orders etc)

    Check out the Part XVII, Articles 343 to 351 of the Indian constitution, its quite interesting to read those language-related facts. Its also interesting, if you have time, to google around and read about the Independence-time lobbying stories which got Hindi the “official language” status 🙂

    I’ve seen mallus/tamils sitting helplessly in project discussions / casual hang-outs (trying to laugh when others laugh, or nod when others nod) when the dialogs shifted gears to hindi… (I’ve even seen cases where folks refused to switch to english for those miserable minority) Many tried to catch up, learn the language and adapt… Some chose to leave those groups and regroup with others.

    I guess its the same case in the other direction too. I have seen hindi-speaking folks trying to learn malayalam words and phrases, and try to take part in casual talks… and some leaving the group and regrouping with others.

    Atleast I haven’t heard a project discussion in malayalam yet in a group where non-malayalam speaking members where present.

    Comment by Tedy Kanjirathinkal — August 6, 2008 @ 03:15 | Reply

  3. The solution is to make Hindi compulsory in school…….

    Comment by Sachin — August 6, 2008 @ 08:33 | Reply

  4. ah, C and S, both sound too too familar.. I have come across both of them..
    1st, S, who was a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya in a small town in Kerala. The poor thing used to put in loads of effort to try n learn the mother-of-all-tonguetwister-languages.. but then, all her genuine efforts used to be met with this very typical mallu giggle and guffaws at times.

    And then C, a guy from AP who ended up with a job in Chandigarh. He was my teammie too, incidentally. In meeting rooms, he desperatley used to go and write down on the board ‘Talk in English, Please’.. and then the worst part, if you ask me was when the rest of them oblige. Coz then I’ll be having a great challenge.. the challenge of ‘trying’ to understand what they are ‘trying’ to say.. ‘coz the english the rest of them talked was the highly-difficult-to-decode variant called Punjabi English. Sigh!

    Comment by usha — August 6, 2008 @ 11:17 | Reply

  5. i find it disrespectful if you dont speak the language understood by the other person as well..Like if a north Indian is part of the discussion speak in english so that he/she doesnt feel left out…But then there are some people who take it to the extreme like when I wished a fellow north Indian #Happy Independence day# last year, he took offence for me not telling that in HIndi!!..

    Comment by mathew — August 6, 2008 @ 17:14 | Reply

  6. I guess that’s our tendency to speak in mother tongue. Previously I was in a team where everyone except me were Tamilians n they used to speak in Tamil even the technical issues. I used to find it very difficult to follow. That time our manager was a German n we used to joke that one day he’ll come n speak to us in Tamil as he would have got used to all these Tamil conversations. The same team later got another manager who was also a Tamilian n from then on even the team meetings used to be in Tamil. By then I had another Kannadiga colleague n he was like in his own state, he is not able to follow the conversations.

    Comment by Dhanya — August 6, 2008 @ 22:21 | Reply

  7. @sajith, knowing has not proved good enough so far. Many people who opt for mother tongues in multi-linguistic company are often well versed in the commonly known language, be it English or Hindi. People including me just prefer not to use the knowledge!

    @Tedy, right I keep mis-terming it. Some sites like this – are there to confuse you as well. And the trying-to-learn-the-new-language to fit in strategies seldom work. I have seen people enthusiastically taking it up and then giving it up pretty soon. The avoiders and ignorers who forget about these people do not bother to help them pick the new language either. Ok I am an anti-social 😀

    @Sachin, I am sure there would be a lot of protest against that. And even then like I say there are millions who do not receive any kind of education in India. That doesnt mean they should be left in a difficult position to communicate on reaching other states.

    @usha, oh how I hate that typical guffaw act! Whole reason why I stopped trying to learn to speak Hindi entirely and completely! I didnt know the laugh was so bad (guilty of doing it in the past) till I was the one laughed at!

    @mathew, it is extremely disrespectful and absolutely inconsiderate, thats what I say. Have to admit I have been guilty several times too, forgetting I have been there.

    @Dhanya, thats really sad! I wish everyone of them end up in places where they are the ones left out for a short while so they come back with a lesson learnt. But I can somehow sense such lessons are very hard to learn!

    Comment by Cris — August 6, 2008 @ 23:23 | Reply

  8. Hey Cris
    Haven’t read through the comments.
    Will do that later.
    Meanwhile read this…,prtpage-1.cms

    Comment by Nikhil Narayanan — August 11, 2008 @ 15:40 | Reply

  9. @Nikhil, read it. Shashi Tharoor and me, always think the same thing 😉

    Comment by Cris — August 13, 2008 @ 23:19 | Reply

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