Remember when you were made a performing monkey by your folks, prodded and pestered into reciting a nursery rhyme amidst a gaggle of goggle-eyed adults, ready to clap at the end of your sparkling rendition? Back then you were studying in an English medium school and your parents loved showing off your newly minted conversational skills. Talking in Hindi was simply hara-kiri, in the spartan confines of the convent I studied in.
There was a penalty if we defected (blame the effective espionage) by communicating in the official language of the Union of India and the steely, blue-eyed Irish nuns maintained a hawk-like vigil. It was unthinkable, an inexcusable faux pas to slip into desi bhasha as it was quite irreverently relegated to the confines of the classroom. This nourished a sort of snobbery as I practised my poise to perfection, dropping pauses with eloquent appeal, choosing to chat in suave English, while hugging my Hindi-DNA a tad sheepishly within. Speaking in Punjabi was considered infra-dig anyway.
Then ‘Bollywood’ happened, and brought along a gregarious mix of artistes, completely given to onscreen histrionics, on and off stage, and much as our expressionistic films were lapped up by the NRIs, Hindi never quite got the promotion it deserved. We doggedly placed a premium on fluency in English, because it was easy to throw weight around with airline staff, at parent-teacher meetings, on the morning jog with acquaintances, or with the girl gang. Hindi was rural, English was urban. Hindi was fine to communicate with the house help and domestic staff.
The linguistic divide was scathingly clear, even as bumbling buffoons dithered and gargled when it came to diction. Deification is a disease, and the mindset on our home turf has been to put angrezi-speaking people on the pedestal, making them Twitter kings and queens. Funnily enough, our film stars have also minted money articulating Hindi dialogues on screen, but have sneered like begums and nawabs when it has come to confessing their personal movie-diet preferences. Only actors have spoken on camera in the language, with brilliant clarity. Until a few years ago, Hindi was relegated to the bytes of politicians, mostly belonging to the cowbelt, expressing their views with great fluidity.
Shilpi Madan for Sunday Standard