(With the Special Correspondent, Organiser, December 1957)
Q : Which should be our national language?
A : I consider all our languages as national languages. They are equally our national heritage. Hindi is one among them which, by virtue of its countrywide usage, has been adopted as the State Language. It will be wrong to describe Hindi alone as the national language and others as provincial languages. That would not be seeing things in the right perspective.
Q : Some time back Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar ridiculed Hindi publicly. He said Hindi had but two great books – Tulsi Ramayana and the Railway Time Table. Sardar Panikkar repeated Dr. C. P. with approval.
A : Only people ignorant of Hindi can ridicule it so. This tendency of mocking at other languages must stop. Some time back Ram Ganesh Gadkari, a prominent Marathi dramatist, made one of his characters say : “Southern languages, Put some pebbles in a tin can and shake it vigorously, and you hear those languages.” Now this was no doubt said in fun. But I think such fissiparous fun is no good for the country.
Q : Some people feel that the rise of Hindi will eclipse their mother tongues.
A : I do not think so. For example, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi and Telgu flourished even under English hegemony. With the rise of Hindi these languages will flourish further, and in turn enrich Hindi also. Why should Bengalis fear Hindisation of Bengali? For the last twenty years Bengali has been Urduised. For ‘morning’, ‘prabhate’ has increasingly yielded place to ‘phajare’. But I am yet to hear a Bengali protest. Why then should they be allergic to Hindi?
Some time back in Madurai an advocate told me that Hindi would hurt Tamil. I asked him how, but he could not explain. I asked him why he used English and not Tamil in the district court, which was permitted. Again he had no reply. I told him the enemy of Tamil was not Hindi, rather English was the enemy of both.
Q : Don’t you think four languages – mother tongue, Hindi, Sanskrit and English – are too many? They consume at least half the student’s time.
A : That is so. But I think the most dispensable of the four is English. It should not be a compulsory language. The present confusion will abate and eventually end if the Government takes a firm decision, sticks to it, and implements it quickly. The present indecision is only strengthening English. Today more children are going to convent schools than perhaps ever before. Some people have begun to openly urge that ‘English should be the lingua franca of India’. The Government will undermine public confidence if it takes a shifty stand on this key issue of State Language.
In the old Madhya Pradesh the Education Department was conducting its business in Hindi and Marathi. But after the formation of bigger Bombay, the Marathi areas of former M.P. have reverted to English!
This is hardly the way to replace English as the State Language by 1965 – the time limit set by the Constitution for complete change-over. There must be some consistency between the declared policy and programme to implement it.
Q : Rajaji says if Hindi is adopted as State Language, non-Hindi speakers will be reduced to second class citizenship.
A : Nothing of the kind. They pick up languages quickly. What language do South Indians speak when they visit Kashi or Prayag? Is it not some sort of Hindi?
Q : Are not most of these pilgrims Brahmins?
A : No! They are predominantly others and the puja saamagri of sandal paste, flowers and dhoop offered in Kashi Vishwanath temple every day is supplied by an organization of Nottcotee Chettiars of Tamilnadu.
Q : Rajaji says English is equally foreign to all of us, and therefore its continuation as State Language would be just and fair to all.
A : Since it is equally foreign to us all, it should be equally discarded by all. It is equally unfair and unjust to all.
If these leaders advocated the adoption of Tamil as State Language it would be more understandable. They could say it is much richer and much older. There would be some justification for it. But English is a counsel of despair.
Q : What is the explanation for eminent leaders talking like this?
A : Two explanations are possible. Either they are trying to take the wind out of DMK sails or it is a bait to appeal to man’s parochialism, and capture political power on that basis. In the former case the attempt cannot but fail. Rajaji is only lending respectability to DMK ideas. Secondly threatening that if Hindi is introduced the country will further sub-divided, is political blackmail. By such talk he is only strengthening the forces of disruption.
Q : Would it be advisable to introduce bilingualism of Hindi and English for some years, after Hindi is made the State Language in 1965?
A : No. Let us have bilingualism now, for some years before 1965. Actually we should have had it by now.
Q : Perhaps some people in the South think that replacement of English will put them at a disadvantage in the matter of recruitment to services, since they are good at English, but would take long to be equally good at Hindi.
A : In the first instance it is not correct to say that the South is particularly good at English. Most of the 1% in this country, who are supposed to know English, speak an English which hardly deserves to be known by that name – and the South is no exception.
I have no doubt that once the Government takes a firm decision in this regard, the South will take less than ten years to pick up Hindi. Already the servants and hamalis have changed over from ‘two pice’ to ‘do paisa’. But what do politicians care for humble folk like that?
Q : But will they be able to speak and write Hindi as well as the Hindi-speakers?
A : Why not? It is erroneous to think that the type of Hindi which is going to be the State Language is the Hindi which is the mother tongue of 15-20 crores. Nothing of the kind. All these people are speaking all kinds of variants of Hindi. The standard Sanskritised Hindi will be the Union Language. To that extent everybody can learn it with equal ease. You may be surprised to know, that even the students of Hindi from South speak and write chaste Hindi than those from North.
Q : Would you entertain a demand for reservation of jobs for non-Hindi-speakers, to allay their fears?
A : Such a course is unnecessary and undesirable. It strikes at the unity of the nation. I know they can effectively compete with Hindi-speakers. In any case, proficiency in Hindi would not be required of them. Other things being equal, they would need only a working knowledge of Hindi to enter Central Services.
Whatever handicap is there can be further reduced by adopting a common Sanskrit vocabulary for all technical terms. Also the adoption of a uniform script for all our languages would bring them closer.
I say they can pick up much more Hindi than English if only they devoted to it half the time they devote to English.
Q : The protagonists of English say that it is the language of international commerce and diplomacy.
A : Not quite. English is the predominant language of only one power bloc. And, anyway, let those who need to, learn English on their own. Why should every schoolboy – who will have nothing to do either with high finance or high diplomacy – learn it?
Q : Are they likely to find many supporters in other non-Hindi areas like Bengal and Maharashtra?
A : No. Mostly ‘elderly liberals’, who still believe in the beneficence of British rule, will join them. They are too much rooted in their own particular past to outgrow it.
Q : The Prime Minister says the Government must secure unanimous agreement for the introduction of Hindi.
A : But they did not consult anybody when they nationalized life insurance! They are pressing ahead with Gramadan also. But neither the Congress Election Manifesto nor the Parliament enactments say anything about it!
(With the Editor, Organiser, October 1967)
Q : What do you think of the language policy of the Centre?
A : I don’t see any policy anywhere. All I see is drift and indecision. The Government seems to be moving in circles.
The other day I was painted to see an article by Shri P. B. Gajendragadkar (vide ‘The Times of India’, Oct. 17, 1967). The last paragraph seemed to endorse separatist trends. He has advocated ‘militant response’ in the event of Hindi being introduced in the universities and courts.
Q : Do you regard Education Minister Shri Triguna Sen’s formula of education at all levels in the mother tongue as good and reasonable?
A : I do. It is the obvious thing to do. It should have been done long ago. As for the problem of students shifting from university to university, after all, what is their number?
Q : What happens in the case of a state whose own language is not developed enough to serve as medium for higher education? For example, Kashmiri is not the medium in Kashmir even for primary education.
A : In such cases the state can decide whether Hindi or any other Indian language shall serve as its medium. But I have no doubt that all the four Southern languages are developed enough to serve as media for higher education. Much of the trouble will be over if a common vocabulary of technical words derived from Sanskrit is introduced in all the languages. There will be no harm in accepting foreign terms where local ones cannot be easily coined.
Q : Why did Shri E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker of Dravida Kazhagam say Tamil is a “barbaric tribal language”?
A : Only EVR can tell that.
Q : Some say Sanskrit should be the link language. Is it not a welcome suggestion?
A : If all those who oppose Hindi are agreed on Sanskrit, I will be supremely happy. But the trouble is that those people who have suddenly discovered the virtues of Sanskrit are not sincere about it. I am afraid they are using that argument as a delaying tactic.
Q : Shri Annadurai, Chief Minister of Madras, said the other day that Hindi should not be a compulsory subject because not many have occasion to use it when they grow up.
A : That is true, but there is another side to this matter. A little knowledge of Hindi by all Indians will help to foster a sense of integration and feeling of brotherliness.
Q : Perhaps common text-books in different languages will also help integration.
A : But even more important is the content of those books. Our history books are particularly deficient in this respect. They centre round Pataliputra and then stick to Delhi – as though the rest of the country didn’t matter. How many of even our graduates know the greatness of Cholas and Pandyas and Pulakeshin? Except for Vijayanagar, very little is taught about the history of the South. Take again, the Eastern Bharat. Kharavela was a great king of Utkal. He carried his flag across the seas to Indonesia. But how many Indian scholars have even heard of his name? When you go south and see the huge temples there you realize the great culture behind them. But how many know anything about them?
Q : One objection to Hindi is that it will put non-Hindi people at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Hindi people.
A : By and large, this is a misconceived objection. Fact is that Khari Boli which has come to be accepted as ‘Hindi’ is the mother-tongue of only a few millions in the Delhi-Meerut area. Most of the other so-called Hindi people do not speak Khari Boli in their homes. They speak a variety of languages ranging from Pahari to Rajasthani and from Avadhi to Magadhi, Braj and Maithili. They all have to learn Hindi as much as any Bengali or Maharashtrian or Andhra or Malayali.
Q : What do you think of the proposed Official Language Bill? It gives a veto to every state over the change-over from English to Hindi.
A : At this rate why not give a veto to every citizen? It is a case of tyranny of the few over the many. I am surprised that the English press, controlled by Indian businessmen, should be so hostile to Indian languages.
Q : Could this be an extension of their business collaboration with foreigners?
A : I will not be surprised.
Q : Is there any necessity of making Hindi the national language of our country?
A : Why? Hindi is not the only national language in our country. All the languages of this country, which have expressed the same great thoughts of our culture, are cent per cent national. The only thing is, in such a vast country as ours we need one Vyavahaara Bhaashaa, a link language, to replace English which is undoubtedly a foreign tongue.
(With Pressmen at Delhi, April 1966)
Q : Don’t you think that imposition of Hindi would be detrimental to the oneness of the country at the moment?
A : Well, if you think that introduction of any one of our languages is detrimental to the interests of the country, do you go to the other corollary that a foreign language is conducive? If that is not so, do we not require a language of our own for communicating our ideas and thoughts, and for mutual intercourse, which will be common to all of us throughout the country? From this point of view, Hindi is the easiest to learn and it is also already spoken and understood in various parts of the country. Therefore we say that Hindi should be there. There is no question of posing that one language is superior to another.
(With friends at Sirse, Karnataka, November 1969)
Q : Why has our Government been dragging its feet right from the start in the matter of making Hindi the common language?
A : As soon as the British left, the psychological atmosphere of our country was such that Hindi could have been immediately declared the sole link language and English totally banished. It could have been followed by brisk measures of implementation. Then there would have been absolutely no opposition or objection from any quarter. Countries like Burma, Ceylon and even African countries took such a decisive step and now they are free from any controversy.
I have been thinking as to why Pt. Nehru did not take that firm line. Probably it may be due to the samskaars during his childhood. He spent his whole boyhood – the formative period of his life – in England. Naturally he must have imbibed a love for English. He continued to be enamoured of it even in his later years and probably did not feel like giving it up all of a sudden.
Q : With respect to making the regional languages the media of instruction and administration, the Government feels that it should be done gradually and that it is not in our interest to bed good-bye to English all of a sudden. What is your opinion?
A : The policy of ‘gradual change-over’ is impractical and is designed to put the people on the wrong scent.
Q : The Government says that by banishing English we will be shutting the windows to the light of knowledge coming from outside. The progress of science will also be hampered. Is it not true to a great extent?
A : That is only an illusion. In all progressive countries, the native languages are the media of instruction. That English is the only ‘window’ etc., is all a myth. About thirty years ago Sir C. V. Raman had just returned from his visit to Russia. I met him and during the conversation, I just queried whether he had used English for his talk while in Russia. He said : “Who understands English there? I had to speak in German.”
In fact, it is our hanging on to English that has handicapped us. If by banishing English some say ‘the window to outside knowledge’ will be closed, I say a ‘wide door’ will be opened in its place!
(With friends at Madras and Kerala, February 1964)
Q : If English is banished, there is a fear that the educational standards may fail.
A : In universities, even now everything is taught in English but the standards have fallen low. The main reason is that there is no real serious effort to improve the standards. This partly explains the brain drain about which we complain so much. You find, nowadays, that the best brains amongst us are not encouraged by our Government and they go to foreign lands where their talents are better appreciated. The reason why they hesitate to come and work in India is not, as some say, the low emoluments they get here. They are many times prepared to work for lower incomes, but what they complain of is that there is practically no encouragement for independent research here.
To quote an old instance : Professor Goodridge of Allahabad University was a world renowned authority on the subject of fish in Zoology. His works are well known throughout the world and are published in the Lancashire series. When it was found out that such a genius is here in India, he was called back to England. There he could get only the job of an ordinary demonstrator. That job had less pay than what he used to get here. Moreover, his experience in the subject was so great that even his professors there were in no way near him. Here in India, he was better paid, he was a professor in charge of department and had ample authority and position. But in England even with low pay and less authority this demonstrator’s job offered him far better facilities for research and that was what he was thirsting for. Therefore he accepted the job and went back to England.
(With friends in Punjab, May 1968)
Q : For the sake of unity of India, will it not be better to have education in different sciences at the higher level in English, which is an international language? In that case people would not find any difficulty when they go from one state to another. If, on the other hand, they are imparted education in provincial languages they shall have to face a good many difficulties.
A : It is wrong to think that English is an ‘international language’. Last year a nuclear conference was held in France. Representative scientists from different countries participated in it. But only six of them knew English – one each from England, Canada, Australia and India, and two from the U.S.A. Again, in the UNCTAD held recently in New Delhi, more than 1,500 representatives took part. How many of them, you think, knew English? Only a small number. It would be better if Hindi is taught compulsorily along with the provincial languages and scientific and technical terms used in all the provincial languages are the same in the whole of the country. In that case there will be no difficulty for technical men to understand each other.
(With friends at Bangalore, February 1973)
Q : If English cannot take the place of National Language, what else can?
A : Recently, some one said to me : Cricket is our National Game, English dress is our National Dress and English language is our National Language. Then, the only thing that remains to be said is : Ours is an English Nation!
The countries which have become free from the British yoke have all taken to their native languages. They switched over to their languages as soon as power came to their hands. In South East Africa, there are 14 to 16 languages of various tribes. Every tribe is proud of its language. But by common accord they have accepted Swahili as their National Language. And they are carrying on quite well, even though Africa is much more backward than us in scientific and other fields. Though there are here a number of rich languages we have taken a very inane attitude. What difference can our people find between the British administration and now? Nothing, except change of hands. Then also English was there, and now also English continues. Then, what is there to rouse a strong spirit of patriotism in their minds?
Q : Why do you think a change will come merely by changing from English to our languages?
A : It is a sort of psychological change.
Q : In Tamilnadu both Hindi and English are equally foreign to them. Not even one per cent understands either. Then how does the change matter?
A : I will give you an example from my own experience. In one of our RSS training classes there, our workers wanted that I should speak in English. I said to them, that since translation into Tamil would be done any way, it would be the same whether I speak in English or Hindi. As I feel more at ease in Hindi, I said I prefer to speak in Hindi. One day I spoke in English and the next day in Hindi. Afterwards, on enquiring from the trainees I found that more persons could understand Hindi than English. It is quite natural, because so many words are common.
The trouble comes only when Persian or Arabic is introduced into Hindi, as was done under the pressure of Muslim League in the North. Then, it becomes unintelligible even to me. For example, when some one says Firmaanardassh, we cannot understand. Aajnaadhaarak, we understand. It is the interpolation of Persian that has made matters worse.
Q : You are for Hindi for the whole of the country, I suppose.
A : Right from the ancient days our people going on pilgrimage have been exchanging their thoughts in broken Hindi. At Kashi and Prayag, we see people from all parts of the country carrying on in broken Hindi. Long before we decided to conduct our affairs in Hindi it was already being done to a limited extent. In Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bengal and Assam also which are non-Hindi-speaking areas, people understand Hindi.
Q : Is not English useful as one of the languages?
A : We are not enemies of any language. In fact, German and Russian have now come to be studied for technological subjects. It is only after the Second World War, with the spread of American influence, that English has spread. We can have as a secondary language any useful language.
Q : If some States do not agree for Hindi, what is the alternative except English?
A : Our States are quarrelling; so, can we say that the alternative is the British rule?
Now, the pity is, English has become the primary language and ours, secondary languages. This has to be reversed. If we consider ourselves as a separate independent national entity, then we must have our own language.
Q : Why not Sanskrit?
A : Sanskrit, no doubt, is best, but there is a difficulty. Recently, I posed a question to a Sanskrit scholar as to why our people took to Prakrit and Hindi, even though Sanskrit was there. In the dramas of Kalidasa, the lower characters spoke in Prakrit. Why? Even in those days, Sanskrit was difficult, they wanted an easier medium. So came Prakrit. Sanskrit, if simplified, will be able to serve the purpose.
Q : Do you feel that rejuvenation of Sanskrit language will serve any useful purpose in the present context?
A : Undoubtedly. Sanskrit is the mother of all our languages. It has enriched all of them. All branches of knowledge including science and technology will surely receive an impetus by the adoption of Sanskrit equivalents.
Q : What is your opinion regarding the innumerable foreign words that have into our Bharatiya languages?
A : All our languages must be immediately purified. Words like ‘guarantee’, ‘appeal’, ‘junction’ etc., should all be replaced by simple and elegant words in the regional languages. I suggest that the Hindi speaking people take a generous attitude and enrich Hindi by absorbing simple and apt words from the various regional languages. For example, the Tamil word Sandippu can be usefully taken to replace ‘junction’.
Q : There is a movement for Urdu. How do you view it?
A : It is not an ‘Urdu movement’, but a ‘Muslim movement’! After all, Urdu cannot be considered a language at all in the real sense of the term. Its script is Persian and the grammar is of Hindi. That which has neither a script nor a grammar of its own can never attain the status of a language. Urdu is being used only as a pretext. It is a cover for the activities of certain anti-national, divisive forces for raising the demand for another Pakistan. If this so-called movement for Urdu is not nipped in the bud with a firm hand, it may well develop into a grave national risk in times to come.