Why Chennai can’t and won’t speak Hindi !!!

I have observed a post become very popular. Many friends have been raving about it. I thought it would be wise to analyze the post and see if it really is a good stand. It is about this one dude, who says that Learning Hindi is pointless for people in Tamil Nadu, and it is because…


I have produced the text of the page verbatim (spelling mistakes included), and my elementary response alongside:

Recently, I’ve been barraged on Facebook with status messages from my friends who when to Chennai for their summer internships. (Not on FB, but yes – I do get a lot of feedback from my friends too). To summarize all the status messages in one line, (A single line generalization can often reduce truth to absurdity. Devil always lies in the detail) people weren’t exactly happy with Chennaites not being able to speak in Hindi. (I have never met anybody who has complained that people not speaking Hindi is the only reason why they are having problems in Chennai) To all those people, let me ask you a simple question –why should they? (I pray that they speak some thing which an outsider can understand – it is common courtesy)

People who can speak only Hindi expect that everyone else in India should speak Hindi (I disagree, they do not expect – but wish. In an ideal world, if everyone spoke the same language – a lot of miscommunication could be avoided) and this is based on the assumption that Hindi is the national language of India (It is the Official language) and it should stand true to its name by being spoken across the country (Well, official languages should be spoken – at least in matters of Administration). Allow me to correct such beliefs by quoting that as per the constitution of India, Hindi is not the national language. In fact, India doesn’t have a national language and it doesn’t need one (Whether it needs one or not, depends on how you define a “National Language”)This fact acknowledged by Gujarat High court as well (See, even the High Court mentions that Hindi is an “Official Language”) So it would be prudent to lower the expectations which were supported by a myth rather than a fact. (I do not see anyone forced to speak in Hindi. As long as no one gets hurt, what is wrong in having expectations?”)

Now to the most important question. Why won’t Chennai learn Hindi? (Why is this THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION ?) There is a two edged answer to this.

One – Love of Tamil. (Love of Tamil translates to hatred against every other language – that is no love, Sir) Do you know that Tamil is the only classical language (amongst the eight in the world) still to be in practice? (We are proud of that. Hats Off! So how is the language being promoted in other states of this country. People globally should be exposed to the wonderful works of Tamil) Being more than 2300 years old, the language has stood its time and is currently spoken by more than 8 crore people across the world. It even has official status in three countries other than India (It’s actually 2, but that’s off the point – Singapore and Sri Lanka). Sanskrit, India’s oldest language and mother of Hindi couldn’t do that (Is there a competition? Sanskrit has influenced dozens of Languages.  Sanskrit evolved, mixing with many other languages, such that today we nonchalantly use many words which have a base in Sanskrit. Also, is there a rule that languages which are more used as “Official” are greater or better?) Why? Because People just love the Tamil language. (Incorrect, if people loved Tamil on the scale that you are trying to paint, your friends would not have spammed you on your wall.) Fortunately or unfortunately, (Why say unfortunately and be apologetic?) the language is very close to the people than you can imagine. (How does one measure if a Language is close or not? If its your mother tongue, its fine. Be proud. No one asks you to prove it.) And this reflects in being supportive any to Tamil community outside the country irrespective of what is right or wrong (Irrespective of right or wrong? Blind support?? That is downright condemnable. And as for the support, broad consensus is that most of the support is only lip service. Frankly, it would be nice if the support translates to action – and leads to uplifting. And why be so myopic and support the Tamil community only.) Read this article (Sorry, the link provided is not working) by an American Professor why he thinks that Tamil deserves the classical language status. (Why would his opinion be more valuable compared to your own friends, who in a very obscure way – are indicating that something is wrong with the way the might of a language is being projected)

Two – Fear. (Aah, maybe this was point number one) The more you love something, the more you’ll be afraid that you’ll lose it one day (The solution is to lock up the valuable thing and avoid change?) And you’ll do everything at your power to protect what you love dearly. (Is everything in your power being done?) That’s what people in actual power in 1960s did by opposing point-blank to the proposal of making Hindi as the national language based on the fear that nationalizing Hindi will slowly erode Tamil. (By launching a violent agitation and point-blank decimation of other languages – especially Hindi – from the cities) A fair and a justified fear. (I do not see how it is fair and justified? Languages like Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada and Telugu – etc etc, have all survived. People speak multiple languages, and that projects an openness which is very warming to an outsider)

There are several points that I can put forward to enforce my side of the argument. (A few logical ones will do :P)

If you travel to Tokyo/Beijing, do you expect people to speak in Hindi? (I do not expect, but yes – it would be great if they did) Obviously not Hindi when you can’t expect them to know English either! (Well, I expect them to know English at least. Else it will be really troublesome. In fact, their Governments understood this , and took up English education on a war footing.) Will you complain that English is a global language and they should have known it? (Well, I would definitely whine about it to my friends) On the same note, why should you expect someone in Tamil Nadu to do so? (Not expect, but desire! And “Something” does make people in other states pick up more than one language.) Because, it is a part of India? (That would be stupid. The expectation arises from being a part of a more open society, less hard-nosed, and less adamant. In fact, ask your intern friends if it would be cool if people here spoke even a smattering of English) The greatest strength of India is its diversity in languages and sustainable cultural diversity (Sustainable – what gives us the Idea that Tamil culture is not sustainable if people speak more than one language?). Don’t try to nullify that strength by expecting the entire nation to speak in a single language.(If people speak more than one language, they weaken the nation??? OMG !!!)

If you are moving to a land that doesn’t speak the language you do , the onus is on you to learn the new language (and the people who do move to a new land eventually do learn to survive – it is called adaptability) and not the other way around.(Incorrect, it is a mutual responsibility – throw in a few words in his or her tongue so that at least they feel a little welcome in a new place.) When I moved to Hyderabad, I knew neither Telugu nor Hindi, but I managed to learn a bit of both. (See, you adapted. And that is important. It is a very good trait.) And even in Mumbai, I managed to survive with the half-cooked Hindi I knew. (So, Hindi became a sort of common platform for you. You could survive in Hyderabad and Mumbai with it. It is important to have THAT common platform – be it English or Hindi .) Most importantly, you should have sorry-i-don’t-know-please-help-me attitude and not something like god-you-dont-know-hindi. (It would be nice for some reciprocal warmth instead of the OMG-YOU DONT KNOW TAMIL”) The latter will get you nowhere.

And finally it comes to personal choice. Nobody in this country stops anyone from learning Hindi. It’s just people don’t choose to. (True, and that often leads to many complications. But hey – free country Zindabaad!! Democracy Zindabaad!! and Free Speech Zindabaad!! Where would we bloggers be but for these gifts.)

The above arguments are not only for Tamil. It stands true for other regional languages such as Telugu (another language that I’m very fond of), Kannada, and Bengali which are much older than Hindi and boasts of richer literature. (Saying Hindi literature is poor – is false. When you have not read the literary works, you are going on hearsay. I have heard Hindi speakers say Hindi literature is rich, and Bengali speakers say their literature is richer. The fact is – both are rich. You and I can simply not judge which is better. Literature is meant to be enjoyed, not judged.) These regional languages have stood their time too and I would watch with glee when they make it to the classical status as well. It’s sad that Indian government has done nothing to further the growth of the regional languages across the country. (There are two ways you can look at it – Say thanks to the Govt that they have ensured we have not degenerated into a thousand states, and we see unity in our diversity. Or chide the Government for the millions of things they have not done regarding – like say poverty, corruption, law and order etc etc etc.) And the state governments take it upon themselves to protect the language and their actions sometimes come as being fanatic (sometimes they really are!). (So, we do agree on something at the end of it all. Only, I hope we stand up against such fanaticism of both – State as well as fringe elements of the society)

I do agree that not knowing Hindi does add to the communication problem when people from different region interact. But I would prefer the solution in the form of English rather than Hindi. (Depends on who the people you describe are. Migrant labourers – they don’t know English. Hoping them to learn English is too tall a task. And the educated folks, they already are going to be happy if people speak in English in Tamil Nadu. No special effort to make them comfortable is needed. Practically, there are people opposed to that too.) My rationale is that English is already the language of the world and it has reached almost every part of the world. (If you speak to  a French or Spaniard, they will disagree with you. Just goes to say that  the love for language depends on where we stay and how our culture is.)  So why can’t English be the unified language in India? Why Hindi when it’s penetration in India is less successful than English? (How is English’s penetration greater? Hindi has more speakers in India than English. It would be a logistical nightmare to get 1.3 Bn to speak in English, when Hindi is what people are more exposed to) Think and think hard! (Time to think…….)

And remember both our national anthem and national song are in Bengali! (On a closing note, Tamil people do not speak Bengali either. People from Bengal do speak Hindi)


5 thoughts on “Why Chennai can’t and won’t speak Hindi !!!

  1. Good arguments…Language should be a medium for communication and trying to find more than that in it only leads to disharmony among various groups in a society or nation at large.. A common language will always bring greater understanding between various groups which is always better. Simply whining that why hindi should be made national language and not tamil is like entering into unending circle of language upmanship…
    The point tamilians are missing is that just because they learn one more language will not lead to automatic degradation of their mother tongue( i think they feel they are committing language blasphemy 🙂 ) … Speak in tamil with fellow tamilians and with non- tamilians speak in hindi…

  2. Ha.. Ha… That was brilliant post Tushar. That was some argument. I found myself reading this post over and over again. 🙂

    Love your language, caste, country religion etc. Be proud of it. It’s your identity and it defines who you are. You start obsessing too much about it, you are having a serious problem then. I love my mother tongue – Tamil. I love Hindi too – As simple as that.

  3. Agree with you on most of your points. Chennaiites can get quite defensive about their city and their language (being the most criticized metro city in india)… Though i would like to differ on one of the points you raised about learning other languages not affecting your mother tongue… we chennaiites know this is not true by the conspicuous effect english has had on our tamil – maybe this is a phenomenon reserved only for tamil, because people from other states seem to use much less english while conversing in their mother tongue. I would really struggle to finish my sentences completely in tamil (and so are most tamilians , especially from current generation). not implying we should prevent people from learning hindi though, just my 2 cents

  4. Now this post made me laugh out loud. 😀 I just loved the way you presented your thoughts.

    Well, I live in Hyderabad – trust me, it’s a pretty cool place for non-Telugu speaking people. Yet, at times, with some people, it becomes difficult to convey what I wanna say.

    For example: The other day, I went to a shop to buy grocery. This guy went on speaking with me in Telugu. I told him in sign language that I don’t understand Telugu, but he went on.

    Infuriated by his attitude, I started speaking in Bangla to confuse him. He was now quiet, calling people, seeking their help in understanding what I was trying to say! There was absolute chaos.

    When people told me that he didn’t understand my language, I told them to tell him to learn a link language (maybe Hindi or English or whatever). If I am from Bengal, and I don’t know the local language, how am I expected to communicate with locals? In sign language or a link language?

    Reluctance to learn a language is nothing but a conscious effort to avoid growth. I can speak 5 Indian languages and understand a few, and I feel proud of it. I think I have grown personally – I am true Indian.

  5. I’m Bengali. We’re not as paranoid about language as many Tamils or Maharashtrians, to name two examples, but our language seems to be doing just fine. It’s politicians who inflame these sentiments, for their own gain. But by falling for it, what do we gain?

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