Languages are a tricky breed. You are born into one, you speak a few, know a few more, and if you are really pissed, you invent Esperanto. OK, apologies, that was a cheap one. Now, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to learn two tongues; Urdu and Sanskrit. Urdu, because I wanted to read Manto and Chugtai in original, and Sanskrit because, well, it was Sanskrit.
I have always found Urdu to be a singularly lyrical language. The cadences, the pauses, the nazaakat, the chhoti-chhoti harkatein; it’s a tongue for poets, for bards, for troubadours. Sanskrit, on the other hand, was probably fated for didacticism, for hour-long oratorical excesses, the moment it was conceived. Try as hard as I may, I just cannot visualise anyone making small-talk in Sanskrit. It is the resounding baritone to Urdu’s mellifluence. A fortissimo to the other’s sotto voce.
However, I never had much dealing with any of them. Unlike my Mum and Dad, I never really had a classical education in Sanskrit. I did start off with Sanskrit in Dehradun, but when I came to Cal, those bozos at school made me shift to Bong instead. Poltroons. In re Urdu again, Nastaleeq is as comprehensible to me, as are Egyptian hieroglyphs. And whatever little I know comes from those 50s and 60s numbers courtesy the likes of Ludhianvi and Sultanpuri. That is the extent of my knowledge.
This, however, never frazzled me too much. I always knew how incompetent I could be. And, in any case, there was always Hindi to fall back upon. Hindi was neither Sanskrit, nor was it Urdu. It was both. It was Hindustani. ‘Twas, as Jha ji used to say, Yeh toh Khari Boli hai.
Today though, I really don’t hear that much Hindi around me anymore. Far from it. It’s usually an over-Sanskritised version of the Ghost of Hindi Past. Just try watching your average Bollywood production or any one of those numerous sob sagas which ply their trade on prime-time tele. Most of them speak like characters right out of B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata. Or, Hindi’s turned into some avant-garde hotchpotch which passes for high lit and the pinnacle of creative expression (Mr. Prasoon Joshi, I’m in awe of your work. Just that, it’s not quite Hindi you write in :))
So, you either hear the hep crowd swing it the Hinglish way. Or you hear words which were probably last used a couple of millennia back. Johnny Walker probably said it best. (See below) Today though, the newscasters might just wing it, the Yo dude, Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye, way.
Balraj Sahni’s Convocation address, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 1972
[…] it is logical to conclude that Hindi and Urdu are one and, the same language. But no, our British masters declared them two separate languages in their time. Therefore, even twenty-five years after independence, our government,: our universities, and our intellectuals insist on treating them as two separate and independent languages. Pakistan radio goes on ruining the beauty of this language by thrusting into it as many Persian and Arabic words as possible; and All India Radio knocks it out of all shape by pouring the entire Sanskrit dictionary into it. In this way they carry out the wish of the Master, to separate the inseparable. Can anything be more absurd than that? If the British told us that white was black, would we go on calling white black for ever and ever? My film colleague Johnny Walker remarked the other day, “They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi mein samachar suniye’ they should say, ‘Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye.’