One of the perpetual debates in our society is the importance of Hindi versus English. At a broader level, it can be extended to any vernacular language-versus-English debate, and how we risk losing our local languages to English. It is a politically charged issue, with each government trying to show its allegiance to Hindi more than the other.
Consequently, you have the ‘promote Hindi’ drives, with government offices mandatorily issuing all circulars in Hindi and state-run schools largely being Hindi medium.
Meanwhile, English continues to grow like never before without any promotional drive. This is because it offers better career prospects, more respectability in society, a completely new world of informationentertainment and access to technology. After all, you can’t even use a mobile phone or basic messaging apps today without a cursory understanding of English.
Understandably, Hindi lovers and purists lament the new society where the youth shun their mother tongue and want to enter the English world as fast as possible. The more they impose Hindi, the more the youth rebel against it.
What is a Hindi lover (myself included) to do?
And what can we all do to save Hindi without making it seem like a burden or obligation?
There is a solution. It is embracing Roman Hindi. Roman Hindi is not Hinglish. It is Hindi language written in the Anglo-Saxon script instead of Devanagri. For example, ‘aap kaise hain?’ is Hindi for ‘how are you?’, but written in the English script.
Why is this important? Well, because the Anglo Saxon script is ubiquitous. It is on computer key boards and telephone touchscreens. It is already popular, especially among the youth. Millions of Indians, for instance, use Whatsapp where most conversations are in Hindi, although using the Ro man script. Sure, Devanagri downloads are available, but few use them. In fact, many Devanagri key boards on phones use something known as transliteration, where you type in Roman Hindi first and the software will convert the text to Hindi. In other words, the user is still using Roman Hindi.
Roman Hindi is already prevalent in Bollywood posters and in our advertising. Most Hindi movie screenplays are today written in Roman Hindi. Drive around any major city and you are bound to see a hoarding with a Hindi caption written in Roman script.
However, Hindi experts, purists and defenders are either largely unaware or indifferent to these developments. They do not see the difference between Hindi the language and its script. People still love Hindi, they just find it difficult to incorporate the script in their modern, technology-driven lives.
We can save Hindi by legitimizing the Roman Hindi script. This will also have a unifying effect on the nation as it will bring English and Hindi speakers closer. It will also allow other regional languages to become more linked to each other and to English, by virtue of a common script.
Europe, for instance, has more than a dozen different languages. They share the same script. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the local scripts are long gone and they have adopted the English script for their language.
Sure, Hindi purists may not want it this way. They want Hindi to be preserved exactly as it was, with the Devanagri script. However, they forget, languages evolve with the times. And in the globalizing times we live in now, it will do Hindi a lot of good if it also welcomes a global script. In fact, if we make our script globally accessible, it may en courage more people around the world to learn Hindi.
In the past, many Urdu poets published their poems in Devanagri instead of traditional Urdu, only to have wider acceptance. That was then, but today the need of the hour is to update Hindi to a new version.
We could start with some government notices and public signage being in Roman Hindi, and evaluate the response. There is also an opportunity here, as Roman Hindi can create a new industry of print media and books. Millions are already using it. It is just that nobody has tapped into the prospects.
Legitimizing a new globally accessible script for Hindi that will be a class leveller can only be good for the language, which otherwise risks being side lined in the onslaught of English. Let’s not see a language from a purist’s perspective, but rather as something dynamic and evolving to fit in with the times. Waqt ke saath badalna zaroori hai. You understood that sentence, right?