Opinion

Consolidating the Future of Hindi and Other Asian Languages in Mauritius

— Vishwamitra Aashutosh GANGA  

The Hindi intelligentsia are worried about the fate of this language because the present and upcoming generations are not responding favourably enough to their desperate calls for them to step in and assume the responsibility for ensuring the sound health and consolidate the future of this medium of expression in Mauritius. It is likely that those involved with the promotion of other Asian languages are faced with a similar situation. Isn’t it paradoxical that in spite of the impressive infrastructural setup and the enormous facilities placed at the disposal of learners of Asian languages in our country, the response remains timid and discouraging? We are aware that the main culprits are the parents who have failed to promote the languages at home. But I don’t think the entire blame should be laid at the door of responsible parties. Because the Hindi clientele, for example, actually benefits from almost a non-stop exposure through several radio and television channels and mainly from Hindustani feature films which are very popular. It would be dishonest not to acknowledge that the MBC-TV remains, by far, the leading promoter of this language. Why this lack of interest then?

Many students and even parents are convinced that Asian languages have no future. For them, the languages are outmoded for they do not enjoy the prestige of English or French. In other words, they are old furniture pieces which do not fit into today’s modern décor; hence they should be categorised as undesirable and simply discarded. An often-heard exclamation is “Ki Pou Gagner Are Sa!” Poor souls! Do they have an idea of the degree of linguistic richness and beauty these languages can bring into their lives? Are they aware that Hindi will soon secure a place among the languages of the United Nations?

I have a different perspective on this issue. Hindi and other Asian languages fail to attract because they are not the languages of conquerors and rulers but those of poor, humble folks. Perhaps it is high time for those at the helm to review their strategy of promotion. Perhaps their approach is too traditional and relies too much on emotion, hence ill-suited for the present times. I think that, side by side with the numerous promotional activities being organised, there is the need to endow these languages with some magnetism and charisma which would render them more attractive. The proposals that follow may not be new but have hardly been implemented.

We are living in an age dominated by publicity. Our roadsides, mainly the highways, are littered with billboards extolling the merits of such and such product. Of late, some billboards have used Creole texts instead of the traditional English or French. Isn’t it time for some companies holding, say Hindi, dear to their heart, to be persuaded to publicise their goods on billboards, not wholly but PARTLY in Hindi? How about requesting Hindu traders to have their names written on the signboards of their business concerns in English/French as well as in Hindi? By the way, it is worthy of note that Chinese shops usually display both European and the Mandarin versions. It is also observed that many bus owners have given beautiful cultural names to their vehicles. They would gladly paint those names in Devanagri script too if requested. And why can’t we give beautiful Asian names to our houses? Why can’t we write addresses on envelopes both in European and Asian languages? The authorities may also be approached to rename certain villages and residential areas along with their streets with Hindi names displayed both in European and Hindi scripts. Last but not the least, the former practice of printing wedding and other invitation cards in European and Asian scripts can be easily revived. Of course, the list is far from being exhaustive. The proposals enumerated here may equally be adopted for the promotion of other Asian languages too.

I believe that the presence of samples of Asian languages in public will be eye-catching and produce a dramatic effect on the traveller. He will gradually start developing regard for his linguistic heritage. Side by side, his inhibition will disappear while, with the domino effect, the esteem for the languages will get valorised.

A language is not just a medium of communication. Making oneself understood is only the primary function of a tongue. Its greatness is reckoned by its role as the gateway to the culture it sustains. And Indian culture is boundless like the ocean. Although it is possible for anyone to have a glimpse of that culture through translations, the real beauty and richness are fathomable only through the knowledge of Asian languages. After all, how can Hindu devotees offer worship through proper chanting of mantras and singing of bhajans and kirtans if they are not conversant with the basic language?

Hindi, Bhojpuri and other Asian languages have sustained the indentured labourers and their descendants in their struggle for emancipation in this country. The present generations of those descendants cannot remain insensible to the present clarion call to action. They should rally behind the leaders steering these ancestral languages and provide the support so direly awaited.

Let us all resolve to replicate the unforgettable historic act of late Professor Basdeo Bissoondoyal, that great erudite and patriot, who spearheaded a mass movement to enable the common people to sign their name in any language, so as to become eligible to vote at the 1948 general elections. Perhaps the ability to sign but our name in our respective ancestral tongue would strike, deep within our inner self, a sensible cord which would arouse anew that somnolent love for our linguistic heritage.

The official arrival of Bhojpuri on the Mauritian linguistic stage is no less than manna from heaven for Hindi and all other Asian languages. Bhojpuri already has a solid trunk, thick foliage and strong, healthy roots. As a lingua franca, it will not only protect other languages under its maternal shade but also nourish them with its vital sap. As we are aware, students of any Asian language have great difficulty in pronouncing aspirated consonants properly. This handicap distorts the meaning of many words and expressions. Speaking Bhojpuri will definitely solve that problem.

No! The future of Hindi and other Asian languages is not bleak in our country. But their state of health is fragile and calls for urgent attention and timely action.

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