If there is an institution that should be duly honoured and given international recognition in the promotion of Hindi for nine decades outside India, it is the Hindi Pracharini Sabha in Mauritius.
On Saturday last the HPS celebrated its anniversary with two events: in the morning a symposium on Hindi literature in Mauritius; later on during the day a Hindi poets’ gathering in the presence of the scholarly new Culture, Education and Hindi Officer and Second Secretary at the Indian High Commission in Mauritius, Dr Nutan Pandey, who knows Russian.
Many other institutions such as the Arya Sabha Mauritius and individuals have made valuable contributions to the promotion and development of Hindi. The Government of Mauritius too has been encouraged the promotion of Hindi in its global language policy, except for a brief period in 1982 when there was a tendency to downplay the importance of Asian languages. My aim today is to highlight the role played by the Hindi Pracharini Sabha in this field.
Upholding the Banner of Hindi
The credit for upholding the banner of Hindi and Hindi literature goes to the dedicated leaders of the voluntary institution who year in year out have given themselves selflessly to the cause. The President Shri Yantudev Budhu, Secretary Dhanraj Shamboo and Treasurer Tahal Ramdin walk in the footsteps of the pioneers with the same zeal and dedication of their predecessors, founder members of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha of the 1920s and 1930s.
The poets’ meet under the chairmanship of Dr Indradev Bholah, now in his eighties and president of another long-serving Hindi institution, the Hindi Lekhak Sangh, gathered some 25 poets and poetesses of Hindi for the occasion. There were poets from several generations who recited their poems with verve and emotion. If the older generation came with their handwritten papers or notes, the pleasantly surprising element was that the younger generation beginning with Shri Gulshan Sooklall, Acting Secretary General of the World Hindi Secretariat and Dr Vinay Goodary, Senior Lecturer at the MGI and still younger ones came with their laptops or smart phones to read their poems. The themes were also of a wide variety, focusing on traditional issues, but the younger poets were very incisive and globalized in their approach. The master of ceremony Dr Hemraj Soondur, Senior Lecturer, MGI, an established poet of Hindi, conducted the literary gathering with elegance and enthusiasm, putting in couplets of his own after each poet’s presentation and making the whole afternoon an enchanting and lively moment of appreciation of good poetry.
Dr Soondur’s proposal
Another interesting idea that came out of the poetry reading was that the poets definitely were attached to their Bhojpuri background, which emerged every now and then. When Mrs Shiksha Gujadhur read her paper in Bhojpuri to the delight of the audience, Dr Hemraj Soondur proposed a Bhojpuri poets’ gathering. In between the readings, commentaries went on in Bhojpuri. This was a happy amalgam and only showed how the two languages complement and support each other. It only showed the vibrancy of both Hindi and Bhojpuri as literary media.
Thousands of students have passed through the portals of the Hindi Bhawan at Long Mountain, also known as Dhara Nagri. The new breed of scholars is IT savvy and has a methodical and empirical approach to research, writing, and teaching of Hindi whereas the old guard was more sentimental and traditional in its approach. They relate more to the modern generation of students. Therefore we can safely say that Hindi’s future in Mauritius is stable. However, more voluntary efforts should be deployed.
The Hindi Pracharini Sabha was established on 12 June 1926 as a secular organisation. The need for the teaching of Hindi was earnestly felt and some enthusiasts, predominantly the Bhagat brothers at Long Mountain purchased an arpent of land and erected a building in which a pathshala or Hindi school was started. It was named the Tilak Vidyalaya after the great Indian freedom fighter and educationist Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Here it would be significant and meaningful to pay tribute to the selfless pioneers of those early days. The main persons involved in the 1920s behind the establishment of the Tilak Vidyalaya were Muktaram Boloram Chaterjee, Lekhman Mungur and his family. But it was under the name of his younger brother Shri Ramlall Mungur Bhagat that it was registered. Shri Lekhman also donated the Bhawan. Nine years later the Tilak Vidyalaya was registered on 24th December 1935 under a new name: Hindi Pracharini Sabha as the demand for the learning of Hindi went on increasing. Lekhman Mungur Bhagat did not wish his name to be taken.
Tribute to the Pioneers
1935 was a memorable year for three reasons according to Jay Narain Roy, popularly known as JNR another stalwart of the HPS, given in his book ‘Mauritius Mein Hindi Bhasha Ka Sanshipta Itihas’ (1970):
- The girmitias celebrated 100 years of their implantation on Mauritian soil and their immense contribution to the production of wealth of the plantocrats and the country;
- Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam came back to Mauritius after long years of medical studies in England with new ideas of Fabian Socialism;
- The Hindi Pracharini Sabha was established. This was the harbinger of a new chapter in the development of Hindi and the spread of literary aesthetics in Mauritius.
The founder members decided that the Hindi Pracharini Sabha should be secular and non-political and this was indeed a very farsighted and visionary move which has seen the sabha flourishing as a respectful educational institution with the sole aim of promoting Hindi and Hindi Literature all over the island. After the Tilak Vidyalaya, at Long Mountain, the Saraswati Pathshala was set up in 1926, at Creve Coeur for the teaching of Hindi solely to girls. This was the first girls’ school to be set up. The Hindi Bhawan was built in 1946 largely through the donation of Lekhman Mungur Bhagat supported by his brothers.
The Bhagat brothers and other pioneers of Hindi Pracharini Sabha
Following the retirement of Lekhman Mungur Bhagat, his brother Ramlall took over and after Ramlall it was the turn of Suruj Prasad Mungur Bhagat who served the HPS for decades till his demise in 1970s. Many people have made huge donations for the development of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha, such as two planters of Long Mountain Shri Girdhari Bhagat and Nanan Thacoor. Nemnarain Gupt was the first headteacher of the HPS.
But other veterans associated with the promotion of the HPS were Anirood Dwarka, of Long Mountain too, later Inspector of Education of the Ministry of Education and father of Mrs Usha Dwarka Canabdy, the Foreign Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, it was the inseparable trio of notable figures, Oomah Shankar Geerjanan, Srinivas Jugdutt and Jay Narain Roy which consolidated the position of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha. They were all young graduates from India bubbling with ideas to serve the community. They were very well versed in Hindi as well as in English and French. They would spend all their Sundays for years, going from village to village urging people to learn Hindi, opening new pathshalas and collecting funds to build more schools. Soon, Hindi schools or baithkas or pathshalas mushroomed in every village. These schools were affiliated to the headquarters at Long Mountain. These affiliated part-time voluntary schools were free and teachers taught Hindi with a missionary spirit. The Hindi Pracharini Sabha also has five main branches over the island.
From a local society, the Hindi Pracharini Sabha developed into a national institution. There are to date some 188 primary and secondary schools affiliated to the HPS. The first Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (Hindi literary conference) was held by HPS in 1941 with the collaboration of Pandit Basdeo Bissoondoyal, another great national figure in the promotion of Hindi and social uplift.
HPS: A well-structured institution
The Hindi Pracharini Sabha is well-structured and organised. It was proclaimed an “Official Friendly Association” on 26th December 1935 by the then Governor Sir Wilfrid Edward Francis Jackson. Till October 2004 HPS functioned under a ‘charter’. As from 12 October 2004, the Hindi Pracharini Sabha operates by an Act of Parliament. In 1946 the HPS decided to encourage the teaching of Hindi literature at tertiary level. It started the Parichay Examination equivalent to GCE (O) level. This was followed by the Prathama Examination as from 1956 and later on the Madhyama was introduced in 1963 and Uttama Examinations in 1965.
The initiative to conduct these examinations started with the successful negotiation of Srinivas Jugdutt with the Hindi Sahitya Sammellan of Allahabad which prepares the question papers as well as the syllabus and course contents and corrects the answers. These examinations have ensured the possibility of employment to thousands of successful candidates and led to the promotion of good literature and culture in the homes of the learners.
The Hindi Pracharini Sabha has produced dozens of poets, writers, scholars, educationists over the past 90 years who have proved their mettle in their respective fields. Not to speak of Abhimanyu Unuth whose literary achievements in Hindi have made him an international figure. Somduth Bhuckory, a barrister and Secretary of City of Port-Louis for twenty years and equally a seasoned Hindi poet, also contributed enormously to the HPS. He was one of its Vice-Presidents.
Indian High Commission
The Indian High Commission in Mauritius has contributed immensely to the promotion of Hindi and Hindi Literature by sending scholars, poets, writers, experts and extending logistic support to the Hindi Pracharini Sabha and the country in general, including books, prizes, trips to Indian Institutions or scholarships and awards. The most impressive impact was that of the literary tour of the famous Hindi writer Dr Ramdhari Singh Dinkar of Bihar and the world famous Indian poet the Vice-Chancellor of Ujjain University Dr. Shiv Mangal Singh Suman in 1967 who came on the invitation of the Government of Mauritius in a joint collaboration with the Government of India. They toured the island and left an indelible impact on the Hindi lovers. This year, the Indian High Commission donated computers to the Hindi Pracharini Sabha for the modernisation of the teaching of Hindi.
The HPS has a good lending and reference library. It has also opened some 82 regional libraries. Its aim from the outset was Hindi not merely as a mother tongue acquisition. In fact its motto is clear:
“Bhasha Gayi To Sanskriti Gayi”
That is if language is lost then culture too is lost. The promotion and propagation of Indian culture has gone hand in hand with the teaching of Hindi at the HPS and its affiliated schools. The humanizing influence and value based education is to be appreciated. The HPS teaches a way of life that should not be underestimated. Thousands have acquired a cultural and literary taste and knowledge due to the well-structured syllabus of the HPS and the Examination Board of Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. The Hindi Pracharini Sabha has also brought out about twenty publications, the most famous of which being the historical handwritten Durga magazine brought out in 1935! Its regular three-monthly literary magazine Pankaj is distributed freely.
The Varshik Ootsaws of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha were a fundraising annual school anniversary event and are still conducted with as much excitement and enthusiasm. I have attended hundreds of such Varshik Ootsaws all around the island and been invited to address gatherings. I have made rousing and fervent appeals in the footsteps of those before me for the promotion of Hindi and Hindi literature. These Varshik Ootsaws were and still are an occasion for great celebrations. On that day the baithka and pathshala are places of great effervescence. The nostalgia of varshik ootsaws cannot be forgotten, where everybody from the village gathers to celebrate Hindi. The children showcase what they have learnt throughout the year, through presentation of poems, speeches, plays, songs and dance items carefully and meticulously prepared by their teachers.
Why Should We Study Hindi?
Hindi is learnt not only as a mother tongue. Hindi has always been venerated by the immigrants since their arrival. Hindi was taught in the baithkas so that the children would be able to read the Ramayana. One must not only think in terms of pecuniary benefits. Let us think. Today’s youth and their parents should revisit their mindset. Everything is not learnt for pecuniary gain. Man does not live by bread alone.
An occasion to look forward to. Such is the enthusiasm with which Hindi is learnt. It is a consecration. In the early days children going to a baithka would venerate their books as well as their gurujis. They would have a bath and wear clean clothes before entering the baithka.
The first sentence written on the slate of the student of the bygone days was “Ram Gati Dehu Sumati.” It is this affinity with knowledge and cultural ethos that endeared the learning of Hindi in Mauritius. The Hindi Pracharini Sabha’s contribution in this movement has been immense and should be acknowledged and supported.
* Published in print edition on 19 June 2015