The 1st World Hindi Conference: A Memorable Experience
In the context of the forthcoming World Hindi Conference
The fourth quarter of the past century was an era of initiating new poles of development for the Mauritian nation. The backbone of our economy was no doubt the sugarcane industry which was once the main foreign currency earner. Tourism was a distinct pole which boomed with investment from both Government and the private sector. The concept of cultural heritage in a plural society like ours led us to focus on our diverse traditions, behaviours, food habits, lifestyle and customs to develop tourism in the rainbow nation.
It is in this friendly and healthy atmosphere that the appreciation of Asian languages came to give a boost to the real identity of Mauritius. At that time, Bhojpuri was spoken by almost 70 percent of the population along with Hindi. Hindi had proved its efficacy to facilitate communication in almost all fields and in both urban and rural areas. Hindi, with its popular use and its teaching in the primary schools and in baithkas during evening and Sunday classes was considered to be strong and vibrant.
The decision to organize the World Hindi Conference in January 1975 thrilled Hindi lovers in Mauritius. Various Hindi institutions welcomed the initiative of the Governments of the Republic of India and Mauritius to organise the 1st World Hindi Conference from 10th to 12th January 1975 in Nagpur, India. This conference was to be held in the premises of the Rashtrabhasha Prachar Samiti with the blessings of Shri Vinoba Bhave, the saint who advocated the national importance of Hindi with the same passion and confidence as Mahatma Gandhi had done during the India Freedom Movement.
Shrimati Indira Gandhi and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the then Prime Ministers of India and Mauritius respectively had agreed to have a mutual organising spirit to promote Hindi worldwide. The subsequent visits of Dr Karan Singh, the Indian Union Minister of Health, Shri Bachu Prasad Sinha, Joint Secretary of the Indian Foreign Ministry to Mauritius, Shri Anant Gopal Shewre and Shri Lallan Prasad Vyas paved the way to have the collaboration of the Government of Mauritius. The role played by Sir Khersingh Jagatsingh, the then Minister of Economic Planning and Development and that of Shri Dayanundlall Basant Rai, the Minister of Sports cannot be forgotten as they harmonised the participation of Mauritius in the conference.
It was decided that Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the former Prime Minister, would lead the Mauritian delegation. Under the chairmanship of Sir Khersingh Jagatsingh, a campaign was launched to inspire all Hindi institutions including the NGOs to participate in the conference. I was fortunate to form part of the delegation and I left for Mumbai in December 1974.
Andha Yug, a full-length Hindi play written by Dr Dharmaveer Bharati was going to be staged by Mauritian artists. The play was directed by Mohan Maharshi, the Indian drama expert and Ramdeo Dhoorundhur was the Assistant Director.
Landing in India was a very emotional moment for all of us. Some of us even bowed down to the Indian soil and could not retain our tears out of reverence for the holy land. The Mauritian delegation comprising seventeen people stayed at the Sangrila Hotel in Mumbai. There, we had the opportunity to visit the Juhu Beach and the ISKCON centre where we appreciated the Hari Katha by Swami Prabhupad, the founder saint of Hare Rama Hare Krishna Consciousness. After a few days in the cosmopolitan city, we started a thirty-two hour journey to Nagpur by train.
At the conference premises, the Mauritian delegation was welcomed by volunteers. Everyone was excited to interact with the Indian participants. Lunch and dinner were served in the Indian style on banana leaves with green chilli, onion, salt, dahi, dholl and Indian vegetarian delicacies with hot chapatis and rice.
The conference venue was vast. Volunteers guided us and provided details of the event. The main podium was erected in front of the gallery of ten thousand people. Different cells in the venue were named after eminent Hindi saints, poets and writers such as Meera Bai, Tulsidas, Kabirdas and Vinoba Bhave.
Shrimati Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India officially launched the Conference on 10th January 1975 in the presence of distinguished dignitaries namely Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Kaka Kalelkar, Dr Karan Singh, Mahadevi Verma and others.
Shrimati Indira Gandhi asserted that Hindi is a language of love and compassion and also a tool for further development of modern India. She clearly said that Hindi has the capacity to unite the Indian people all around the world. Thus, this language can contribute to universal peace and harmony.
On the other hand, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam expressed his joy and gratitude to the Government of India for organising such a global summit to promote Hindi. He underlined the vital role that Hindi played to mobilise Mauritians in favour of the independence of Mauritius. He uttered slogans such as Hindi prem ki bhasha hai (Hindi is the language of love), Hindi ki pragati se humari samajh mazboot hogi (Our understanding will be enhanced through the development of Hindi). Hereafter, these slogans became popular.
Shri Anant Gopal Shevre, the Secretary General, acknowledged the support and contribution of the people of the Indian Diaspora. He further announced that the organisation of the World Hindi Conference would henceforth become an annual feature.
Mahadevi Verma, the renowned poet of Hindi Literature, emphasized on the global promotion of Hindi and expressed her joy to see people of the Indian Diaspora keeping up Hindi to safeguard their culture and traditions. Father Kamil Bulke and a representative of UNESCO also addressed the audience.
Several papers were presented from Indian and foreign delegates in the different academic sessions. Amrita Pritam, Kanhayalall Nandan, Sarveswardayal Saxena, Kaka Kalelkar, Raghuvir Sahaye, Lalan Prasad Vyas, Dharmavir Bharati and various scholars spoke on the global relevance of Hindi. We also met Amrit Rai, the son of Premchand, the great Hindi writer.
Kavi Sammelan, a poet-gathering was organised and the audience had the opportunity to appreciate poems by Mahadevi Verma, Hari Vanshrai Bachchan, Balkavi Bairagi, Shivmangalsingh Suman, Kaka Hatharasi and other contemporary poets.
The play Andha Yug was staged by Mauritian artists in the Ganwate Mandir Theatre in Nagpur and it was highly appreciated.
The conference ended with several resolutions among which the following were emphasized:
- It was unanimously agreed to establish the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius as a bilateral collaboration between the Government of India and Mauritius.
- The Second World Hindi Conference will be held in Mauritius in 1976.
- Due efforts will be made to establish Hindi as one of the official languages of the United Nations.
Visiting Important Places
It was an opportunity for the Mauritian delegates to visit Wardha and pay respect to Shri Vinoba Bhave in his Ashram.
After the conference in Nagpur, the Mauritian delegates travelled to New Delhi. They stayed at the National Youth Centre in Chanakyapuri. The Mauritian artists gave a performance at the Gandhi Memorial Centre in New Delhi. Interestingly enough, the famous Hindi film actor Raj Babbar who was making his debut in the Bollywood industry, personally did the make-up for the Mauritian artists. The following day, the press in New Delhi published several articles to acknowledge the successful performance of the artists.
Moreover, Sir Khersingh Jagatsingh gave a grand reception at the Ashoka Hotel which was attended by several eminent personalities. Some of the delegates also went for a one-day visit to Haridwar, the holy place of pilgrimage.
Meeting the Prime Minister of India
The Prime Minister of India, Shrimati Indira Gandhi welcomed the Mauritian delegation in her office. She expressed her joy and promised to give all the necessary support for the promotion of Hindi outside India. She also expressed her keen interest to attend the 2nd World Hindi Conference to be organised in Mauritius in 1976.
Thus, 43 years ago, the 1st World Hindi Conference organised in Nagpur, India and the resounding success of this global meet under the umbrella of Hindi language was an opportunity for India and the Indian Diaspora to re-affirm their veneration and pledge for a better world. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum (the whole world is one family) became the mantra par excellence and Hindi positioned itself to promote World Peace and Universal Brotherhood. Vibrant slogans like Hindi Hamari Maa Hai (Hindi is our mother) became popular among the people of Indian origin across the five continents.
The celebration of the 11th World Hindi Conference to be held from 18th to 20th August 2018 is once again a golden opportunity for Mauritius to prove its dynamism.
* Published in print edition on 20 July 2018
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