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The Hindi debate

Jogindar Singh Kanwal
Thursday, December 16, 2010

THE debate on Fiji Hindi is on again. It is interesting to note that after every five or six years, the subject is brought up by young Hindi enthusiasts for discussion and The Fiji Times, very graciously, provides space.

In the late 70s, Dr Rodney F. Moag, wrote teaching material, in what he called Fiji Hindi, for use in primary and secondary schools in Fiji and compiled it into lesson plans. When he tried it in some Suva schools, he failed because according to my information, Hindi teachers did not welcome it.

Also in the 70s, Jeff Siegel published a booklet titled Say it in Fiji Hindi. In the introduction, he said "this book is for those who would like to learn this informal, colloquial language of the Fiji Indian community".

In 1985, American Peace Corps volunteer Susan Hobbs produced a small booklet (6"x 3") she called Fiji Hindi ù English Dictionary. Some of my friends were amused that a young woman who came to teach maths in Fiji secondary schools and attended a refresher course in Hindi for a few weeks, produce a dictionary, because compilation of a dictionary was a highly complex job and needed thorough research, professional skills and deep knowledge. Most of the entries in it were standard Urdu and Hindi words, presumably supplied to her by secondary school teachers. Nobody paid any attention to her work.

The Education Commission Report came in 2000 with a recommendation that Indo-Fijian children be taught Fiji Hindi from an early age. The Fiji Teachers Union, Fiji Hindi Sahitya Samiti and other literary organisations vehemently opposed it. Then came the translation of the Bible into Fiji Hindi and Professor Subramani's novel, Dauka Puraan.

The roots of Fiji Hindi, Bhola Nath Tiwari, a famous scholar of Delhi University who wrote many books on Hindi linguistics, maintains the majority of Indian migrants to Fiji were from eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar where Bhojpuri is predominantly spoken. Some were from Awadh area and according to him, Fiji Hindi has more elements of Bhojpuri than Awadhi.

In his book Fiji Hindi, Dr Moag admits "Fiji Hindi combines elements from several of the major regional Hindi dialects of North India". AW MacMillion, who was once inspector of schools in Fiji, labelled it a "queer distortion of a beautiful language".

Despite such comments, the Bhojpuri with some flavour of Awadhi and Brij has been spoken in Fiji since the girmit days. We call it Fiji Hindi. It is now our home language and earned the status of mother tongue. Some of our writers have been producing literature in it.

Before the publication of Dauka Puraan in 2001, many writers produced fiction and non-fiction works. Pandit Babu Ram of Kumkum, Ba wrote a 100-page book in Fiji Hindi containing satirical writings. There are poetry books of Mahabir Mitra and books on folk songs by Ram Narayan Govind and Ram Kumari. Some years ago, Tarlok Tiwari and then Thakur Ranjit Singh, wrote in Fiji Hindi for Shanti Dut. We are expecting more writings from our young people. Nobody argues why some writers are writing in this dialect but voices are raised when some academics maintain that Fiji Hindi is a language, not a dialect and should be taught in schools.

We should admit that Fiji Hindi is a mixture of Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Brij and other regional dialects of Hindi. There have been protests against a proposal that it be taught in schools and universities. Teaching a mixture of Hindi dialects and sub-dialects in the name of Fiji Hindi would mean that we are taking a retrograde step. In other words, we will be using 'reverse gear' in our language journey which will land us hundreds of miles in the wilderness.

Standard Hindi is a world language now and efforts are being made by the Indian authorities to have it recognised as a language of the United Nations. The vast Hindi community is one of three largest ù the other two being Chinese and English. According to reports, Hindi is now second.

Almost all major universities in the world have standard Hindi as a subject in their curriculum. Modern Hindi literature is of a high quality and is no way inferior to world classics. We in Fiji can appreciate and enjoy it only if we are well-versed in standard Hindi. To ignore it would mean depriving our future generations of a vast treasury and we would be alienating ourselves from the mainstream Hindi world.

We have to accept that Fiji Hindi is not only the lingua-franca of our people, it is now our mother tongue because it is spoken in our homes. It has great emotional value for the Indo-Fijian community. It is to be kept alive as a 'conversational language' and a communication channel with non-Indian communities. It is interesting to observe that many Fijians talk in Fiji Hindi with great ease.

I feel that standard Hindi and Fiji Hindi will remain in our cultural landscape like a big river and a stream flowing side by side.

* Jogindar Singh Kanwal, former principal of Khalsa College, Ba, has written many Hindi and English books. He is well-versed in Urdu and Punjabi and published an anthology of his poems titled Many Rainbows of Love.


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