ON August 15, 1947, at the stroke of midnight, India won her freedom from the British Raj. Independent India needed a new constitution and on September 14, 1949 the constituent assembly also declared that Hindi would be the official language of India. Since then plans and projects began to be prepared for its development. Later, it was decided by Hindi lovers of India and of overseas that September 14 be observed as Hindi Divas, Hindi Day.
As this language has earned now an international status, it is called World Hindi Day and it is commemorated, not only in India, but in all those countries where Indians have migrated and settled permanently.
In Fiji, some schools, both primary and secondary, and Hindi departments of all the three universities organise celebrations every year in September but they fix their own dates according to their convenience. For example, this year University of the South Pacific had its program on the 14th, Fiji National University will do it on the 27th and University of Fiji on the 29th.
The Indian government and many other overseas organisations are trying to promote this language all over the world.
One of the steps they have taken has been to organise conferences in different parts of the world. Mauritius, Great Britain, Trinidad, Surinam and a few other countries have already done their share. This has not been the case in Fiji.
South Africa is hosting it this year on September 24-26.
The statistics prepared by some organisations show that Hindi now is the second most spoken language of the world but it has not yet become one of the United Nations' languages. The six UN languages are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic.
Indian lobbyists are still knocking on the UN's doors that Hindi be recognised as its seventh official language. The interesting aspect of this struggle is that the eighth World Hindi conference was held at UN Headquarters in one of its halls. Its Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon did the opening.
In his inaugural speech, he said: " Hindi is a beautiful language, redolent with culture and history of the Indian sub-continent. . . Your conference theme, Hindi at the world cannot only focus attention on the growing stature of Hindi, and of India, across the world, but also advance Hindi as a language of understanding and harmony.
"After all, as India's national language, Hindi has been building bridges between Indians of different ethnic backgrounds and linguistic traditions since well before independence. Today, it unites not only a vast and varied Indian diaspora, but also Bollywood fans from Ukraine to Uganda, and Egypt to England . . ."
But Hindi has not yet been recognised as seventh official language of the UN and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, says that Indian government is working hard towards achieving that objective.
Hindi is a very wide subject and all its aspects cannot be condensed in this small article but some of the readers might be interested to know how it travelled to Fiji. It was spoken for the first time on the shores of Fiji when the Indian indentured labourers stepped out of the ship, Leonidas on May 14, 1879 on Yanuca Lailai, a place near Levuka.
This pioneer ship was followed by Berar, Poonah, Bayard, Syria and 82 more ships which brought over 60,000 Indians to Fiji.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Indian population was speaking different regional languages.
Majority of them came from Bihar and UP (Uttar Pradesh). In 1903, labourers from south India started arriving. They spoke Tamil, Telgu and Malayalam whereas the north Indians used different dialects of Hindi.
First in the immigration depots, then on the ships and later in the cane fields and the barracks, called "lines", they found it difficult to understand each other. The people from UP and Bihar, who were greater in number, spoke Bhojpuri, Awadhi .
Almost all the indentured labourers were from rural areas of India. They were simple and uneducated and could not even sometimes express themselves effectively in their own dialects.
All these people coming from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds faced the problem of communication. It was an amusing situation when a person, while living in the same settlement and working in the same field, was not able to talk to his co-workers who spoke a different dialect.
At the time of cutting cane, digging drains, planting and weeding, he would use a few words but more gestures to communicate with his fellow worker. To all this was added another hurdle, the English-speaking overseer.
All the workers were given numbers. The overseer, at the time of taking attendance in the morning, would call them by numbers, not by names. When the overseer appeared in the morning with attendance register in his hand, one worker would inform his co-worker, "be alert, kolumber has come". As they were not able to pronounce English words properly, overseers who called them by numbers became known as kolumber.
Agreement became girmit. Gradually they coined their own versions of all the English words which their masters used daily. Crowbar was distorted as kurbaal; cane-top — kuntaap; task — tas.
Under these circumstances, a common Hindi dialect which could become their lingua franca was necessary for their co-existence in the new land of Fiji.
The interactions and intermingling and rubbing each other's shoulders in the fields and lines produced "levelling effects". Although they retained their own religious faiths and values, they were not so fanatic. In the matter of language also, they became more flexible.
Gradually a new dialect began to emerge. When a Muslim worker wanted to say yeh sardar hamain bara mushkal kaam deta hai, bhai (This sardar gives us a very difficult task, brother) he would say to his co-worker "ieh sardarva ham ko kara tas (task) daivay hai, bhaiyaa. This simple sentence of nine words contained an unusual combination of Bhojpuri, Urdu and English words but they sounded to be most communicative. The whole sentence provides an interesting example of interaction between languages. Indians during girmit era called it Fiji baat (Fiji talk). Later on, our new generations gave it a more dignified name — Fiji Hindi.
* Jogindar Singh Kanwal is a former principal of Khalsa College, Ba and author of many Hindi and English books. He lives in Varadoli, Ba with his wife, Amarjit Kaur.
*I was invited to attend this conference and my name was included in the list of those who were to be honoured in the conference to recognise my contribution to literature in Fiji but I was not able to make it. The authorities in Delhi advised the Indian High Commissioner in Fiji to organise a function in Fiji to complete the formalities which they were supposed to do in New York.