Now, listen to ‘Hindi’ in the news: Balraj Sahni in 1972 (From the Archive)
On ‘Hindi Day’, when Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah called for ‘One Nation, One Language’, it is instructive to recall the convocation address delivered at JNU by Balraj Sahni
Mahatma Gandhi was in favour of promoting ‘Hindustani’, a language which would borrow generously from Urdu, Persian as well as different dialects of Hindi. His idea was for the Hindustani language to act as a bridge between Hindus and Muslims. Jawaharlal Nehru also favoured a language which would find easy acceptance among the masses. Both the leaders stressed language as a means of communication.
But the Modi Government’s overt attempts to impose Hindi and promote both Hindi and Sanskrit, a language which remains the language of a miniscule section of Hindu Brahmins, are creating misgivings and tension in society.
Here is what Sahni said in 1972:
I work in Hindi films, but it is an open secret that the songs and dialogues of these Hindi films are mostly written in Urdu. Eminent Urdu writers and poets — Krishan Chandar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, KA Abbas, Gulshan Nanda, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Kaifi Azmi are associated with this work.
Now, if a film written in Urdu can be called a Hindi film, it is logical to conclude that Hindi and Urdu are one and the same language. But no, our British masters declared them two separate languages in their time.
Therefore, even 25 years after Independence, our government, our universities, and our intellectuals insist on treating them as two separate and independent languages. Pakistan radio goes on ruining the beauty of this language by thrusting into it as many Persian and Arabic words as possible; and All India Radio knocks it out of all shape by pouring the entire Sanskrit dictionary into it. In this way they carry out the wish of the Master, to separate the inseparable. Can anything be more absurd than that?
If the British told us that white was black, would we go on calling white black for ever and ever? My film colleague Johnny Walker remarked the other day, “They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi mein samachar suniye’ (Now, listen to the news in Hindi); they should say, Ab samachar mein Hindi suniye’ (Now, listen to Hindi in the News).
Another short extract from the same convocation address:
I could have given you the example of Mahatma Gandhi who always had the courage to decide for himself. I remember how my college professors and the wise respectable people of my hometown shook their heads over the folly of Mahatma Gandhi, who thought he could defeat the most powerful empire on earth with his utopian principles of truth and non-violence.
I think less than one per cent of the people of my city dreamt that they would see India free in their lifetime. But Mahatma Gandhi had faith in himself, in his country, and his people. Some of you may have seen a painting of Gandhiji done by Nandlal Bose. It is the picture of a man who has the courage to think and act for himself.
During my college days I was not influenced by Bhagat Singh or Mahatma Gandhi. I was doing my MA in English literature from the most magnificent educational institution in the Punjab — the Government College in Lahore. Only the very best students were admitted to that college. After Independence my fellow students have achieved the highest positions in India and Pakistan, both in the government and society. But, to gain admission to this college, we had to give a writ ten undertaking that we would take no interest in any political movement — which at that time meant the freedom movement.
When I was a student like you, our teachers, both English and Non-English, tried to convince us in diverse ways that the fine arts were a prerogative of white people. Great films, great drama, great acting, great painting, etc., were only possible in Europe and America. The Indian people, their language and culture, were as yet too crude and backward for real artistic expression. We used to feel bitter about this and we resented it outwardly: but inwardly we could not help accepting this judgment.
The picture has changed vastly since then. Many of our artistes, cameramen and technicians compare with the best anywhere in the world. Before Independence we hardly made ten or fifteen films worth the name. Today we are the biggest film-producing country in the world. Not only are our films immensely popular with the masses in our own country, but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the Eastern Republics of the Soviet Union, Egypt, and many other countries. We have broken the monopoly of Hollywood in this field.