Raghuvir Sahay (1928-1990) is among the most significant figures on the modern literary scene in India. A Hindi poet who belonged to a poliltical current which while calling for decolonisation of Indian cultural world, did not fall into the dark world of nativism. While his comrades were fighting to dislodge English from its position of socio cultural power, his poem simply titled Hindi challenged them to think through their Hindi supremacists biases. The poem was translated from Hindi by Harish Trivedi and Daniel Weissbort.
We were fighting
a language battle to change society.
But the question of Hindi is no longer simply a question of
we have lost out.
O good soldier,
know when you’re beaten.
And now, that question
which we just referred to in connection with the so-called
let’s put it this way:
Were we and those on behalf of whom we fought
the same folk?
Or were we, in fact, the agents of our oppressors–
sympathetic, well-meaning, well-schooled agents!
Those who are the masters are slaves.
Their slaves are those who are not masters.
If Hindi belongs to the masters,
then in what language shall we fight for freedom!
The demand for Hindi
is now a demand
for better treatment–
put by the agents
to their slave-masters.
They use Hindi in place of English,
while the fact is
that their masters
use English in place of Hindi-
the two of them have struck a deal.
He who exposes this hypocrisy
will dispose of Hindi’s slavery.
This will be the one who, when he speaks Hindi,
will show us what simple folk really feel.
Hindi can still be a language
spoken in an idiom, a tone,
with care, with respect, with love
for all those who are ground down
by those who own the language
(not to mention the institutions
that regulate life, love, existence).
That is the lesson of anticolonialism
Sahay learned, the lesson that insists
that Hindi must not be as English was
a language of the masters. But
Sahay also knows that no language
exists except in relation to others
and that this relation is always one of power
and coercion and teaching, relentless teaching
to bleed out the promiscuous, joyous borrowing
and to still the fecund, embarrassing everyday life
of the language of the masters, and of all others.
No schooled language, anticolonial or otherwise
can speak for the “simple folk”
for what language do we speak
when we ask about their simplicity
even as we ironise our efforts to speak on their behalf?
Sahay belongs to the times when there was a movement to forsake Hindi as state language in Bihar! As if one could forsake one’s mother! The movement died in its infancy for the obvious reason. Bharatmata has too large and too deep a heart as to digest seasonal poisons and pus. The average, not the sulking baboo, Hindustani always rises above self to keep the knitted knotted fabric ship shape.