The opposition to the government’s intention to make Hindi mandatory in schools would have been an ideal moment for India to introspect on what it means to be such a language-rich country. It would have been an opportunity to take stock of the languages we have and those that are threatened, of those that require support in terms of documentation before they disappear, and how to honestly – and not just on paper – promote education in mother tongues. But none of this happened. The moment the “Hindi” issue cropped up, it became a political stand-off, instead of leading to a fruitful debate about what languages and linguistic diversity indicate about our sub-continent, and how such richness can be conserved. And so, once again the issue has been brushed under the carpet, and our ever-present notion of the vote-bank and other populist ideals have taken precedence. The present calm has lulled us to believe that nothing is the matter. The storm of linguistic decline is yet to unfold.
My wife, a Hindu, eats beef; both my in-laws eat beef, as do most in their family. My son will eat anything put on his plate by anyone who cooks for him. My daughter is a vegetarian the last few years and had also been vegan, yet she doesn’t tell any of us one that we can’t eat beef or mutton or pork; she may even taste it when I cook it and give me her opinion. We are vegetarian on Hindu holidays that we celebrate at home (though this doesn’t exclude the transgression of seeking other spirits).
Old Brahmadev probably has walked down most of the lanes of Shillong but not too many would know his name. He would only be recognized by the bell he rings and the green compartmentalized box he carries that we all so well recognize.
To be brave you have to risk something. To be meaty, brilliant, and thorny you have to provide insights that don’t just voice what most of the people in the room would like to say, but that takes them to a different level of understanding or provokes them to investigate further. With great respect for Chris Rock’s career, I don’t think Oscar night he achieved either.