Personal Encounters with Hindi Arrogance in America
TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2011 (ID. 2011-05-01)
1. Hindi at the Faculty Lounge (by P. Menon)
2. Hindi at an American Electronic Store (by Jeya Parasuram)
3. India TV in USA: Hindi News or Indian News (by Malathi)
Subsequent to the publication of the article "Indian Government's Hindi Propagation in Foreign Countries" in the August 2010 issue of TAMIL TRIBUNE [Reference 1], we received some e-mails describing their personal encounters with Hindi arrogance abroad. Edited/abridged versions of these e-mails are published here. - Editor
Hindi at the Faculty Lounge
I am an assistant professor in an American university. At the time of this incidence, I had just joined the faculty a few weeks before. I was having a cup of coffee with a few faculty members in the faculty lounge. There in walked a professor of Indian origin - much older than me - may be in his fifties. He walked to our table and asked me in Hindi, something like, "I have not seen you here before. Which department are you with?" I do know some Hindi. I replied in Malayalam, "I joined the ---- department last month. How are you?" He was seemingly startled that I answered in a language he did not understand. He said, "Huh!" I repeated what I said again in Malayalam. He responded, "What language is that? I don't understand you."
I replied in English, "I thought you understand my mother tongue Malayalam, in the same way you assumed I understand your mother tongue Hindi." He turned away, murmuring in English, "Hindi is our official language." I said, "Along with English. Our neighbor state doesn't even teach Hindi in their schools."
After he left the faculty members I was chatting with asked me what it was all about. I explained to them briefly the language situation in India. Just a minute or two. I did not want to bore them.
My replying to an arrogant Hindi speaker's Hindi question in Malayalam is not original. I was merely following our illustrious chief minister Nayanar. Ramachandra Guha recalls an incidence in the January 18, 2004 issue of The Hindu newspaper. Kerala Chief Minister Nayanar received a Hindi letter from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, a serious proponent of using Hindi at the Indian central government. Chief Minister Nayanar responded in kind by sending his reply in Kerala's principal language Malayalam.
Hindi at an American Electronic Store
Several months ago I went to a major electronic chain store. I was looking for an external hard drive. I asked a sales person what models of external hard drive they have and what is the largest available storage. He seemed like a South Asian. He answered me in Hindi. Although I had studied and passed Hindi examination in high school, I had forgotten Hindi long time ago. I was annoyed at his Hindi response and said, "What are you blabbering? Can you speak English?"
Another employee was standing behind a desk; later I found that he was an assistant manager. He walked to us and told the salesperson, "Talk to customers in English unless they talk to you first in your language". He then turned to me, apologized and took me to the aisle where they had hard drives.
India TV in USA: Hindi News or Indian News
This happened in the late 1980s. Unlike today, there were no Indian satellite channels available in USA at that time. There was an over-the-air UHF channel that broadcast a one-hour Indian program on Saturday afternoons. The program consisted of Hindi movie video-clips and about 15 minutes of news. I just watch the news. There were 4 newsreaders; they rotated from week to week. From their names, I think that one was a Telugu, another a Malayali and two from Hindi states. The first two always read the news in English. In contrast, the other two from Hindi states would start reading the news in English and in the middle switch to Hindi and then back to English and then to Hindi... So people like me who do not know Hindi were left with holes in the news.
I wrote to the TV station about this. Nothing happened. After waiting for a couple of moths, I wrote to the Indian grocery store and an electronic store (selling TV, videocassette recorders (VCR)) that advertised regularly in the news segment. I complained that I and many others from non-Hindi regions do not understand parts of the news, and would stop watching it and the stores would be losing audience. They are likely to attract more audience if the news is read totally in English. I received a letter a few weeks later from the electronic store that they discussed the matter with the station and that the news would be in English in the future.
This incidence shows three things: (1) The arrogance of the two new readers from Hindi states expecting that all Indians should know Hindi. (2) If we take the initiative and act, things could change when private business is involved. (3) "If at first you don't succeed, try again."
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