Johannesberg: Ahead of the ninth World Hindi Convention in Johannesburg, South Africa (Sep 22-24), it defies logic why Hindi, a language spoken by over half a billion people, or every 10th person on the planet, should feel threatened and require state protection to breath normally.
A popular language has its own ways of dealing with challenges and changing times. It can never be stunted. Languages have their own set of tools. With everything around it changing, it also grows by adding new words and phrases and by altering grammar when needed.
Though not opposed to celebrating a language, I feel that organising Hindi Days or Weeks signals as if the language is on its death bed.
In fact, it is quite the opposite. People know the strength of their language and are proud of it. For them, it expresses emotions and moves lives and markets. It does many more things beyond mere communication.
Whether or not Hindi becomes one of the official languages at the UN is a different issue, inconsequential to its growth. If the state feels the language may add to national image, allowing India to play a bigger role globally, it should take up the cudgels.
Unfortunately, this has not happened despite eight World Hindi Conventions over the last 30 years.
According to rough calculations by the external affairs ministry, an investment of over Rs.100 crore is required to install Hindi at the UN as its sixth official language. The figure was given out at the time of the Suriname Hindi conference.
But that is probably the easier part. For Hindi to be there at the UN it needs support of a desired number of General Assembly members and no opposition from the Big 5.
The Johannesburg convention will pass resolutions and probably forget the issue for four years.
The core issue, however, is the growth of Hindi at home. It definitely has wide reach but, sadly, does not show much sign of life in thought and content.
The result is that while Hindi newspapers expand, Hindi books present a gloomy picture. Today Hindi books on an average have a print run of less than 500 copies. A book selling a thousand copies is called a bestseller!
Also, it is probably the only language in the world where dictionaries and their usage do not get the importance it deserves. The last proper Hindi dictionary was published in the last century, nearly 30 years ago.
Like all languages Hindi has acquired many new words, but they do not figure in its dictionaries. On the reverse, languages shed archaic words. They, however, keep a link and do not lose them permanently.
A recent study suggests that, on a conservative estimate, Hindi has lost over 10,000 words in the last 150 years, since the first war of independence in 1857. The language has not even mourned the loss of the treasure, let alone compile them for posterity.
Hindi certainly requires a 'Dictionary Mission' as a first step towards realising its global ambitions. And if the state wants Hindi to be a powerhouse to draw energy from, it should make the initial move. Leaving its execution and distribution entirely in private hands may defeat the purpose.
(21.09.2012 - The author is a leading bilingual writer and journalist, and will be a delegate at Johannesburg. He can be reached on email@example.com)