Hindi holding its own – for now
Let us see how Hindi is coping with change. Hindi print media is alive kicking, and expanding. Hindi continues to be the only language with the largest number of newspapers, journals and periodicals in India. According to the 2005 National Readership Survey, among the top 10 dailies, there is only one English daily at No. 10 [Times of India]. Dainik Jagran snatched the No 1 position from Dainik Bhaskar, is now India’s most read newspaper. Despite the noisy my-circulation-is-bigger-than-yours campaigns being waged by English dailies, there is the only one which finds itself in the top 10 brackets. The rest in the elite 10 are all language dailies with as many as five of them being published in Hindi. In its magazine section too, the hindi version of India Today overtakes Saras Salil as the most read magazine [urban plus rural] in the country.
Gone are the days when advertisers would think that a particular brand was only for English newspapers. Today, Hindi and other regional newspapers hold an equal importance in the media plan for any brand. The entire Hindi newspaper business has grown in terms of readership and advertising revenue. Today, even brands like the Mercedes car is advertised in Hindi newspapers and there are lots of other high end products as well.
The image of the Hindi speaking person, too, is breaking boundaries. It is no longer associated with those who wear saris and dhotis. Now even the social elite accept that Hindi is the lift Kara de language. There is great oppotunity in television, radio and film for a good copy/script writer. All the global brands want local flavour and local language. There is recognition that to stay in Indian markets, the multinationals need to use a language that overcomes linguistic barriers and cultural differences. ‘Hindi rocks because it has the capacity to touch the pulse of the nation. When one uses Hindi or any other local lingo, one can add a lot more insight that is intrinsically Indian.’ ‘Enjoy Coca-Cola’ is insipid when compared to ‘Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola’. Prasoon Joshi, the leading ad man, explains why he supports Hindi vis-à-vis English. He says, ‘Attitudes are best expressed in Hindi as people understand and immediately connect with the language. Hindi is our street language and it delivers the punch that is required when communicating with the masses. In comparison, English, for most of us, is still a formal language. It is not a street language, like it is in New York’.
Today, there are two kinds of Hindi prevailing in India. The first is the ‘official language’ that is literary and complex and the second is common Hindi. Bollywood has always promoted and patroned common Hindi. Hindi films are quite popular throughout India. Indian audiences expect full value for their money and Hindi dialogues play an important role in this regard. Hindi movies don’t have language boundaries as they just mix all the language and dialects to create meaning and humour.
The popularity of Hindi movies is not restricted to the Indian subcontinent. From bhangra music in Bangkok bars to weepy soap operas in London living rooms and Bollywood star power on European TV, Hindi entertainment is rocking the world. ‘We don’t watch Hindi movies,’ is no longer the urban snob’s punch line. The credit goes to some imaginative filmmakers who have altered the downmarket appeal of Bollywood and have sugar coated Hindi to the world. Hindi is hip. It spells glamour, cheer and success.
Although Hindi is not a technically savvy language but globalisation makes this possible to some extent. Targeting the 43 per cent of Indian population that understands Hindi, Nokia showcased handsets with predictive text input to enable users to send and receive messages [SMS] in Hindi besides announcing a Hindi mobile portal. With this initiative on localisation, now SMS becomes saral mobile sandesh. Hindi is also becoming computer friendly with Unicode software and widely used by youth on the Internet and social networking sites. Microsoft Corporation India Ltd has launched ‘Office Hindi’ – its first offering developed specifically, for the Indian market, which combines computing experiences with familiarity of Hindi language.
The package includes a Hindi language interface and support nine Indian languages, empowering Indian users to create documents and communicate with others in the language of their choice. It also makes the computer function easy by producing menus and toolbars in Hindi. The new avatar of Hindi is not limited to the Hindi belt.
A vernacular highbrow attitude is sweeping across India. In the extreme northeast, people love to watch Hindi movies. Inspite of repeated militants’ threats and calls for a ban on the screening of Hindi movies, the cinegoers continue visiting cinema halls. In the seven states of the northeast, Hindi functions as a link language and commands unparalleled public support.
The southern part of the country is not left untouched. In sharp contrast to the anti-Hindi movement of 1960s, the linguistic divide between north and south is shrinking. Chennai today is one of the cities, besides Bangalore and Hyderabad, where Hindi films are doing better than ever.
The South has its own Hindi ambassadors, who have done a great job to promote Hindi and synthesise the north flavour and taste into south Indian films. South Indian filmmakers like Mani Ratnam, musician A R Rahman, playback singer Yasudas, Balasubramaniam, Shankar Mahadevan and Kavita Krishnmurti are saleable artists of the Hindi entertainment industry. Our MPs from south, once elected to the national parliament, may be more inclined to speak in new Hindi for practical reasons, thus reducing the tension between Hindi and non-Hindi speakers.
In all this time, the importance of English has never diminished. The advent of the Internet and the globalisation has only strengthened English. But it has changed the chemistry of relationship between English and Hindi. It is the ‘buy one, get one free’ syndrome. Hindi no longer considers English as its archrival. Globalisation has changed the equation. English and Hindi work in tandem in a winning blend. This blend, as in Hinglish becomes a new mantra in social acceptance, prestige, and success.
Pushing this trend are three M’s: media, marketing and money. So a language that has survived through centuries by marrying with different dialects and masters, is bouncing back again in India.
But there is a doubt that the way Hindi is used today will not be the same in the next 50 years or so. The structure of Hindi is likely to change as it happened with English. Only time can tell how Hindi will hold a balance between the need of the market and the expectation of the purists.
Umesh C Pathak is an assistant professor of mass communication at MAIMS, IP University, Delhi