Millennium Post

Word warriors and their impact

The Hindi newspapers in the national Capital and the surrounding areas have lost much on the joy of experimenting with the language. This loss of initiative is fallout of the market leader’s policy to encourage use of English words in the texts and even in the headlines. They have even gone to the extent of using English words in Roman scripts thus totally losing out on creativity in the original language.

Some years back I remember attending a function where several Hindiwalas including Pankaj Pachauri, the current media adviser to prime minister  and Hindi Akademi vice-chairman Ashok Chakradhar had seconded then HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s ‘thoughts’ on Hindi needing to build itself to meet the challenges of modernisation. It belied my understanding then how challenges of modernisation and market could be met by hitch-hopping on another language.

Though I am opposed to the Hindi language taking a ‘puritanical’ tinge especially while being promoted as raj bhasa (language of the state), my travel through Bihar last week to cover the poll campaign in the state which is politically extra-ordinarily surcharged, convinced me that the designs of the market leader and desires of the Sahibs like Sibal and his courtiers cannot take away from the practioners of the language their creativity and originality. I was particularly happy to notice that most of the Hindi language publications from the state resisted the lure of English and worked on making Hindi language market friendly on its own strength then hitching a ride as some would desire.

The potential of creativity in giving the headlines and coining new words increases manifolds during the polls given the sharp exchange between the political rivals. While there were sharp exchanges during the earlier polls too but during those days there would not be saturation television coverage of the campaign. Now with the camera hovering in every possible nook and cranny, the uttering of leaders even not meant for public consumption are also finding its way to the public domain.

Despite such saturation television coverage, the newspapers have still retained their position of early morning news messenger thanks to the scribes in the regional Hindi press devising means of serious reportage and witty use of language. During your reporter’s tour of Bihar, BJP’s candidate from Nawada Lok Sabha seat Giriraj Singh came out with his famous ‘heart beating for Pakistan’ comment for those opposing elevation of Narendra Modi as party’s prime ministerial candidate.

While the general coverage of what he said, how the Election Commission reacted, how an FIR was registered against him and how he filed for an anticipatory bail was done, what caught attention was a headline on how the EC issued fresh set of guidelines. The witty headline said, Aayog ne kaha Bayanveero par lage lagaam (The poll panel said word warriors should be reined in).

Now I could not think of a more appropriate term than bayanveer (word warriors) for the genre of politicians that the likes of Giriraj Singh and Azam Khan represent. In fact the advent of television and its inability to exercise discretion in broadcasting footages received has given rise to this class of politicians. Without being word warriors likes of Digvijaya Singh, Amar Singh, Baba Ramdev and several others would have never made to their respective ‘iconic’ positions but for the self-inflicted disease of verbal diarrhea.

Discussion on word warriors, however, should not make us digress from the discussion on the ability of the regional Hindi press to be creative and be full of potential. In fact some of the words they coin very aptly summarise a political or social trend. Some elections ago I recall, the Hindi press in Bihar coining the term, Vote Katwa (Who cuts into a vote).

With the rise of regional parties and coalition politics coming to stay, the role of these Vote Katwas cannot be over-emphasized. In these elections too, the role of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi and Janata Dal (United) in Bihar would be closely followed as Vote Katwa. It would be interesting to watch to which of the two protagonists – the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA – they cause more damage. It is difficult to find an equivalent phrase for the Vote Katwa and Bayanveer in the English language because these words symbolise trends which are exclusive to the Indian context. Somebody did suggest that an existing equivalent for Bayanveer could be paper tiger. 
The phrase paper tiger was first prominently used by Chinese leader Mao Zedong to describe American imperialism. ‘In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe that is nothing but a paper tiger,’ Mao had said.

In later years, Communists came to address their opponents indulging in pamphleteering and issuing statements to the news papers to counter the Left-propaganda as paper tigers. However, the phrase was coined and used in times when television was not in vogue. The word warriors, on the other hand, are a creation of the television era. A paper tiger could burn midnight oil to draft a statement whereas a Bayanveer is quick witted and delivers on the camera in the split of a second.

If I was to ask for a takeaway from visit to Bihar, I would say an exposure to a very witty, intelligent and exciting regional press effectively holding ground despite the onslaught of the television. I am sure same must be true for all the other language press across the nation.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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