Hindi Pakhavaada (Fortnight) Tamasha!

S Balakrishnan *

After retirement from a central government office what I really miss is the annual tamasha called Hindi Pakhavaada (Hindi Fortnight). I am not anti-Hindi, let me make it clear, lest I be pronounced anti-Indian by the Sangh Pariwar. In a multi- dimensional nation, as unique as India, it is really impractical to have just one language as the national language or as the official language.

It is a slow and painful process to create such a consensus. It has to be voluntarily accepted, not forced down the throat. But knowing Hindi, at least spoken Hindi, does help you travel with ease in many parts of India; from my own experience, it has helped me pick up other languages like Odiya, Bengali, and Nepali.

The more language one knows the merrier. So, I would stress upon spoken Hindi (aam aadmi Hindi) rather than officialdom Hindi. But let us now see the lighter side of Hindi Pakhavaada.

A simpleton was eager to taste the Hindi Pakhavaada, mistaking it for the crispy pakoda/pakora snacks variety! However, he was pacified when samosa was served. Playing on words, I am reminded of one joke invariably shared by speakers during the Fortnight celebration, year after year.

It is about a person asking for ladki in a firewood depot, though what he really meant was lakdi. You can guess what he would have received - lots of beatings with lakdi (wood) by ladkis (girls) working there!

More than me, my wife got excited about the Hindi Diwas celebrations in our office. Wonder why? Well, she got to fulfil her endless desire for utensils through prizes I won in the various Hindi competitions.

First it was pressure cookers (rice & milk), then stainless steel dabbas (containers) and utility sets! Meanwhile, a colleague suggested a novel prize idea – gift coupons of big shops that offer a choice of dress material, household items, fancy items, etc! This was unanimously welcomed by all the staff, a rare show of unity!

A strict boss who joined later thought this was atrocious; if we have to promote Hindi it is not through silly utensils and dress material; it ought to be through Hindi books only, he decided. What use would be Hindi books to Hindi illiterate staff of our office! Participation drastically fell down and the decision was reversed to the joy of staff.

The Hindi Teaching Scheme for the staff is another farce; either they attend the class out of office compulsion or for monetary benefits and, without any use for Hindi in a State like Tamil Nadu, they forget it as quickly as they learn it.

The sleepy Hindi Section of our office would suddenly wake up from hibernation for this annual tamasha. The Section consisted of just two – Junior Hindi Translator and Hindi Typist – but for most part only one would be in place.

If the Translator was in position the post of Typist would be vacant; so no business other than just manually filling up with assumed figures the cyclostyled (later photocopied/Xerox) quarterly/half-yearly/annual reports on Hindi promotion.

Alas, at last when the typist post was filled up, the translator went on deputation! Without the translator, the typist absolutely had nothing to do but read all the magazines published in the State that our office got mandatorily. Typist Sridevi was the envy of other staff members.

At last the office found one Translator on deputation from Hyderabad but then the beautiful typist got married (sigh!) and switched job to Bombay (Mumbai)! Probably the Section was cursed.

The Hindi Translator was a happy-go-lucky lady who hid her personal sorrows / health problems under heavy makeup. The Fortnight gave her a chance to spring to action in flashy silk saris, glittering jewels and glossy lipstick. She saw to it that each of the staff got a prize – however small – by devising a variety of simple (you can call them even silly) competitions.

After all it is government money, let us all share it and enjoy, she used to jovially remark and pushed everyone to participate.

The Pakhavaada creates demand for Hindi knowing officers (either hailing from Hindi speaking states and working in Chennai or working in Hindi Section of other offices), and gives them a chance to flaunt their Hindi knowledge. They chair sessions, preside over functions, distribute prizes, evaluate the papers, sit as judges for various competitions, etc.

Poor fellows! It must be miserable for them to hear their mother-tongue being murdered by non-Hindi staff members. They bear the torture with sheepish grin. But they are suitably rewarded with hefty honorarium payouts and invited for the closing ceremony’s grand dinner. Oh, yes, speaking of food, sumptuous snacks were served for the inaugural and closing ceremony, besides a grand lunch on the final day.

On one occasion, as the date coincided with Onam celebrations, Onam Sadhya (feast) was arranged. Burp! The Centre is always liberal when it comes to the so-called promotion of Hindi. No questions asked. Only if you don’t organize and spend, questions will be raised. Wish someone would raise an RTI question to find out from the Department of Official Language as to how much goes down the drain during Hindi Pakhavaada tamasha.

The very first expenditure turns out to be anti-environment, which is the printing of flex banner for the Fortnight. So we printed a banner without indicating the year or date of celebration; this was computer printed and stuck on the banner. We were glad we saved environment and money which could be diverted to snacks!

I was lucky to have half-baked knowledge of Hindi (Butler Hindi, you may say); having served in the Eastern Region of India (Andamans, Orissa & Sikkim), I had gained with pain some knowledge of Hindi besides Oriya, Nepali & Bengali.

Actually, only Andamans comes under Region ‘A’ as per Official Language classification, while Odissa and Bengal fall under ‘C’ Region like Tamil Nadu. So I was winning all the 1st prizes at my senior level of competitions for several years and amassing utensils and other items. This created much heartburning among a few staff members, though I never took any special preparatory effort for participating in the competitions – be it elocution or essay writing.

So at one point I decided not to participate at all, to the joy of other competitors, especially a grumbling lady staff who was always coming second. After the retirement of Hindi Translator, I organized the Hindi Fortnight celebrations; this only proves that I am not anti-Hindi.

I do love old Hindi cine songs. One of my all-time favourites is “Pyar kiya to darna kya?” from Mughal-E-Azam, so meaningfully written, soulfully rendered with enchanting music and filming.

Finally, if one thinks of promoting Hindi by sneaking it in national English news bulletins of All India Radio, well, be warned that such a dirty trick only antagonizes even Hindi lovers like me!

* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on October 02 2021.

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