Most English language students in India opt for a sophisticated third language like French or German. They clean language papers, including Indian languages, with “brilliance”. But few continue with French, German, or Sanskrit, and even they do so simply to use these languages as “grading subjects” to boost their grades, not to pursue them as career options, let alone for love. of a language.
Even Hindi (the language of gentiles and pagans in anglicised India) is used as a scale, not only in non-Hindi speaking states, but also in Delhi and Rajasthan, where the predominant everyday language is Hindi. Hindi. In southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, Hindi is resisted and felt. In top Indian colleges, students opt for Hindi as a hobby and to increase their overall grades just like students opt for Sanskrit for full grades without ever knowing anything about Ashtadhyayi from Panini or Bhattoji Dikshita (a 17th century Maharashtrian Sanskrit grammarian) Siddhanta-Kaumudi (literally, ‘Illumination of the Established Position’)!
Due to this nonchalant attitude, the functional and colloquial usefulness of Sanskrit ended decades ago, although there are still scholars in India who know Sanskrit quite well. Students with a condescending attitude towards languages, especially Indian languages, who study at top-notch colleges in India, skip Hindi lessons as they find it infra digging. How many young scholars in Bangalore or Bombay (sorry, not Bengaluru or Mumbai) can converse in decent Hindi, let alone chaste Hindi? In fact, Hindi is a superficial permanent feature in many colleges across the country.
There are hardly any Urdu departments or subjects offered by elite colleges. Even the little ones suppressed Urdu. Urdu is pejoratively described as a “reversed” language because it is written from right to left. In such lamentable circumstances, the study of languages becomes pointless and anachronistic.
And what about Persian, which was a common language of elites and aristocrats in India not so long ago? As a lover of languages, especially Central Asian languages and Semitic cultures, the fact that Persian has almost become an extinct language in India is a sad realization for me. Now it is quite hard to believe that Persian was one of our languages and poets like Amir Khusro who never visited Iran wrote in this language.
Persian is such a euphonic language that even if you don’t understand some of it, the phonetic sound of the language can transport you to a different realm. I remember vividly when I first heard it when I was three years old. The language left me practically drunk; thus began my lifelong romance with what I consider to be the most fascinating language in the world. And what a pity! A breathtakingly beautiful language is almost unknown even to Indian scholars.
Although there are still a few universities in India offering a master’s degree in Persian, the standard leaves a lot to be desired. Indian students of Persian language and literature cannot write an entire page in correct Persian, nor speak it with any degree of confidence. And there probably isn’t a single non-Muslim studying Persian at these universities. But then, can they at least write correct Urdu? In a country where Urdu is not promoted because it is mistakenly considered to belong to a particular community, how can Persian be expected to feature in a polarized scenario?
Arabic has no takers in India other than Muslims. They too learn it only from the point of view of understanding the Quranic verses. At the level of Arabic taught in Madrasas, the less said, the better. These students never learn Arabic because their maulvis have no feeling or understanding of the language.
Even the stubbornly fixed English curricula, with the reverential emphasis on Shakespearean plays, did not broaden the horizons of Indian students. How long can they keep churning out the Shakespearian work? We seem to have a fetish for the Bard of Avon! Someone rightly wrote a few years ago: “Indian students and their ‘learned’ professors of English literature must realize that English literature goes far beyond Shakespeare, just as Persian literature is not limited to Rumi and Firdausi, Italian is not limited to Dante Alighieri or Goethe is not the alpha and omega of German literature.
For any sensible person or institution, therefore, it is time to develop a holistic approach to the teaching and study of languages in India at all levels. But, of course, who cares about language(s) and literature in these philistine and dissiparous times when mere clothing or higher decibels of prayers are far more important issues to quarrel, to attack” the other”, than learning and appreciating the aesthetics of languages and cultures?
(The author is an advanced researcher on Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures)