Hindi Venda Chetta
This article has been written by Vadikkiniyedath Sreedharan (Batch of 2024). The cover image has been illustrated by Anshita Agarwal (Batch of 2023). This article is a part of our ‘Language Week’ series. You can read the other piece in the series here.
Like any other student coming into Law School, I had expectations of what the experience would be like. Of course, within the first few days of scammy classes and faffy professors, I realised it isn’t what we make it to be.
The first time I interacted with my batchmates was during the medical procedure at GM Hospital. I realised that the Hindi-speaking populace in college – the students who speak Hindi for day to day conversation – was much larger than I had anticipated.
Now here I need to issue a necessary caveat. The experiences of belonging to a linguistic minority or a Southern state are simply not comparable to those who face structural or institutional disadvantage. Further, knowing pop culture has made my experiences much less uncomfortable. I never got stereotypes thrown at me (“Oye dark-skinned Madrasi, where’s your lungi”). Whatever labels my friends have jokingly put on me (left-leaning, football lover from Kerala) are strangely accurate.
This piece is also not an attack on people who are not fluent in English or who come from a place where English isn’t spoken. Someone who might not speak English that well would probably find it harder to communicate in Law School (or even outside Law School, for that matter) than someone who doesn’t know Hindi. I merely wish to show how commonplace Hindi has become that someone who doesn’t know the language may find it intimidating.
The only Hindi I learnt (and remembered) in school was a few words, and the only Hindi TV show I ever really watched was Sacred Games with English subs. So, you can probably understand the kind of words that I remember (at the beginning of the year, when a fellow batchmate asked me if I knew Hindi, I used to say I know “some of the good words and all of the bad”).
Having said all of that, there are times when I do want to go full-on Ganesh Gaitonde and strangle a person for assuming I know Hindi. I merely wish to illustrate a few examples and hopefully, some of you realise the difficulty in navigating through law school without knowing Hindi.
Since we all love grouping things and putting them into neat tables, I’ve divided this into two different scenarios:
I. Private –
A large part of Hindi I hear on the daily is this. Mostly, small talk in groups, or movie and other pop-cult references in conversations. Batch conversations, too, are often in Hindi. Templates used for memeing law school life also put Hindi films to good use.
The most significant harm of this category’s experiences is that it puts me in an awkward situation. When you’re in a circle of friends, someone talks in Hindi, and then you have difficulty keeping up with the conversation. Suddenly, everyone laughs together, and you’re forced to smile dryly. Or worse, suddenly, you’re asked a question, and you have to sheepishly admit that you, in fact, were only nodding along without understanding anything.
At the end of the day, I cannot ask people to talk or not talk in a specific language to another person. That sounds more like something a Central government imposing Hindi would do :p.
II. Public –
Hearing Hindi in the public sphere is a bit more annoying. Because it works on the assumption that everyone knows Hindi (or at least the belief that there are enough people who know Hindi to make up for the people that don’t) and then institutionalises it. A Hindi stand-up routine during a Freshers’ ice-breaking event doesn’t break a lot of ice. Forget students cracking jokes, I know a professor who makes jokes and other tangential comments in Hindi as well.
The worst aspect of this is when Hindi creeps into the official sphere. I really can’t police what language you all speak in when you’re talking to one another, but there have been several instances where Hindi has become the language in official matters in the public sphere. I’m not talking about that time when one of the candidates for the CR election spoke in Hindi to address the entire batch, or the batch meeting for the protests when the CR had to be asked to switch to English. Those are official enough.
I’m talking about the time a committee decided that there should be a round of Antakshari, not called a “non-English” round where other indigenous languages can be used too, but a Hindi-only one (credit to the committee, they changed the rules after they were called out for it). I sing my share of Hindi songs in the shower too (of course I butcher the pronunciation), but normalising Hindi in official spheres like these leads to cultural alienation and discourages people from participating in these events and speaking up at these platforms.
Professors are guilty of this too. One time a professor screened an episode of Satyamev Jayate and later another documentary both in Hindi and without subtitles. Of course, those documentaries weren’t all that helpful for the course, but it’s the fact that a professor can do this in their class that annoys me. Hindi in official places like these takes away from the experience of learning and making friends in law school, and not knowing a particular language shouldn’t affect a person’s experience in college.
So, I’ve stated how Hindi has gained currency in Law School, by pointing out a few instances where not knowing Hindi has made me feel alienated, awkward, and alone. I think it’s only fair that I suggest ways in which this unfamiliarity can be mitigated.
Firstly, on a personal level, please talk to people who don’t know Hindi. If you sense they don’t know the language (for example, if they’re replying to your Hindi questions in English), then do try and speak in English. I’ve seen Hindi speaking friends’ circles where the conversation topic seems interesting enough, but I can’t contribute a word because of the language. I know the sentiment around using English might come off as elitist, and I acknowledge that people do face difficulties due to its predominance in Law School and the legal profession, but trust me when I say that the only language that all students know in some capacity is English and not Hindi.
Secondly, on a more general level, it might help to see that the group or committee that you’re a part of has a bit of non-Hindi speaking representation. Committees often have only Hindi speakers (which is fine in itself) but might make those members think that there aren’t other non-Hindi speaking folks around, which is probably how Hindi creeps into the official sphere.
I’ll inevitably learn the rest of the good Hindi words in my five years here. But make me feel a bit welcome, please. The last thing we want is non-Hindi speakers to group up and have language-based friends’ circles as well (a Society for Non-Hindi Persons, if you will).
PS: Y’all should consider learning Malayalam too! The folks at Chetta’s sometimes give away a free Maggi if you ask nicely in their language 😛