Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Not the people's language

Lesson learnt today: Using the people's language has nothing to do with using a certain language.

I appreciate the kind of trouble NGOs take over their publications - little pamphlets and fifty-page booklets brought out in three or more languages - in the general interest of information dissemination.... I really do.

But I fail to see how they can fail to see how utterly pointless it is, if they're going to use the kind of language they do.

An example:
Shaasanaadesh Praavidhaan Kriyaanvayan

This is the title of a Hindi booklet about the Tehri Dam, published by the Uttaranchal-based NGO, Matu.

Now, I am pretty good with Hindi. It is my mother tongue, almost. I've studied in three states that had Hindi as the state language. I had an unheard-of (in my school, at least) 82% in Hindi, in CBSE's Xth standard exams. I read Hindi literature. I'm fairly quick when perusing Hindi newspapers (though some of our reporters seem to think that using non-multisyllabic words is a crime inviting the death penalty).

But for all that, I don't understand Shaasanaadesh Praavidhaan Kriyaanvayan.
Not even the title!

And even though Uttaranchal has a lot of education to its credit (Tehri boasted a literacy rate of over 93%), I fail to see how a farmer in the hills would understand the meaning of the word 'Kriyaanvayan'.

Here's another example: Pashchimi nimaad ke anjad paramparaagat jalstroto.n se aadhunik vyavasthaa tak ki kahaani aur vikalpo.n par sujhaav.

That was the tag-line of 'Kasbe Ka Pani', the title of which is deceptively simple.

When I'd read this line aloud, three times, it finally made sense. But I doubt if the guy on the street, who's got a living to make and a family to feed, will bother to struggle with a dictionary.

Forget the locals; I'll bet anyone a hundred bucks that at least 50% of the bureaucrats in India will neither know how to spell such words, nor know their meanings.

Since it is my job to gather information, even if it comes in the form of suspiciously alien tongue-twisters, I translate sentences like these, first to myself, and then for my readers.

But it's high time the NGOs who print alternative literature did a reality check.

It is not enough to print literature in Hindi, or Tamil or Marathi or whatever language you think is the language of the people. If your purpose is to reach out to people - inform them, raise issues that affect them and get them to participate in the struggle to save themselves... well, 'talk' to them.

Sure, it might look shoddy to some. When you write as you speak, the words lose formality. They cease to be the language of pundits. That's when they become a dialogue with the people.

And that is the whole point, isn't it?


livinghigh said...

with u a 100% on dis one! hell, dats the first law in journo school, rite? - be simple. be straight.

Janaki said...

I still read hindi books like i am learning for an exam. But this is about simplicity not the language i guess. Ever tried reading any manual or pamplet from any of the ministries...? the english can qualify in this category.

u were mentioning writing blocks...for me its more like what to write.. am losing my ability to sustain the anger or the angst to get to a point to be able to write about it. So thought would follow the old adage of blogging and post links.

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