Hindi is the most prevalent tongue in Jaipur. Raju speaks Hindi fluently, and a little bit of English if needed. Most of the signs I see – on the road and in front of the shops – are usually in both Hindi and English. Sometimes in just one of the two languages.
But Rajasthan’s primary language is Marwari. If you go deeper into the desert, its not hard to find elderly people and women who speak Marwarai alone and nothing else. Raju himself uses Marwari when he speaks to people he knows, or when he is at home. Talking at length about the local language with him, I learn that Marwari is not taught in schools, and children begin their learning with Hindi. The state machinery too, uses Hindi as the primary language. It comes for a surprise me, having hailed from south where all the states are keen to maximize utilization of their own language, or at least pretend to.
Further, Raju talks of an attitude to the local language that is prevalent in most large cities. He tells me that it is ‘uncool’ to be speaking Marwari, and that people who move up the economic ladder prefer to speak Hindi in public. That’s a kind of position I have seen people taking back in Bangalore too, and once also in Chennai when I was there for a short duration. Only, people prefer to speak English and pretend as though they don’t know much of Kannada (in Bangalore), or Tamil (in Chennai).
Neglect of Marwari is evident as I traverse further in Rajasthan. Talking for almost an hour with the intern guide who took me around Podar Haveli in Navalgarh, I learn that he also writes poems. ‘Which language?’ I ask him immediately, and he says ‘Hindi,’ in a manner as though it is obvious. Next, I ask him what do they speak at home, and it turns out to be Marwari. He had never even thought of a possibility of writing something in Marwari. In another incidence in Pushkar, I was talking to a priest who tells me that he had visited Bangalore recently. “We have lot of people from my community there,” he tells me, “they have settled there for a long time. I went to visit them. There children no longer speak Marwari; they speak your language – what is it? – ‘Kannad.’ They speak ‘Kannad’; they speak English; they don’t speak Marwari.” He did not seem very happy about it, but wasn’t very upset at the same time.
I am not sure why Marwari is not actively promoted or used in Rajasthan. Once in a while a short movie is made and a book or two comes out written in Marwari, but there is no regular literary activity. One possibility is that the absence of a script and an unwillingness to adapt devnagri, which would have required using a different language for all written communications. The other thing that I can think – being close to the dominating Hindi belt, Rajasthan and Rajasthanis could have thought it prudent to adapt the more prevalent language. There could be clues in history too, where the rulers before independence might have welcomed and encouraged spread of Hindi. Or it could well be simple lack of interest in one’s own language. Whatever be it, it is very possible that the tongues that do not get support in education system and government may start fading over the years, and may even disappear a few centuries later. Another case of survival of the fittest.
Continued at Glimpses of Shekhawati