Even though I know how to read, write and speak Marathi, I have hardly read a book written in the language. I simply never felt inclined to do so. I’ve often heard the quote ‘What will happen to our language if young people do not read books in it?’ – The problem with this argument is, that languages are more about practical communication and less about cultural identity.
I was having an interesting chat with a relative who told me that his father was taught how to read in Urdu. This was odd for someone who was growing up in Mumbai. I can understand he had to learn Hindi as it is one of the most widely spoke languages in India. Learning Marathi also made sense as our family speaks the language. They were a Hindu family on the conservative side, so why was a child learning Urdu? The answer is simply. This was back in the mid 1940s in India.
The language a lot of educated Indian spoke back then was called Hindustani. It was a pluricentric language (meaning a language with more than one standard versions). Hindustani consisted of Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu.
So why did I not learn this language in school?
The population of Muslims in India was almost halved after partition. The other half were in the new country of Pakistan. This reduced the practical need to learn Urdu and Hindi gained more importance in independent India.
The word ‘practical’ lurks around again. The fact is language and culture is never stagnant or steady. It changes a lot over the years, because of economic and political changes. Unfortunately perceptions about language and culture often seem totally unconnected with its actual history.
What do you think about the language and culture?