I am a South Indian who grew up learning Hindi as a second language; The logic was that my dad working at a transferable job, it would be easier to move schools across the country with a good knowledge of Hindi. As a result, I never learnt my own language Tamil, beyond what my mother taught me at home and a smattering of reading that came from Ananda Vikatan jokes. Not the best way to become familiar with any of the great literature that Tamil has to offer.
What is worse is that neither did I become really really proficient in Hindi. I mean, I can speak fluently, but I am never going to talk like a native speaker. Nor have I developed any intimacy with Hindi literature, despite 12-odd years of Suryakant Tripathi Nirala and Harivansh Rai Bachchan being drilled into my head. Or perhaps because of it. I mean, it would be hard to find more uninspiring, dull and incorrect Hindi teaching than I had. Many Hindi teachers in the South (where I ultimately landed up) had awful pronunciation, sometimes even incorrect grammar, in those days. I am not sure how different the situation is now.
Its only years later when I read Nirmala on my own and not as mandatory course material that I realized that I could enjoy reading Hindi. Still, I’ve ended up as sort of one-language reader primarily, which is sad considering the number of languages I had access to. I am not labeling it sad, just because that one language happens to be English, supposedly a non-English language. I believe that today English has become as Indian a language as any other, yet, access to and familiarity with many languages, I believe, broadens ones horizons. Yes, there is translation, but not everything can match up to the quality of the original. Also, the beauty of the language itself, how do you capture that? Last year, I read the entire Ponniyin Selvan series, in English, and something told me that while the translation sounded smooth, without the awkwardness that sometimes comes from literal rendering, something told me, that I was still missing out on part of the experience.
Infact, these days, I hardly read anything in any language other than English. Scary thought – Am I seeing a gradual lessening of myself, or the self that I could be? Two days ago though, I read some beautiful poetry, courtesy the
Poetry International Site by a poet I haven’t read before: Kunwar Narain.
There was this one poem which particularly appealed to me, called Shanti ki dukaan (A shop that sells peace). I am reproducing it here in English script, since I don’t have devanagari facility. It goes like this:
Mohalle me wah shanti bechta hai
Ek dukan hai uski
Mere ghar se bilkul lagi hui
Subeh subeh munhandhere do ghante
Loudspeaker na bajaane ke
Wah mujhse sau rupye maheene leta hai
Wah jaanta hai ki mein
Un abhaagon me se hoon
Jo shanti ke bina
Jeevit nahin reh sakte!
Wah jaanta hai ki aanewale wakton me
Saaf paani aur saaf hawa se bhi jyada
Shanti ki killat rahegi
Wah jaanta hai
Ki kranti ke zamane ab lad chuke:
Ab use apna pet paalne ke liye
Shanti ka dhandha apnaana hai
Mein uska aabhari hoon
Bharat jaise desh me
Jahan keemten aasmaan choo rahi
Sau rupye mahine ki dar se
Agar do ghanta roz bhi shanti mil sake
To mehngi nahin!
Courtesy Poetry International
For those who don’t follow Hindi, the translation is here. I liked the poem though for the way it compiles the simple and the profound. Who hasn’t heard those damn loudspeakers blaring away? Who hasn’t wished for a little peace? At that moment, and at every other moment. Saaf hawa aur saaf pani se bhi jyada shanti ki killat rahegi. In that one line, he captures everything!