My elder son wrote his 10th Board exams last month. While most of his friends had chosen Sanskrit as the “second” language, we prevailed upon Ved to take Hindi. The reason being we could help him with Hindi and not Sanskrit. I took it upon myself to teach him Hindi. After-all, I am the son of a Hindi professor. My grounding in Hindi has been good, I topped my class in Hindi in both 10th and 12th.
Ved’s syllabus had Kabir, Meera, Pant, Mahadevi Verma etc which I think we covered with relative ease. There were some interesting interludes though. When studying Meera and her devotion to Krishna. She says that she would do whatever to get Krishna residing close to her. Said Ved to me, rather seriously, “Dad, if I were Krishna I would never ever even look at Meera. She is crazy!!” Aah, what a difference a word makes! Would not the Hindi baawari be better than crazy?
In of the chapters there was a reference to Krishna coming to Draupadi’s rescue during her “cheer-haran”. And Ved wanted to know who Draupadi was. And he freaked when he got to hear that she was married to five brothers, all at once!
See the erosion in knowledge over three generations? My father is fluent in Sanskrit, and here I was convincing my son to take Hindi for his boards as I was not confident of helping him with Sanskrit. The next-gen extends this to absence of knowledge about a commonly known detail from the Great Epic. The kid is not to be blamed, he has just not been exposed to this story. And my wife and I are the “culprits”, so to speak.
Don’t you think something getting lost here?
Not that I have not been trying. It is an old habit of mine, listening to “Hanuman Chalisa” in the morning, on my way to work, in our car’s audio system. The family car has changed over time, the medium has changed (cassette, CD, and now thumb drive); but this little habit of listening to the “Chalisa” has not. What has also remained constant is the “teaching” I do to my kids as we drive together on their way to school. I explain to them the story of Hanuman and the meanings of the words in the “Chalisa”. Sample this: “Ramdoot, atulit bal dhama, Anjani-putra, pawan-sut nama”. Now you need to picture two lads- my sons- in their early teens, having lived nearly all their lives in Bengaluru figuring out what those words mean. Figure “doot”, “atulit”, “baldhama”, “Anjani” etc. They quietly imbibe the daily lesson. But that’s about it.
I fret sometimes, there is “something” being lost here, in this decline of knowledge about our cultural heritage. And I don’t know if something is being gained in the process.
Mai, my mother, God bless her, is going strong on 81 now. She can still sing in her strong voice the Bhojpuri folk songs of yore, sohar, chaiti, vivah geets etc. Creeping dementia makes her repeat some of the lines again and again. But she holds forth with great enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm is very visible when on a recent visit to her place (she and Pitaji, going on 86, stay all by themselves in Jamshedpur) I take out my laptop and begin recording her singing. Long forgotten songs from my childhood now digitally captured on my lap-top hard disk.
My wife is cheerfully though silently joining in some of the songs. She is more “humming-along” than “singing-along” as she does not know the words of many of these songs. Here is another aspect of our culture being lost. The next gen will probably have no clue about these age-old folk songs, forget about associating each song with a specific occasion.
My wife is at least aware of festivals and sundry rituals accompanying the festivals. She still does teej and rakshabandhan and lakshmi puja during Diwali and other such activities. She still covers her head with a dupatta and sits down to do Durga path during navratri. She still banishes non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays. Much to the chagrin of the children who adore non-vegetarian food at all times of the day.
As for me, I am not into pooja etc. Neither do I visit temples unless it holds a “touristy” significance. I do know the significance of the festivals but I have a “could-not-care-less” attitude. I am not a compulsive non-veg eater, but if it served to me on Tuesdays on my travel, I am perfectly fine. I do not fret if I miss Holi or Diwali due to my business travels across the globe.
Something is indeed being lost here.
Pitaji fretted when he was getting me (and prior to me, my elder brother) admitted into the school where we finally passed out from. After-all he was then a Hindi lecturer in a prestigious college. And our school was an English medium one, run by Irish-American Roman Catholic priests. Some of Pitaji’s colleagues remarked on his hypocritical approach; teaching Hindi for a living and having his own sons admitted into an English medium school. While others told him this would make the sons’ future, why should he impose his personal preferences on his children. The latter camp won. We passed out from this English medium school. This was in the 60’s and 70’s when English medium schools were not common, though highly coveted.
I am sure, Pitaji too would have wondered again and again, is something getting lost here?
My wife and I had both decided that we will speak to our children only in Hindi. No English words even. This was rather tough as they both grew up in a mixed society in Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore. Not the ideal places for Hindi speaking friends and classmates. But we persisted. Till the schools where they went to summoned us- in case of each of them- when they turned five that enough was enough and it was high time we started speaking to them in English. Or else they would fall behind in class.
With great diligence- and effort- we switched to English. Kids made slow progress with conversational but with eventually did succeed and with strong long-term effects. So much so that now, when the children are in their teens, it is normal for the family to converse only in English. Sometimes, when I insist that they talk in Hindi, the conversation is so stilted that we switch back to English.
Something surely has got lost here!
Wonder what you, dear reader, feel about this loss. In a future post I will give my version about what I think is indeed getting lost.
PS: Ved struggled with his Hindi exam preparations, he was exultant when I went to pick him up after his Hindi Boards. “No more Hindi for me, ever!” he exclaimed. I quietly assured him then, “Ved, another twenty years or so, you will long to come back to Kabir, Meera and Tulsidas. You will. And then you will thank me for the works of these poets I have in my book collection.”