Aquiet no-nonsense revolution took place in Delhi last week that, perhaps, more than any Sahitya Akademi-type shindig promoting the Hindi language, announced a new level of self-confidence. The Delhi High Court, for the first time, allowed a lawyer to argue his case in Hindi. The use of English, not only in courts, but also in official business, has always been explained as a practical way of communicating in a country that has people speaking in many vernacular languages but with English being the common one. This, to a large extent, still holds. If a roomful of Hindi-speakers are congregated in a High Court, the practice of being forced to ‘lapse’ into English is a bit curious. For the outsider looking in, it can be downright bizarre.
But there’s more to speaking in English than just being practical about communication: English holds a certain notion of officialese — and with it notions of class superiority — than vernacular languages. Thus the cretinous patois of ‘I beg to seek...’, ‘your humble servant’, and other terminologies survived the pankah-pulling babu-era. Things have changed considerably since, well, the last decade. Upper-middle class shi-shi crowds, too, find speaking in Hindi ‘cool’. Indians have got much less self-conscious about hitching their status — and the importance of their functioning — with the English language.
Don’t get us wrong. English is still very much the connector of urban Indians from various linguistic locations. But if everyone in the proverbial room chooses to speak in Hindi — or, for that matter, any other non-English language understood by everyone in the proceedings — it’s about time they did. It’ll probably even make us aware that there are very fine court logicians out there who can give the ‘Your Honour’ lot a run for their argumentative money.