Island News

The great Fiji Hindi debate!

Written By : RAJENDRA PRASAD in Auckland. Recently, eminent educationist, author and poet, Jogindar Singh Kanwal of Ba gave his well-considered expose on Fiji Hindi. We are fortunate to have
01 Jan 2011 12:00

image Written By : RAJENDRA PRASAD in Auckland. Recently, eminent educationist, author and poet, Jogindar Singh Kanwal of Ba gave his well-considered expose on Fiji Hindi.
We are fortunate to have the good fortune of sharing the wisdom, knowledge and experience of a person of such repute and to make an informed decision on this sensitive issue.
Indeed, Fiji Hindi is strongly rooted within Indo-Fijians and it is a robust language spoken across the world wherever Indo-Fijians live.
They relish their language and they speak Fiji Hindi gleefully among themselves, particularly those who now live abroad because it evokes nostalgic memories and longing for the land of their birth.
Arguably, there is charm and a certain degree of sauciness in Fiji Hindi, though it lacks dignity that is so obvious in the Hindi language.
Some may even label it as crude but to our community it is a treasure that has given identity and dignity to our distinct Indo-Fijian culture.
Indeed, Fiji Hindi is embedded in our culture and is its official voice. What others say, how they perceive and react has really not bothered us because Fiji Hindi is a creation of our forebears that germinated in the turbulence of history, nurtured in poverty and today resonates as the badge of our identity.
Over the years, Fiji Hindi has firmed and consolidated, giving a new dimension and meaning to our strong and vibrant Indo-Fijian culture.
It is spoken in most metropolitan cities of the world. Indo-Fijians and even children born outside Fiji speak Fiji Hindi fluently because it is the medium of communication within the nuclear family.
Historically, Fiji Hindi evolved in an environment that was both traumatic and chaotic.
It was the hostile environment of Girmit where people from different parts of India, speaking different dialects and with different customs and traditions were herded together for a common purpose.
For their masters, the British and the CSR Company, the Girmitiyas were nothing but units of labour that had to be exploited in the sugarcane fields of Fiji.
It increased the profits of the CSR Company and maintained the economic viability of the colony. In this concept, the Girmitiyas were treated like the draught animals of the CSR Company and as serfs to the colonial Government.
The atrocious conditions brought pressure on them to seek a middle ground to communicate with each other.
In Fiji, the victims of pain and suffering united, as they leaned on each other for comfort, care and support.
The only jewel in their possession was their culture and language of communication and when they could not understand each others dialect, they began sharing it.
Those who spoke Bhojpuri and Awadhi dialects comprised the majority and these dialects underwent a process of fusion, giving birth to Fiji Hindi.
Essentially, it became a kaam chalaao language through use and abuse but found refinement, as Hindi began to be taught in schools.
In essence, it was substantially modified subsequently, as people began reading religious texts and Hindi books, written in the Hindi language.
Gradually, Fiji Hindi was enriched and refined and its stature elevated.
However, it is not structured and will crumble when scrutinized for grammar and syntax.
Interestingly, during the indenture period and upto the 1960s. people who originated from South India spoke their own dialects, namely Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam.
It was even taught in schools established under the Sangam umbrella but the power of Hindi films, songs and dominance of North Indian dialects in Fiji gradually saw these dialects dissipate, as Fiji Hindi comprised of Bhojpuri, Awadhi and original Hindi consolidated.
Again, the influence of Hindi movies churned out by Bollywood added to further refinement of Fiji Hindi, as people learned the language, as spoken in the movies.
Historically, Fiji Hindi has considerably refined but is inextricably linked to the Hindi language.
It cannot and must not be separated because Fiji Hindi is like a stream that will eventually end up in the river of the Hindi language.
It will be a natural consequence, as it grew out of it. But Fiji Hindi, within the foreseeable future, will retain its distinctiveness and remain part of our community.
It is the preferred family language even for those who live outside Fiji where English is the dominant language.I agree that Fiji Hindi cannot and should not be taught in schools, as it also lacks the basics to capture emotions effectively.A simple exercise will convince most people who adhere to the precepts of reason and not emotions. I have tried to translate the following passage, picked from my book, Tears in Paradise, in Fiji Hindi and it is impossible to capture the emotions as effectively as it is captured in English.
“I have constantly been drawn into this sorrow and to this solitude.
I have grieved in the stillness of the night and in the distant peal of thunder, I have heard the muffled cries of our ancestors, imploring us, their descendants, to ensure that their pain and suffering during the indenture period in Fiji was not lost in the mist of time and that those who destroyed their lives were made to realise and to accept their iniquities and express their remorse”.
However, this passage can be most effectively translated in the Hindi language, echoing the heart-touching emotions.
Also, eulogies delivered at funerals are always delivered in proper Hindi and never in Fiji Hindi because Fiji Hindi lacks the essential texture to capture the dignity or solemnity of the occasion. Indeed, no one would have the courage to use Fiji Hindi on such occasions for fear of being reviled or ridiculed. Even on religious occasions or marriages the Pundits use proper Hindi and Fiji Hindi is never used and cannot be used because it is extremely shallow on impact.
Indeed, any Pundit using Fiji Hindi in conducting poojas is more likely to lose his punditry and would generally be regarded as shallow, illiterate and become an object of ridicule.
Politicians too use proper Hindi when addressing public gatherings and any politician addressing such gatherings in Fiji Hindi would be assured to spend time outside and not inside the Parliament!
Further, few writers have tried to write in Fiji Hindi and the most notable work has been done by Professor Subramani who wrote ‘Dauka Puraan’. It is an outstanding attempt by a person whose proficiency in both Hindi and English is respected.
However, most people found Dauka Puraan a difficult read and it did not ignite a desire in Indo-Fijians to take Fiji Hindi to the next level.
Other attempts by various writers, outside our community, have also failed to see Fiji Hindi established as a written language.
I strongly share the views of Mr JS Kanwal and would like to see Fiji Hindi retain its place, as a ‘conversational language’ within our community. It is our heritage and a legacy to be left for successive generations.
It is a beautiful language that is Fiji made and has served our community through every season and situation.
We have an emotional attachment to it but this is not a reason for it to be de-linked from its origins. Hindi language will remain its solid anchor.
However, it cannot be ignored that Fiji Hindi is caught in the tempest of Bollywood and it will continue to refine it gradually, but surely.
Fiji Hindi is even spoken by our Fijian brothers and sisters and it is a pleasure to hear them speak because they add a distinct flavor to it!
Indeed, Fiji Hindi will not dissipate or diminish because it is firmly rooted in the fertile roots of our community.
It is a treasure that needs to be promoted among the future generations so that we can retain our cultural distinctiveness.
It is a historical treasure that must not be squandered and it must not be pushed to a level that it crumbles.

l Rajendra Prasad is the author of the book, Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004.

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