ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cultural Translations

Bengal in the Making of Modern Hindi

The presence of migrating pravasi Bengalis in the early Nagari-Hindi agitations of the second half of the 19th century has long been noted. But the probable effects of this involvement have not been given adequate attention. Thus, there appears to be an easy parallel between the sanskritisation of modern Bangla and that of modern Hindi. This article is an attempt to explore the ways in which these apparently similar processes might also be dissimilar in signifi cant respects. Further, it seeks to push certain hints that the two processes might also be interdependent. It argues, finally, that this similarity masks a complex and deeply consequential process of cultural "translation".

This was presented in a national seminar on “Development of Language Education” held in Serampore College, West Bengal, on 24-25 November 2006 as part of the Post- Centenary Golden Jubilee Celebration of the University of Kolkata. Any praise – and blame – that accrues to its being presented here in print must be shared with Arup Sen of Serampore College who prodded it into existence.

The story of the making of the modern languages of India is likely to show the same kind of internal variation that is present in other aspects of our Indian life. Of course, there are some common features – thus, though there are far too many languages for any single generalisation to hold across the field, it appears likely that a certain measure of sanskritisation is a feature of the modernising process in many Indian languages. This is, at one level, part of the process of nationalist awakening, and the understandable cleaving to cultural symbols that have their being beyond the reach of colonial calumny, and may be traced to a past un-besmirched by the taint of history.

However, this common feature itself conceals a range of very different histories. Thus, the sanskritisation of Tamil, for instance, inevitably gets tied up with the upsurge of the depressed classes and the cultural struggle against the Tamil brahmin elite. In a later time, no doubt, this domain gets affected also by the pressures of north-south politics. Thus, Sanskrit, with its proud claim of being the language of the Aryans, runs up against the Dravidian resentment against precisely that ancient cultural encounter.

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