No One Talks Like That

In an old post on Sulekha, Abbas Tyrewala (the director of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) mulls over the frustrations of a contemporary scriptwriter who tries to make dialogues written in Hindi work (i.e. sound genuine). The subtitle of his article reads:

“In which a frustrated scriptwriter attempts to explore and expose the myth of Hindi as a spoken language, in a pathetic display of the defensive instinct towards his stilted film scripts.”

Tyrewala argues that dialogues in shuddh Hindi hardly sound like ‘people talking’. They appear rather stilted and false. (Remember when Dharmendra got on Om Prakash’s nerves by his insistence on using shuddh Hindi in Chupke Chupke?) The logical and empirical conclusion, according to the talented writer-director-lyricist, is that “no one talks like that” in real life.

His assertion, that except for a small quanta of our society (Allahabad?) very few people actually use shuddh Hindi in day-to-day conversations, is kind of obvious, or at least hard to refute. (I don’t claim to have sufficient knowledge on this subject though. According to 2001 Census of India 422,048,642 people claimed Hindi as their mother tongue, but we don’t know how many of them use dialects as opposed to shuddh Hindi.) But I found his comments about the synthetic and scientific nature of Hindi particularly interesting:

Hindi is a language of twentieth century scholastic expression that enjoyed a promotional thrust in the post-independence era — a synthetic language has never been adopted by a people. At least not for significant length of time.

As a result, it has no traces of the idiom, the colour, the richness that stems from a familiar misuse and abuse of words and phrases. It lacks the poignant clusters of words, which in their literal relation to each other mean absolutely nothing, or perhaps something quite in contrast to their understood implications, which may be profound or incisive or just plain silly. These elements are rendered almost impossible by the very scientific nature of the language — it is so fixed and harsh in its pronunciation that there is no question of play, pun and misinterpretation. A certain syllable is that syllable only: unflinching in its dull fixedness, invulnerable to the seductions of creative interpretation.

A lot of this probably applies to Sanskrit – which, even in the Vedic age, was almost solely used in academic discourse and poetic reveries. Prakrit was the language that was commonly spoken – it was also referred to as the “kitchen language”. The etymology of “Sanskrit” {perfected, artificial} is based upon an implicit comparison with “Prakrit” {primordial, natural}, the language actually spoken. (Source: W Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternate History) And since Hindi derives much of its form and vocabulary from Sanskrit, some of this rigidity seem to have organically flown into Hindi as well. Hindi, in its pure form, does seem to be afraid of borrowing words from other languages (Urdu, Persian, Tamil, English etc.) and hence lacks the organic rawness and casualness that comes from such natural confluence.

Tyrewala’s frustrations as a scriptwriter-who-writes-in-Hindi-but-thinks-in-English might have more to do with his own knowledge of Hindi language (or lack thereof) and his personal preferences or biases, but his remarks about the rigidity of languages are spot on, and applicable to any language that takes itself too seriously.

Related Posts: A Barren Grammatical Exercise, Like an Ever-flowing River

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P. S. Abbas Tyrewala seems to have found a good balancing solution by writing his first movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na mostly in Hinglish. That is how most people in Indian metros talk. Interestingly, he didn’t just insert English words into Hindi dialogues, but also translated English idioms into Hindi — for example: “Aur uske muh mein thi chandi ki chamchi.” (Born with a silver spoon in his mouth.) Nice!

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2 responses to “No One Talks Like That

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