Slipping into Hindi

For sometime now, I find myself unconsciously slipping into using more and more Hindi at work.  Economists, corporate India and even interactions within the development policy domain are mostly, if not solely, in English, so why would I be using Hindi?  It is not that I am more comfortable in Hindi.  Being one of the products of Mr Macaulay’s wildly successful strategy, I am unable to express my deepest work related thoughts in Hindi.

Yes my mother tongue is still Hindi, and when extremely stressed or excited I do catch myself thinking more in Hindi than English.  But the language of work and profession is primarily English.  Many people in India like to use English to differentiate themselves from the masses.  I don’t really need to do that, for I was too different from the masses right from the time I was born – English is in many ways my first language not because I think Hindi is inferior, but simply because my exposure has been much more in English than Hindi.

Despite all of this, why am I slipping more and more into Hindi these days?  Not because I am a Hindi-Hindu-Hindustani variety nationalist. Not because I know Hindi better.  Not because I have any guilt (not my fault if my environment was English).

The answer I find, is related to productivity!  I find that whether it is people with less or more experience, my colleagues or clients, Indian or foreign educated, working with multinational or with Indian firms, slipping a sentence or two in Hindi helps more than a conversation conducted purely in English.  In my case this has not occurred by any conscious design on my part. It is simply happening of its own.  Perhaps the subconscious has made this connect and decides on the basis of some unknown algorithm that the next thought should be shared in English or Hindi.

Obviously, being in North India, for me it is Hindi, but I suspect others across India would also be having this experience of achieving a little bit (or a whole lot) more by using at least a little but of the vernacular in their professional communications.  Let me try and guess (and these are simply guesses) what the benefits of a little bit of vernacular may be in professional communications.

All communications are more effective when backed by some emotion, and our mother tongue is the domain of emotions.  So when I am trying to explain the nuance of a particular methodology to the client, I sometimes find that eyes open a little bid wider, the torso leans a little bit more, and the famous left-right Indian nod that much smoother when I use that one sentence in Hindi.  As if the client is saying ever so imperceptibly – go ahead, I get you.

It could also be simply another facet of differentiation; Yes English is the new Sanskrit of Indian elites, it differentiates us from the masses.  But when someone who does not really need to differentiate himself, effortlessly slips into the language of the masses, he is seen to be saying something different and perhaps important.  Note that if a fresh salesperson uses only the vernacular he would not be as effective as if he used English.

Many entrepreneurs and managers will tell you this strange Indian(?) trait.  You explain something to a junior colleague, and he will nod vigorously with multiple yes sirs thrown in.  But he will walk out and do exactly what he was instructed not to. Why?  Could it be that though many Indians understand English words, they simply do not get what the full combination of these words means?  Of late I find myself repeating the same thought in both English and Hindi and I have definitely gotten better at communicating with my colleagues.

I am not sure whether any of this has any practical policy implications; I am not sure if English will ever go away, or whether like Persian it will be subsumed into some new Indian language; or whether like Brahmi/Sanskrit it would eventually drown out and replace all our languages.

But I do find that I am connecting better  with the people around me and achieving greater productivity when I use a little bit more of Hindi.  But this is simply an individuals experience.  There could of course be many other reasons and experiences and I would love to hear from others.

[I am grateful to Pawan Gupta of SIDH for sharing another entrepreneurs experience on the same issue, which catalyzed these thoughts.]


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