Where ‘Hindi’ Turned Commercial and Cultural Connect For Kovaiites

Hindi is used all over our country. Bollywood (Mumbai), in Maharashtra produces Hindi movies. A large number of people know Hindi. Coimbatore has its own Hindi Prachar entity. It is located near the Devanga High School and the teacher had protected the library from being burnt down during the anti Hindi agitation. Gandhiji had wanted an Indian language to be used by everyone domiciled in our country. English was the language of the oppressors those days. This led to the founding of the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. Several men and women learnt Hindi in order to teach or to work in other parts of our country.
The Devanga Merchants of Coimbatore had understood the need to learn Hindi. Therefore they set up night schools and taught Hindi to the members of the weaving community. These successful weavers were also textile merchants. They travelled up country and used their Hindi for business communication. Learning Hindi made them do very well. The movie Azad starring Meenakumari and Dilip Kumar was perhaps the only Hindi movie produced in Coimbatore. It was produced by S.M.Sriramulu Naidu at Pakshiraja Studios and was a big hit. This was the Tamil version of the block buster Malai Kallan, a movie which had made M.G.Ramachandran the Superstar of Tamil cinema.
Several stars stayed in Pakshiraja Studios and they were given nice food and hospitality. Seniors would remember that Palace Theatre (Naaz) was for Hindi movies. It had belonged to the Vincent family. A number of North Indian merchants from Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have been in Coimbatore for a long time. The Sindhis joined them later. However, people connected all these people to Hindi and many had to face the miscreants during the anti Hindi agitation. A few of the non Hindi speaking Indians from the north had to sell their properties and move away.
However all the North Indians of Coimbatore knew Hindi well. They could read, write and converse very well in Hindi. The speeches of C.Rajaji as Governor General contain details about the debates on the national language and the script. These speeches were reprinted by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan during the year 2004 in order the celebrate the ninetieth birthday of freedom fighter and Swatantra Party ideologue G.K.Sundaram of Lakshmi Mills.
It was possible to learn Hindi from the Pandits of Coimbatore. Teachers like Sivasubramaniam, Rathinam and Suseela were well known. Of course the famous T.A.Bhaskar Iyer B.O.L was popular. He had taught Hindi to several generations of Coimbatoreans. Bhaskar Iyer had met Gandhi while teaching at the Sarvajana School at Peelamedu. He knew Sanskrit, English, Hindi and Tamil.
Many of our family members including my father Govindarajulu picked up Hindi through movies and from their friends. Watching the colourful Hindi movies was a big entertainment for our family members. My mother Aravindakumari and my aunts Nirmala, Vasantha learnt Hindi from Suseela of Perur. She had been associated with Sarvodaya those days and was a noble lady. Her brother Rathinam had taught my cousin Aswath. My own brother Suresh and myself were put in “Hindi”. It was at GRG Higher Secondary School and those were CBSE days until our eighth standard. The CBSE Board was very enriched and convenient to learn too. I remember the NCERT text books and they had been made very well. Later the school became ‘Matriculation’. Hindi was from class two and Tamil or Sanskrit was the third language from class four. I learnt Tamil as the third language. This was only until our CBSE days.
Our first Hindi teacher at school was Bhanumathi and she used to tell us about the Indo Pak conflict of the seventies of the last century while teaching us. Later it was Subbulakshmi Miss, Bhaskar Iyer and Mohanambal who taught Hindi to us. However Bhaskar Iyer topped the list. He would correct all our papers and then grant us marks. My paper used to be crimson in colour. If we wanted a few more marks in order reach a higher rank in class, it was him that we went to. He would grant us marks but tell us that he had just ‘corrected us’. It was from him that we came to learn about Dadeechi, Nachiketa etc., Munshi Premchand, Aurobindo, Gandhi, Nehru etc., came into our lives that way. The couplets of Kabir, Soordas etc., came to us through the Hindi books. We understood that it was possible to be wise irrespective of the language used by us. My interest in history and Indian mythology was thanks to Bhaskar Iyer. My classmates Sureshkumar, N.K.Vijay, Sumeet Roy etc., scored well because of their knowledge of Hindi. We wanted to become like them. Hindi news helped the students a bit and of course, the movies were of great help.
We picked up Hindi from the several Northerners who came to Coimbatore on transfer. Many of those youngsters were in our school. Hindi songs were sung in our school prayer. Many of my classmates used to recite the poems of Ayodhya Singh Upadhyay and others well. Hindi was taught very well in the Kendriya Vidyalaya. My tuition master Mahesh, a South Indian belonging to Kerala was from Kendriya Vidyalaya. The other teacher for my brother Suresh and myself was Indira Biswas was a Bengali.
The Hindi books were small and simple. The Tamil students used to be jealous of us. They had to cram much more. The Hindi non detail was interesting. The prose had stories by the famous writer Munshi Premchand. Sir Mohammed Iqbal was in our text books. Nehru’s essay on his growing up was a very nice piece.
The ones who knew Hindi had an advantage for they got better jobs and business. It was always possible to learn Tamil and our rights to learn this classical language was ever present. A huge number of Hindi Pandits were living in Coimbatore. They taught well and the Hindi teachers understood the real meaning of cultural diversity. They helped us appreciate the ‘Unity in Diversity’ as expressed by C.Rajaji, the great Statesman. The teachers told us that Gandhi was a Mahatma and that they had learnt Hindi as per his advice. Several of the freedom fighters knew Hindi. Many of them had spent time in jail along with the freedom fighters from the rest of the country. One freedom fighter L.S.Krishnamurthy was an interpreter for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his daughter Priyadarshini was named after the Prime Minister. She had been born during that era. The child had been named so by the Prime Minister Indira herself. Vedhambal Krishnamurthy was an eminent Hindi Pandit herself. Vedhambal used to teach Hindi in Ramnagar. A number of kids from Kattoor were particular to learn Hindi. They were the kids of mill workers. It was a time when people wanted to learn Hindi and English in order to progress in life.
Priyadarshini Krishnamurthy learnt Hindi under her parents and the atmosphere had helped her. She wrote many Hindi exams. The levels were Pratmik, Madhyama, Rashtrabasha, Praveshika, Visharadh (two parts), Praveen (two parts).
It would take about five years to do all these exams and it offered proficiency to the learner. The people who learnt Hindi loved all the other languages too. They were good in Tamil. A number of North Indians learnt Tamil very well. They speak and read Tamil very fluently. All of them loved the Tamil language and they continued to enjoy Tamil cinema and music. Their approach was extremely harmonious.
The schools founded by the North Indian community taught Tamil and Hindi to the students. Kikani School, Sri Nehru Vidyalaya are the prominent institutions. Hindi words would be found with their meaning in the banks and some Central Government offices. It was a pleasure to learn new things everyday. Several North Indian Government officials learnt Tamil. They used to look out to Bombay Anand Bhavan, Marvadi Bhojanalaya and RHR (Royal Hindu Restaurant) for phulkas and North Indian food. Of course there are a lot more these days.
Hindi was a commercial and cultural connect for people like us. It helped us to feel that we were integrated with the rest of the country – in the common parlance. This approach helped many of us across the cross section of the society to feel more Indian. Hindi was the national link language, Tamil was our culture, Sanskrit gave us knowledge of our ancient traditions and English put us into the global arena.
Hindi is found in the Devanagari script on the Lion Capital – Satya Meva Jayate.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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