In cyberspace today, English is the undisputed central point of reference. And the importance of most issues, terminologies and isms must be judged vis-à-vis their relevance to the English-speaking Western hemisphere. As a result, when you begin to move to languages other than English, you feel you are moving closer and closer to the end of the known world and teetering on the brink of some dark and dangerous space. The initial entry into the Hindi blogosphere will certainly overpower and stun first-time surfers with its sheer size and cacophonous ethnocentricity. But once you’ve entered this tower of Babel, slowly comfortable, palpable, serviceable measures begin to emerge to help you navigate: city, village, mohalla, street, and shared memories of all sorts—from small-town cinema halls, specific brands of gutkha, to local delicacies.
The trip enlightens as it amuses. A blog will tell you not to miss the wayside billboard in Ghaziabad market if you live on the “other side” of the Yamuna river. It has Shri Dipak Chaudhary smilingly extending his best wishes to all local citizens for Diwali , Bhaidooj and Chhath. Also available on this billboard are Shri Chaudhary’s mobile number and gmail account, along with the fact that he is an ex-candidate from the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha area. Thus, you begin to see how lately Chhath, a festival celebrated only in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar, has made it to the good wishes’ list for wannabe politicians of all parties. The migrants from these areas who people the Hindi blogs have also created vast “bhaiya” vote banks, from New Delhi to Mumbai. Parties that defied their clout (such as poor Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in Mumbai) will be severely mauled at the hustings.
Another Purabiya Bhai’s blog displays the underdogs’ special brand of humour as it describes how, after the 1947 Partition, the hard-working, smooth-talking Punjabi migrant may have changed the face of India’s travel routes, by starting chains of wayside eateries called Guru Da or Kake Da or Sher E Punjab dhabas, and renamed the local taxi stands as Punjab Taxi stand or Nanak Taxis. But today, unfazed by threats from Thackeray in Mumbai or the United Liberation Front of Asom in the North-East, the migrant bhaiyas from eastern UP and Bihar are putting the stamp of their culture on metropolitan India. Delhi now has Patna Taxi Service, Patna Hair Cutting Salon and Vaishali in nearby Ghaziabad will soon have its first Purabia style fast food joint, appropriately named Bhoj Bhat. It will be serving regional delicacies such as the celebrated Mutton Bhairiety (sic) from north Bihar, served with real bhooja (roasted flattened rice) freshly imported from Champaran.
Another blog (http://naisoch.blogspot.com) writes about Nasir Bhai, a humble power loom factory worker from Malegaon, who in 1999 created a local hit film, Malegaon Ke Sholay (a spoof on the 1980s mega-budget hit, Sholay, by Ramesh Sippy). Nasir Bhai has now shot a film entirely with a hand-held Panasonic camera, using a bicycle, a bullock cart and a pushcart to create amazing special effects. His hero is not a Bollywood brat, but a fellow power loom worker—thin, dark and supple of body—who happily submitted to the gruelling regimen that shows him flying over slums and dropping down on the heads of the baddies, to thunderous applause from the stalls.
Matuk Nath, a Patna professor who made headlines when he was thrashed before TV cameras by his wife for eloping with his young student Julie, also has his own blog, http://matukjuli.blogspot.com, which dispenses sage advice from the “love Guru” and his companion to other young and similarly persecuted lovers all over the Hindi belt.
And no, English is not uniformly reviled here. But for a Hindi blog, we would have missed a seminal event that marked an increasing veneration for the English language among India’s Dalits. From one recent post by Raveesh Kumar on http://naisadak.blogspot.com, one learnt that on 25 October, on Lord Macaulay’s birthday, Dalit thinker Chandra Bhan Prasad and historian Gail Omvedt lit candles on a cake in the presence of many Dalit entrepreneurs to celebrate the birth of a new Dalit goddess, English Devi. They also paid homage to Lord Macaulay for having introduced in India the English medium school system during the Raj years. The idol in the three accompanying photographs on the blog wears a hat and a long dress, and like the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati, holds a pen in one hand and a book in another. She stands, you’ve guessed it, on a computer.
Mrinal Pande likes to take readers behind the reported news in her fortnightly column. She is a writer and freelance journalist in New Delhi. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org