The era of multilingual Indians is gone, it would seem. A fallout of this phenomenon is the marked absence of Hindi works on subjects related to the Social and Natural Sciences
In the last century, most educated men and women knew at least two, if not three, languages well enough to read and write in them with proficiency. As the country witnessed a powerful anti-colonial movement that enveloped all spheres of private as well as public life, many important intellectuals, writers and political leaders emerged from the sprawling Hindi-speaking region and wrote both in Hindi and English. Even those who were not Hindi-speaking — Mahatma Gandhi, for example — used Hindi very effectively to propagate their views.
Much before Gandhi, another Gujarati, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, had written his most important and best known work, “Satyarthprakash” in Hindi. Political leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Dev and Sampoornanand did not only write essays, articles and books in Hindi but also came to be regarded as stylists of Hindi prose. Highly regarded scholars like Vasudev Sharan Agrawal, Rahul Sankrityayan, Bhagwat Sharan Upadhyay and Moti Chandra wrote important books on the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, ancient Indian history, archaeology, art and architecture in Hindi. All of them wrote with equal felicity in English too. While Rahul was a polyglot, he took a conscious decision to write only in Hindi. His book “Madhya Asia Ka Itihas” (History of Central Asia) fetched him the coveted Sahitya Akademi Award. There were many others who penned original works on subjects of social sciences in Hindi.
Sadly, it is no longer so. The era of bilingualism seems to be over. During the British rule, even those who could not attend the elite public schools or convents learnt good enough English in government schools and acquired command by virtue of hard work and sharp intellect. However, in the post-1947 period, Hindi enthusiasts ensured that English was systematically sidelined. Socialists, especially those who followed Ram Manohar Lohia, launched the “Angrezi Hatao” (Remove English) agitation in the mid-1960s and English was removed from the list of compulsory subjects at the High School and Intermediate levels in Uttar Pradesh. Consequently, generations of students came out of these schools without much grounding in English. However, at the university level, English remained the language of academic discourse and students from elite public schools and convents naturally fared much better there. They were the exact counterfoil of the Hindi-medium students and lacked proficiency in Hindi. This did not harm them in any way, because knowledge of Hindi was not really required as all the books were in any case in the English language.
Gradually but steadily, Hindi has become the language of journalism and literature with hardly any original work on social sciences being written in it. Sociologists like P.C. Joshi and the late S.C. Dube did write a few things in Hindi but this exception only proved the rule. A few committed publishers such as Granthshilpi have made concerted efforts to offer good translations of internationally acclaimed works in history, education, economics, sociology, political science, philosophy and other social science disciplines, but the situation remains rather grim. Hindi so far lacks a standardised terminology and many Hindi equivalents are in use for a single English word. Translating concepts would require the translator to have an excellent grasp of the subject and such translators are not easy to come by. In the absence of original Hindi works, these translations have certainly met an acutely felt need, but they are not easy to follow. It is a pity that social scientists who hail from the Hindi region do not write books in their mother tongue. Similarly, hardly any book is written in Hindi on subjects of natural sciences. Therefore, it is not surprising that most non-commercial Hindi magazines are primarily devoted to literature and seldom carry anything related to social sciences.
Moreover, even in the field of literary criticism, not much original thinking is in sight. Critics of all hues have been content with importing Marixism, New Criticism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Semiology, Post-Modernism and Post-Colonialism lock-stock-and-barrel. In view of this, it is not surprising that barring a few exceptions like Akaar, a literary journal published from Kanpur, Hindi magazines too have more or less given a wide berth to issues related to social or natural sciences.