For various reasons, Hindi has primarily been a language of literature and journalism and very little has been written in it on social or natural sciences. If highly respected scholars like Vasudev Sharan Agrawal, Rahul Sankrityayan and Moti Chandra, and top-notch social scientists such as Shyama Charan Dube and P. C. Joshi wrote on history, archaeology, sociology and economics in Hindi, it was an exception that proved the rule. People from the Hindi region have to remain content with translations of books in English and other languages. In most cases, the translated books are difficult to understand for two reasons. Firstly, Hindi is yet to achieve standardisation of terms and different translators employ different Hindi equivalents for the same concept. Secondly, most of these translations are done by professionals who make their living by translating books. This precludes any possibility of specialisation. Therefore, in many cases, people who do not have much familiarity with the subject end up delivering translations that are difficult to understand. In any case, even very good translations can never be a substitute for original writing.
Against this background, a joint initiative of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Vani Prakashan has come as a very pleasant surprise as they have started Hindi’s first peer-reviewed journal “Pratiman: Samay Samaj Sanskriti” (Paradigm: Time Society Culture)) with the declared objective of “combining original thinking in Hindi with systematic research methodology and practices”. It is a half-yearly journal and its third issue came out earlier this month. While the first two issues offer mixed fare on various subjects, the third one appropriately focuses on the world of Indian voters as its publication coincided with the Lok Sabha elections. CSDS has in any case acquired formidable expertise over the years in conducting election surveys and analysing poll results.
It is heartening to observe that the journal makes a conscious and much-needed attempt to introduce academic and intellectual rigour to the world of Hindi writing. As chief editor Abhay Kumar Dube points out in his editorial to the first issue, Hindi literary journals over the past three decades have published a large number of articles on non-literary subjects. They include both translations as well as original writings. However, while they offer us a glimpse of the kind of serious original thinking that is taking place in the Hindi region, they also make us aware that the writers are not well versed in the established practices of academic research. In a different context, eminent historian Romila Thapar recently said something quite similar to me in the course of a long interview: “There is a division between historians who are professionally trained and are familiar with the methods of historical analysis, and amateurs who read six books and write a seventh.” As the journal is striving to achieve academic excellence and intellectual rigour, it should do nothing to exacerbate the terminological anarchy that has been prevailing in Hindi in the absence of standardisation. In fact, it should make every effort to get Hindi rid of this problem. However, one was shocked to see ‘populism’ rendered as ‘janvad’ in an article by Aditya Nigam. As is common knowledge, ‘janvad’ is used by Marxists of all hues to denote ‘democracy’ and the term has been in use for six or seven decades. The Hindi terms employed for ‘populism’ are ‘loklubhavanvad’ or ‘lokpriyatavad’. Now, suddenly, ‘janvad’ is being used as the Hindi equivalent of ‘populism’ in the mistaken belief that ‘lok’ is a one-dimensional word that refers to only ‘folk’, while the reality is that it means ‘world’ or ‘realm’ as well as ‘people’. If one were to accept Nigam’s logic, Lok Sahba should also change its name because it its present form, according to him, it would mean an assembly of the folk. The real issue is: Can the history of a word and its usage be changed in one stroke of pen, howsoever mighty that pen may be? That too in the name of academic rigour? The journal is also heavily tilted towards the well-known ideological preferences of CSDS, an unduly great emphasis on ‘Indianness’ being one of them.