Typing Out on the Keyboard: A Colonial Spectre or Failure of the Indian Nation-State

Vinod Kumar

vinod kumarI was writing something down, jotting down my thoughts about a certain incident, or perhaps, it was merely a random idea; it was a feeling I wanted to note down soon after having my breakfast. In the middle of recording my thoughts in English, I felt the urgent need to write a few sentences in Hindi. Actually, it was not an urgent need but an innate desire; the thought had occurred to me in my mother tongue, and I wanted to put it down in Hindi. But I could not do it because it involved taking an extra technological mile to switch to a Hindi keyboard on the pages in mac.

Google advised me to activate Qwerty to use a Hindi keyboard on the pages; but my past experience with the software discouraged me from taking the recourse; often it was too much of a trouble trying different letter combinations in English to insert a Hindi word correctly. I also thought of switching to the word document but remembered that I had to go through more or less a similar hassle there. All of this happened to me in less than a minute, and I was on the verge of losing the emotion I wanted to record. Without wasting more time, I took out a notebook and a pen and recorded my thought in all its nakedness on a piece of paper in the Devanagri script. I felt relieved, but I also felt angry and frustrated. And upon digging deeper into my mental state, I realised that the frustration and the anger were with the incessant colonial spectredom and the failure of the Indian nation-state to exorcise it.

Whose failure is it? The State? Me? Or something outside both of us that I do not fathom. Surely, I am not so stupid that I do not/cannot understand or join the dots here. All this technology, a western invention and imposition in some ways is designed and developed for a targeted audience. The west makes it, the language of software, the hardware parts, the logic and the equation in which they work and develop, all of it is designed and work in English. They have developed this system in their own language and exported it to the rest of the world, and it unbeknowest perhaps creates a cultural conflict in former colonies. The source countries of the technology, as well as the Indian nation-state, introduces these technologies to us in the name of introducing development. Development seems to be the new buzz word which has replaced the old term of civilisation. So, in the name of development, what is my country and other countries doing?

They are churning me, forcing me, lynching me emotionally and psychologically into a system that is not my own, into a culture which is not my own; and all of this tears me apart, distances me from my own cultural roots, my own language (pardon my hyperbole if that is how it seems to you). And if I begin to think about it, question it, I am silenced by the rhetoric of modernity and globalisation. I do not realise it, but I am so deep into this scat that I cannot see any way out of it until I am prepared to renounce the world and settle down in a society that still lives by older means. I wonder if there is any such society in the world today. Ironically, I do not even know if I will be able to survive in such a society anymore, used to as I am to this modern world. This technological barrage, therefore, is a constant struggle, a fight or petty inconvenience perhaps, but one with serious harmful effects: all I wanted to do was to write a few sentences in Hindi and be able to do it as easily as I can express myself in English, but the difficulty of it all, howsoever small it may be, frustrated me and I wrote down those sentences separately in a notebook.

Why can’t the state, school and colleges develop a system which is primarily in one’s mother tongue, for instance in Tamil for Tamil speaking populations and in Hindi for those whose mother tongue is Hindi, so that people like me can still feel connected with their own culture/language? Why was I not made familiar with Hindi typeboard and software at school. My teachers and the school curricula should have laid as much emphasis on teaching me expressing myself in Hindi, making me develop my skills on a Hindi keyboard, as much as they did it for English. This practise and lesson would have made my life easy today; I would not have faced this incompetence and frustration. I feel envious of Chinese, Japanese and other Southeast Asian countries who can use their gadgets and the technology in their own language and do not depend on the language of the third world countries (third not in the political and the economic sense that the west uses for my world but in the sense of the ‘other’ wherein the west is a third world for a southasian me).

Please do not misunderstand or misread me. I am not and have never been against learning English. It is a gift and opens doors to a larger world, just as many other European languages, just as learning any language, for example another Asian language, will do. Learn it by all means; encourage people to learn it too. However, it does not and should not hamper my growth and learning into my own language. It should not stifle my engagement and connection with my own culture, my emotional and psychological bond with my immediate surroundings.

What I am saying may not echo with a lot of younger generation in the urban milieu because they must have grown up speaking English even in their household. Hey, but wait! Who am I kidding? Even in Delhi a large number of people who speak English all the time, have Hindi as their first language. So, it is grossly unfair that schools and colleges should not make it easy for people like me to embrace my own language and culture just as they make it smooth to cuddle English and other foreign languages.



Vinod Kumar, graduated in English Literature from Zakir Husain Delhi College; and completed an MA in English from the University of Delhi and another one in Comparative History from Central European University. Currently, he is a second year Ph.D. student in English at Ashoka University.