Why India looks West not East

Razib asks the important question as to why India doesn’t look toward China. I can think of 3 reasons why:

(1.) The Sindhis of HK are deeply linked into the Chinese marketplace. Some of them speak excellent Cantonese/Mandarin however the Sindhis follow a generic Americanised TKC template rather than anything local. They speak to each other in English and when they do marry/interact with Chinese in personal matters most of the time it is in English. The Sindhi diaspora are an excellent barometer of where India will go. They have sufficient ties to the Motherland, open-minded (moreso than the Gujarati and Punjabi communities in the UK) and they dance between their their Karachi-esque hubs; Dubai, HK & London. Mumbai of course is their global capital post 1947.

As an aside it’s astonishing how Sindhis try to replicate Sindh/Karachi abroad and for some Dubai hits that sweet spot. I’ll expand on this in a later post.

(2.) I was looking at the facebook post of an old contact of mine. He’s related to Saif through the Bhopali line (and I think he has connections to the Hyderbadi families; the surname is sufficiently militaristic). At any rate he posted this on his profile:

Image may contain: 1 person, riding a horse, horse, text and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

The Headmaster of Doon is of Coloniser Stock. It’s difficult to move away from the West when all of your great institutions remain captive. Pakistan had an English headmaster who was lauded for not leaving so both countries are to some extent mentally colonised.

After the jump is my treat to BP reader; no prizes for guessing what point 3 is going to be all about..

(3.) The ghost of Islam and her bride Iran shadows India forever more. The High Culture of India is so shaped by this encounter with Islam over the past millennia that as much as Brahmins try to hack away at this heritage it leave a hollow space. That’s why even though Pakistan is a poor country (it’s been left behind in South Asia as Pakistanis are being left behind in Diaspora) it has maintained it’s soul like the Palestinians. I have noticed with Hindutva and Zionists is that they can’t propose an alternative High Culture unless it is fully satured in Anglospheric constructs. There are few living continuous traditions in the world; Christendom, Islam, China but India & Israel (two Great Powers) were under these dominions during the key medieval and middle ages when High Cultures were being formed.

Granted let’s take the point that Pakistanis are converted Hindu who speak without the suppleness of Hindustani or the elegance of UrduKhari Boli with a few bits of Persian words thrown in for fun. But when Aam Admi sings the Qaumi Taranah; he’s basically singing Dari with one local word thrown in.

Pakistan exerts an outsized influence in the Indian imagination despite being such a small country. This is by virtue of geography and history but also because we retain the Ghost of a High Culture by which India has been predominantly known to the World. Subtract Islam from the equation, as they’ve been trying to do, for the last 200yrs and you basically end up with Hinglish. This dialect which is hollow, completely colonised by the West and entirely demotic (without the suppleness of Hindustani or the elegance of Urdu) is a good proxy  for the results of force-fed Sanskritisation. Indian must once again look to her former colonisers in the Anglosphere to provide national coherence and a guide to go forward..

49 thoughts on “Why India looks West not East”

  1. as to why top intellectuals are not bothered by china, i think they are all tied to western university, their authority and value comes from being tied to that community the most.

    pointed this b4 already,

    Another reason is successful subversion by congress in denying hindus from having own institutions.
    These two are the operational reasons for why things stand as such.

    As to your point no3, the reason you give is overrated in my view. I do believe and so do they that the west has been very rich indeed. we dont have a Shakespeare. it isnt the past that people hanker for as much at this point in time as to the tales of the present and the future.

  2. I think all this hype about ‘suppleness of Hindustani or the elegance of of Urdu’ or High culture of Islam ‘ etc are pretentious nonsense when culture or language can’t come to grips with modern world of representative democracy or equality of sexes or political institutions or science/technology or even a proper legal framework which will enable them.
    All this cultural hype is playing for keeps and symbolic with no substantive effect.

    1. precisely and i am surprised by slapstik comment , thought he would be the one to mention this, which he says quite often

  3. I think Pakistan exerts an outsize influence in the Indian imagination (perhaps more accurately the North Indian imagination) because it is the Muslim “other” to Hindu India. We are basically the same people divided by religion (at least Pakistanis and North Indians are). The feeling remains that part of India left to go its own way. I don’t agree with this because it was British India that was divided. “India” and “Pakistan” were both created at the same time.

    Also, the fact that the Kashmir dispute remains unresolved and the countries have fought four wars plays a role. If this contentious history didn’t exist, I doubt Indians would really care that much about Pakistan.

  4. “There are few living continuous traditions in the world; Christendom, Islam, China” ????

    Christendom became Christendom by exterminating all pre-Christian influences. Where is the continuous living tradition ? Even Greek culture was accepted only 500 years back, that too only secular aspects . Religious greek culture is still off limits. So is the case with Islam where anything not in accordance with the local orthodox view is liable to be destroyed. When Zoroastrianism is reasonably tolerated, respected and accepted in Iran , one can say there is a continuous living tradition and it is not going to happen anytime soon. China has a better claim as a continuous tradition. So does India with more credibility.

      1. I see the trojan horse . Xtians,m’s,jew’s have used hellenic/roman methods for their own advantage, but these ideas are at some level incompatible with them and hence are subversive in of themselves. The problem is that jews,xtians were powerless for centuries living in polytheistic societies, adopting ideas, forms, speech,methods from them. In case of Islam, it came to power very early, it didnt need to make compromises to the same degree. I think this is the difference. If Mohammad would have met the same fate as jesus, it would have been very different.

        1. this is wrong. i’ll set aside the history of christianity and judaism.

          the period btwn 850 and 950 was one of contestation and there was an argument within islam about the extent of hellenic content. in sunni islam the anti-hellenic side one, finally with al-ghazali, but earlier with the decline of mutazilites, won.

          but greek philosophy has more influence in shia islam. that’s why the ayatollah’s of iran cite plato and aristotle. this is most extreme in ismailism which channels neoplatonism

          . In case of Islam, it came to power very early, it didnt need to make compromises to the same degree.

          greek was the administrative language of the umayyads until the early 700s.

          1. I vaguely remember having this conversation b4 and you saying the same. Yes to all you said wrt Islam and in general. I however do see more ideas of stoicism being absorbed into xtianity with ideas like logos embedded into bible (jordan peterson – jesus is logos :John) . Also, I see this also from a kind of evolution of societies argument.

            step 1)First a society keeps out enemies
            step 2) It keeps out internal violence of new cults etc
            That creates space for new belief systems addressing poverty ,slavery or peace etc. Buddism,jainism , stoicism, xtianity to some degree. Evolution of new terrain of ideas.
            Also jesus has been executed means xtians are forced to use the dialectic of jesus sacrificed himself for rhetoric else they will have to accept jesus wasnt a god.
            Same with Gandhi under british, a more subversive approach of resistance as violent options arent likely to succeed.

            I see this as a heuristic. If Mohammad or character like him lived in rome for example, I dont see him succeeding to the degree and the manner in which mohammad did in arabia. If mohammd would have been executed, the rhetoric of muslims would be more in tune with sacrifice and martyrdom which i see as somewhat tame version of monotheism.

            A correlation as to why shia are more positively disposed to greek philosophy?. Something along lines like saying that the losers in direct fight need theory for their rhetoric and greeks are useful for that. The winners in a direct fight dont need rhetoric as much, they already have a live example.

            Xtianity has to pretend jesus getting humiliated isnt real humiliation, its infact a sacrifice etc rhetoric.Sunni Islam doesnt need to do that, mohammad was successful in combat.

            In short, losers are in need of rhetoric, winners dont. And Hellenic ideas are useful for making apologia. And I am not in denial of the fact that muslims did hash out the usefulness of hellenic ideas, but why should they take to it?. And as we see , a section saw no need for them.

            Finally arguments of state-church separation etc

          2. Broadly agree with Razib’s historic points about Islam. Everyone has the freedom of art and thought to comment about Islam as they choose; and I would strongly defend this right. However it might be helpful to carefully study Islam before commenting too much about Islam.

            While Razib is not a formal Murshid; he has carefully studied Islamic doctrine and his theology (interpretation of Islamic scripture, practice and culture) is thoughtful, nuanced and legitimate.

            Bharat, how to say this very delicately. What we think we know about Mohammed pbuh may not be the truth. Altered our accounts of him and his teachings may be (Yoda speech). A case can be made for Mohammed pbuh believing very different things than the popular Islamic theological schools suggest.

            Fatimah (she died too soon to know for sure), Ali, Hassan and Hussein thought different. I have wondered if this “thinking different” aspect might have had some influence on how they viewed Hellenism. I wonder but do not know.

            I love the crazy ones:

    1. Christendom became Christendom by exterminating all pre-Christian influences.

      Any comparisons to Hinduism in India (and Buddhism in Sri Lanka).

          1. There is always a spectrum , again, the competition of monotheistic spectrum of sects are different from competition between polytheistic spectrum . If we take a heuristic of claims of being pure monotheism as being important part of rhetorical battles, then the one that shows least polytheistic influence might present themselves as such and have better chances at victory, at least in debates.

  5. It is basic mleccha aversion of historic Indian civilization at play, but it has become asymmetric due to Western civilization’s march. Back a hundred fifty years ago when the first of the Anglosphere of India that is Bengali proto-bhadralok began journeying to the Oxford and Cambridges of the world, they had to do things like ingest cow dung before reentering their homes for having been in contact with mlecchas. The sense that one loses jaat if they step beyond the Himalaya or Bharat Sagar (Indian Ocean) was strong and codified. The cow dung ingestion was in fact a makeshift innovation by the Pandits of the time because a sufficient mass of boys were starting to go West for education and they couldn’t just excommunicate a whole generation. Even then there was phobia like শাঁকচুন্নি ভুতপেত্নি বিয়ে করে আসিস না (“don’t return married to some ghost/demon”…reference to whites). But either way this is a time of tremendous swing in living standards and civilizational dominance, so our own racism and xenophobias got smashed and dragged through the mud over the last two centuries. The remainder remains intact because the Chinese or Africans were not the ones that dragged it through the mud. So now for example, we make tourism videos for West Bengal utilizing white models enjoying and being waited on in India (unimaginable to show this video with a Japanese girl)

    So yes now we operate on a Eurocentric continuum because Euros won we lost. Or at least it seems that way from point of Bengali Hindudom. Might be a different reality for less British exposed Hindu ethnic groups. But then those guys lost to Muslims, so as you said a vacuum remains over there.

    Ultimately Indian story might not be too different from Africans. Both get bashed up in the north by Muslims and later in the south by Christians lol. But I think there is some gel in Hinduism that Africans don’t have in TAR, so we look like we have a better shot.

    Finally as far as Indo Persian Muslim high culture etc goes, I think you’re really looking at a small and decreasing segment. Just like in above Euro example, power ultimately talks and wins in the long run. If Pakistan continues to flounder, the Mughal culture will find less and less takers. There is also the fact that this syncretic culture is getting bashed up now in the deHinduized lands that high culture acquired for itself by the Salafi strand. As a result the situation is reversing and a political ghar wapsi is occurring with the traditional high culture Sufi syncretic etc returning to Hindus for security. If Muslim world further Islamizes and continues path into basket case (will exponentially increase once oil runs out), expect complete ghar wapsi and the likes of Baba Fareed become idols for worship next to Ganesh and Buddha. Hindus do know how to play the long game. However, I will mention that Hindus will extract their price for this in the future because they’re not sitting open arms ready for subcontinent Muslims to “see the light”. A stigma will remain of being descended from Muslims, foreign ancestry or not.
    As an aside, this morning I was listening to Shikwa by Iqbal. Beyond the high culture, the content and emotions expressed are pretty amusing.

  6. I think North India has always been Westward looking even before rise of Islam.Its because most of times they were the ones who did bulk of the fighting. The only major “invasion” which came from the East/South was the British one.

    India’s South and East did look to the East (SE Asia and beyond) , but in most cases there were challenging a constant hegemon like China for influence which was not easy . But i would say they have done a fair job of influencing those civilization. You could very well have resulted in a Indian-ised SE asia had it not been China’s push back.

    “Indian must once again look to her former colonisers in the Anglosphere to provide national coherence and a guide to go forward.”

    its because India /Subcontinent never had a natural nation building process. While the west was experimenting with Parliament etc, our folks were fighting like as if its still medieval age. If India had gone through something similar to Japan it could have evolved its own “transition” ideas and language to modernity. So what you get is a result of useless “old” (Urdu/Hindi “high culture”)and forced “new”(western ideas) mishmash. The fallback on Urdu/”High culture”/Sanskrit etc is just our convenient way to hark back to a supposedly golden past,which never existed. Even though these thing are old and mostly useless now ,at least they are “ours”. So we take pride in it since we have not contributed anything Original in this modern age.

    I agree that India does not have any Indian/distinct way of modernity. Most literature/ideas in India are rip off from the west and packaged in a “desi” setting to showcase Indian way.

    1. . You could very well have resulted in a Indian-ised SE asia had it not been China’s push back.

      you are positing alternative history. SE Asia WAS indianized, the only exception being vietnam.

      the full islamicization of maritime SE asia over the last 500 years masks that, but balinese and some chams remain hindu.

      a lot of this is clearly gene flow too. closer to 10% than 1% in many ethnicites like malays, mons, and even cambodians. the impact of *han* china is more recent demographically.

      1. I agree thats why i said they did a good job, but at then end of the day what matters is who leaves the last impression. No one really remembers Anatolia as greek influenced , its Turkish now. Just like Pakistani Punjab is more closer to Arab world than its to Northen India.
        SE Asia not withstanding its “indian-ness” is more closer to either China or the wider muslim world.
        No one really care for Balinese or chams to be honest. They are our Xianking bros. 😛

        1. No one really care for Balinese or chams to be honest.

          Saurav, you know better.
          Hopefully, the Balinese are proud of themselves even now. For a nation, people or person it is not about what others think of you, it is what you think of yourself.

          1. Probably that didnt come out correctly . I am talking about wider “Hindu” world and the way they think about Chams or the Balinese. There is hardly any talk , people dont generally care that much in the Hindu world about them . That’s why i compared them to Ughurs muslims.
            It has nothing to with being proud/not proud.

        2. No one really remembers Anatolia as greek influenced , its Turkish now. Just like Pakistani Punjab is more closer to Arab world than its to Northen India.

          this is a stupid analogy. are you trying to be stupid? or do you just not know much?

          mainland southeast asian theravada buddhism is clearly a vector for indic influence (in a way that mahayana in china was not partly because that was mediated through central asian). hindu epics are still played in java. indic scripts are still widely used in southeast asia.

          SE Asia not withstanding its “indian-ness” is more closer to either China or the wider muslim world.

          these statements are so stupid in their simplicity that i now wonder if you are not very smart or just very ignorant, or very lazy (ie perhaps you don’t even know anything about china to understand what chinese influence entails: e.g. vietnam).

          1. Southeast Asia is often referred to as Far India in older studies. While I don’t hold on to fantastical ideas of whole world once being Arya/Hindu, I think there is a bigger case for continuity of India into Far India than for India into our older Aryan homelands we left to the mlecchas/yavanas. I think the ideas of whole world once being Arya stem from our concepts of Satyayuga when indeed one was not a mleccha beyond the realms of Bharat poonyabhoomi. Such idea has little relevance in Kaliyuga when even Bharat poonyabhoomi is not intact.

            Any thoughts on whether this may be the result of the AASI homeland having stretched from northwest subcontinent to Philippines? Sorry if the question appears stupid as you probably don’t engage in genetic determinism vis a vis macro cultures, but perhaps a plausibility?

          2. Saurav

            I don’t think there is anything particularly Uighur about the average Indian Hindu’s knowledge/familiarity about Southeast Asia. Hindus are naturally a very xenophobic people, Al Beruni noted this as well. There is a saying in Bengali that a local dog is superior to a foreign Brahmin. Clearly foreign in this context means other Indic groups as there’s no such thing as Chinese Brahmin or Persian Brahmin.

            Whatever political cohesion we have developed, is monkey see monkey do from Muslims, but at the baseline this is also why nobody really gives a crap about Kashmiri Hindus or east Bengali Hindus or west Punjabi Hindus etc. If anything a Hindu from a region that is more Hindu might be subconsciously blaming a Hindu from an ethnic group that is getting bashed up by Muslims for not being strong enough to keep their hold on said land. Even within Bengali Hindus for example, us ghotis or natives of West Bengal exhibit this superiority complex over the Bangaals for “tucking tail” and running. So we essentially Uighur everyone lol. In this Muslims have far more cohesion that a Kabir can cry for Palestine or Bosnia, an Iqbal that is three generations descended from Hindus cries about “humne” tere liye kya kuchh nahi kiya (what did “we” the Muslims not do in Your name that this tragedy had to befall us). We just don’t have it, because we never had it. And when you copy someone else, you always suck at it compared to the originals lol.

            However on the intellectual/cultural plane, I can point to say Tagore visiting said Indonesian islands and bringing back dance forms that he institutionalized back in Shantiniketan as the form of dance that goes with Rabindrasangeet. Indian fashion designers brought baatik back from Southeast Asia in the 90s. So I would say that things that jive naturally with us, we continue to do. Things that we copy, we can apply them to a max potential for not being the originals.

  7. I don’t know about any attempts to get rid of certain parts of history from one’s own cultural memory on the part of any Indian groups but it has been my general observation that most literary languages of India do not have the tendency to be subject to any politically-influenced language policy. The vocabulary (and in general, language) development in most literary languages seems to be thoroughly organic. For example, both Telugu and Kannada have absolutely no problem with any existent Persianate vocabulary (which is not that high compared to the Sanskritic vocabulary in both these languages) in them, whatever regionally-peculiar/more-universal politics the people speaking these languages tend to engage in. But it must also be noted that the above-mentioned notion of organic development includes in it a set of phenomena like a tendency to see Sanskrit (to a large extent idiomatic Sanskrit and to a limited extent, new, non-idiomatic Sanskrit) as the most sought out source for new vocabulary coinages and translations from English scientific literature, viewing Persian, etc. and English, etc. as potential sources of dilution, etc., and a tendency in the minds of most common speakers of these languages, at least for the time being, to conceptually separate the spoken registers laden with direct untranslated English words from a mental picture of a sociolinguistically purer language consisting of Dravidic+Sanskrit mixture (probably an initial stage in the development of a certain type of diglossia in the history of Telugu and Kannada). It may appear that there is an element of a central authority or something inculcating this sort of a view in the people in a top-down fashion but such a thing does not exist. At least not of any significant strength. These sorts of views and attitudes regarding the languages seem to be very organically existent in the minds of the people as a whole, and that is my point. This can be observed in the case of other languages like our good old English also, where there is the exact same tendency to put French/Latin/Greek on a different pedestal than all the other languages like Sanskrit that English encountered and borrowed some (mostly cultural) vocabulary from.

    (As an interesting aside, it may perhaps be argued that French is the last major superstrate on the English language historically and that’s why we see the illusion of English seeming to prefer Latin compared to other sources for vocabulary and that if a new hypothetical superstrate like Mandarin enters the Anglosphere, then English may switch allegiances to Mandarin and begin to accept loanwords from Mandarin just like it did from Latin. Of course I don’t know what will happen to the future of English but if my comparison of English with Telugu, Kannada and some other Indian languages has some basis in reality, then it is very likely that English does not dethrone Latin from its current beloved position in its heart, just like Telugu and Kannada were more or less immune to large-scale Persianate vocabulary influences and considering that there are also already rudiments of diglossia-like patterns set in motion as a rejective response to the next massive superstrate they have begun to encounter in English (originally British, increasingly American), after Sanskrit and Persian.)

    I believe that languages like Marathi and Gujarati at least might have had similar histories as that of Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. Bengali also has a very large-scale relationship with Sanskrit but I’m not knowledgeable if there was ever a conscious central effort at some point in the history of Bengali to de-Persianise and Sanskritise its standard registers as opposed to the situation seen in the Ka-Te case wherein it appears that there was no major reception of Persianate vocabulary on a big scale, even into the spoken language, in the first place. The case of Standard Hindi appears to be an outlier in that I happen to know that there is some non-zero tendency to replace some Persianate loanwords by Sanskritic loanwords but the response to English seems to be very similar to that of Telugu or Kannada and Engdi, Engugu, Engannada, etc. (LOL) (English vocabulary on Indian structure) are not considered as the “real deal” language by the people generally as I noted above. I personally don’t know about the situation of Punjabi. And well, Tamil (its High register) is one big boulder of an outlier in all this business with its recently active politically-driven de-Sanskritisation project but spoken Tamil is exactly like the spoken registers of all other Indian languages with respect to the phenomenon of the massive use of English vocabulary in speech.

    1. Lol no! I had deleted this because I felt that I inserted a stupid circularity in it because of my overzealousness and subsequently wanted to save face. But it is no big problem this way also, I guess; it is just that I have discovered that there are possible problems with my widely held earlier views asserting the legitimacy of the similarities between Telugu-Kannada and English and also problems with the view that each language tends to have a beloved superstrate language and that once this relationship is developed and locked, new superstrates tend to have minimal effects on the language. I have to search for languages that have more similar history as that of Telugu and Kannada and also evidence for interaction with more number of superstrates than just the Norse and French/Latin with no major encounters after French/Latin in the case of English.

    2. The rural northern dialects of kannada have absorbed quite a bit of persian vocab, but yes, it has only minimally impacted the prestige literary register. Part of it could be attributed to early colonial era dictionaries being informed by Mysore speech, and that region being the only lasting center of Kannada mediated political power.
      Another thought is that the major dravidian languages are on a different timeline than the IA languages. Classical Kannada and Telugu, though much later than Tamil, crystalized before the 1oth century, while the IA languages were still in the apabhramsa phase. So despite the sustained encounter that Telugu and Kannada had with Turco-persian political institutions post 1200AD, perhaps their literary self-awareness and formalism insulated both from deeper influence. Neighbouring Marathi absorbed much more persian, although I’ve read that during the Peshwa period it was enriched further with sanskrit, and divested not only of persian but of quite a bit of kannada and telugu as well.

      1. Great reply girmit! Your idea makes a good amount of sense to me. I heard that early Tamil was not as open to unassimilated Sanskrit borrowings (instead making it a point to translate Sanskrit ideas and concepts into pure Tamil to maintain purity in form) compared to Telugu and Kannada because it already developed a sufficient amount of politically inculcated self-consciousness on its own by the time it encountered Prakrits and Sanskrit. Is there any way to see if the English also had a similar sort of trajectory during its encounters with Norse (which did not stick around as the supplier of English high registers) and later French (which did)? Like Norse-contact-time English was even less self-aware than the later French-contact-time English which essentially gave birth to the English that we know today?

        And also, I did not touch upon the subject of the dialects of Telangana which had a deep interaction with Persian, etc. similar to north Karnataka because of the speculative belief that in a hypothetical scenario if the Modern Standard Telugu happened to draw its verb-endings, etc. from the Telangana dialects (as opposed to the central coastal dialects), then also Sanskrit would have stayed the vocab supplier since the classical Telugu heritage inherited by the region of Telangana prior to the Persianate, etc. influences was the same Sanskritic heritage (more correctly, the desi and margi distinction, their blur, etc.-based heritage) inherited by the other Telugu regions (Potana for example was a native of Telangana whose Bhagavatam C P Brown noted that most Telugu people of his (Brown’s) time were aware of and read, at least partially). Now I realise that this is the same view as systematised by you in the framework of the level and nature of self-awareness in your post above.

        And good to know about Marathi. For some reason I had always assumed that Marathi’s first and only major superstrate was Sanskrit with no major Persianate influences and I definitely did not know about the de-Persianising of Marathi. I did not thoroughly study Marathi so I’m very happy to stand corrected.

        Then it seems only Standard Telugu and Standard Kannada (Malayalam lives in its own quaint little world with foster mother Sanskrit, and quite mild influences from Arabic, Hebrew, etc.) did not undergo any massive de-Persianisation effort probably because there was not much to begin with (in the source dialects for the standard registers). That means there is probably something to the idea that a high level of Persianate vocabulary is proportional to the interest arisen in the minds of people to engage in an active de-Persianisation process.

    3. @Santosh

      Hindi has undergone serious re-Sanskritization for the last ~150 years.

      Persian (or Arabic) words are definitely on a decline, but still many in there for the spoken standard to be closer to Urdu than Hindi register. Though the lexical distance is ever widening in India as new speakers are switching into Hindi with its Eastward and Southward march. Furthermore some dialects of Hindi now feature heavy Punjabi borrowing as well (esp around Delhi).

      Ironically Punjabi has been a LOT more re-Sanskritized than Hindi. This is in part due to Sikh scripture, which uses a lot of Sanskritized vocab – in the old tradition of Indian guru-vaaNi (Punj gurbaNi).

      E.g. here’s the Sikh mool mantar (Skt mUla mantra, lit. root prayer) which a Pak Punjabi will barely understand due to its Skt heavy vocab, whereas a Hindi speaker exposed to Sanskrit lexical borrowings gets it immediately. This feature is generally creeping into Punjabi due to its strong dissemination by Sikhs.


      Punjabi recieves serious official patronage in Indian Punjab and Chandigarh UT. So the future of its most vibrant speech community is very bright indeed. Punjabi is growing in prestige and taking over Delhi. Or as my Jatt brother-in-law puts it:

      chak dey phattey,
      napp dey killi,
      subey Jallandhar
      shamm nuN Dilli

      1. Thank you very much Slapstik! I also find through Wikipedia that the Standard Punjabi of India actively undergoes Sanskritisation while the Standard Punjabi of Pakistan actively undergoes Persianisation and Arabicisation. But the grammatical base for the Standards of both the countries is apparently one Majhi dialect and I could not gather much information about the developments of the Modern Standard Punjabi(s). That is, were these two Standards always separate and independent with respect to the vocab sources from the get-go or did the Pakistani Standard undergo any de-Sanskritisation (since you say that the Sanskritisation of Punjabi dates to the Sikh tradition super-prestigious in the Punjabi sphere, I’m thinking that Sanskrit was the favourite superstrate of early phases of Standard Punjabi) after both the national standards split off from a common Standard ancestor?

        Regarding Hindi, it is very interesting that you mention that there is a spoken standard that is a bit easy on natural inheritance compared to another kind of a highly Sanskritic Hindi standard that I imagined. I tend to have that feeling too but I never tried to learn about it in more detail. So is it like Hindi has both a colloquial standard that people look up to and some other type of a very highly Sanskritised register imagined by me used for some kinds of purposes? In such case, literature tends to happen in which? Biased towards thinking that it might be the first one, is the other one really used for anything at all and if yes, for what?

      2. Hindi has undergone serious re-Sanskritization for the last ~150 years.

        I have yet to notice this but then I hardly know anything about the dialects of Hindi so will have to defer to you. Yet I am curious: when I see some people lamenting that “byAh” has become “shAdI” due to Bollywood, is that a cherry-picked exception?

        More generally, are claims like whether Sanskrit or Persian or Urdu ingredients within Hindi are in decline, based on quantitative estimates or anecdotal observations? And shouldn’t these be heavily region-dependent (so, for instance, can one model your claim of re-Sanskritization of Hindi as a homogenization, with relatively Sanskrit-heavy dialects shedding Sanskrit and relatively Urdu-heavy ones shedding urdu?)?

  8. Hinglish will become its own high culture in time. It’s the most dynamic of the modern dialects imbibing influences not only from English but also from other Indian languages (Kolaveri Di, Magach-maari etc) and maybe Pakistani ones as well.

    It is just waiting for a Shakespeare or a Pushkin to cement it’s primacy.

    I understand that people will romanticise Urdu or Hindi, especially when they have a personal interest involved. But the rate and quality of content production in either is nothing to write home about. Both of them compete with Latvian for number of Wikipedia articles. They should be left to die in peace.

  9. I see this as a heuristic. losers need rhetoric, hence absorbing Hellenic ideas are useful . Winners dont need such rhetoric as they won. Now add the fact that mixing of different ideas leads to spectrum of sects. In monotheistic spectrum, the ones that can pass off themselves as being more monotheistic than the other have a rhetorical advantage?. So less import from polytheists, the better?.

    But this is just at the dialectical level of analysis. In reality, politics plays a part.

    Another heuristic, societies that can keep out external enemies and internal enemies(violent uprising) create a new environment. The pressures and expectations of people in those societies are different from societies which do not have capacity to defend themselves from external enemies or internal violent uprising. If we take this into account, then new leaders given freedom to preach might gain following exploring new terrain of ideas. Jainism,buddhism, stoicism,xtianity, Gandhi under british.?

  10. Any thoughts on whether this may be the result of the AASI homeland having stretched from northwest subcontinent to Philippines? Sorry if the question appears stupid as you probably don’t engage in genetic determinism vis a vis macro cultures, but perhaps a plausibility?

    no. we have ancient DNA from southeast asia. they’re not AASI. distantly related though. more close to andaman island ppl than they were to AASI.

  11. I see that there’s a tendency for the Persianists and Urduists here to assert that Urdu is the ‘high culture’ of India and that the wicked Hindutva folk are out to eradicate it from India. This is laughably untrue on so many levels

    (1) For people not from Delhi, UP or certain Dakhni enclaves like Hyderabad, Urdu (or standard Hindi) isn’t all that important. And it certainly isn’t their source of ‘high culture’, whatever that maybe

    (2) The obsession with Urdu is basically a lament for the loss of prestige by elitists. I can wager that even in the past Urdu was a language of the elite, while the common folk would use Bhojpuri, Bundeli, etc. The Standard Hindi of the Indian state is probably closer to the historic common speech of most North Indians than the highly Persianists Urdu of Ghalib ever was.

    (3) India isn’t looking to the West since it’s lacking a soul, or any nonsense like that. It’s simply a means of getting ahead in life for most people. And a means for keeping the country working and ticking along. No other language would have worked to bring North and south Indians together. It was the only way to keep those pesky Tamils in the union, much as the Hindutvavadi might protest.

    (4) the use of hinglish isn’t a sign of decline, but of a innovative and vibrant population that is adapting and keeping multiple influences at play. Code switching, diglossia, etc are probably the most Indian of traits and this is in keeping with the spirit of good ol’ jugaad. More power to the Hingligh-wallahs!

    1. (Apologies to non Hindi speakers!)
      This discussion is quite interesting to those interested in the confluence of languages, religion and communities in India.


      Reg. the tendency to decry the use of Hinglish (see 46:00 onwards in the video), I tend to agree with Javed saab’s thinking – that is the syntax and grammar that makes the language, not (only) the vocabulary. And that language purists can go take a hike

      1. Hello Siddharth, the idea that it is the syntax and grammar that makes a language is technically accurate of course but probably not representative of language consciousness as experienced by non-linguist native language speakers. People, excessively biased though they may be, naturally do tend to give more weightage to vocabulary and its sources rather than grammar. So the opposition towards Hinglish (the one I called Engdi) or Tenglish from the conservatively-inclined people (myself included most probably though I would not like to admit it lol) is mostly about the opposition to standardisation of and elevation of such registers to literature and not at all about the usage of them in speech at all, as such. After all, I cannot speak a speck of Telugu without heavy Latinate vocabulary thrown in everywhere (sometimes I actively try to find any significantly well-known pure Telugu or Sanskrit equivalents for my English vocabulary but this destroys the flow of conversation). The major emotion that drives this belief in my case is some kind of a strong dislike towards a phenomenon cycles of replacement of High vocabulary in at least the standard dialects of a language- Sanskrit during a phase, English during another, Mandarin during the next, etc.

        But I realise that my prescription is quite extremist and since the life to the language (which after all the stupid superficial stuff (though it is the stuff that brings food to the table) is really rooted in the syntax and grammar) is breathed into it by the people who are speaking it, it is only the most noble and exalted thing to do on an emotional level is to accord the most respect to spoken dialects of all types first and foremost, irrespective of the current vocabulary-supplier superstrate language serving them, and make it a point to continually bring about upheavals in the literary registers- that is to say, preventing diglossia to creep up in every way. So I guess I’m not highly opposed to the idea of beginning to compose popular literature and such in Hinglish or Tenglish which might very likely bring down literatures in Modern Standards of the languages (which themselves brought about the significant decline of old classical Sanskritic literary registers). A wonderful ideality (that unfortunately may not have the capability to become a reality) that is so good to dream about is the presence of literary and other kinds of activity in all the registers side by side, in the classical Sanskritic, Standard Telugu, Tenglish, everything, and each and every kind of speech that is built using Telugu morphs and Telugu pronouns and Telugu structure having representation in the collective discourse and given a voice in the outpouring of the collective spirit of the language without any discrimination.

        1. The problem is that our languages don’t provide us our bread and butter. So one generation had no vocabulary for technical terms in their vernacular for day to day things like banking, fixed deposits, etc. Next generation had even greater exposure to English world and lost ability to express basic higher level emotions in their languages like feeling “optimistic” or “sentimental”. Like to them the native words are like GRE words but in English these are not really GRE words. So the sentiment that the language is “hard” is essentially because lack of a basic complete exposure to that language and also stagnation/retardation of the said language’s own development. Everything is not Indian jugaad (inventiveness in a crappy situation). I mean yes it is, but not something to hold up as an aspiration. The crappy situation should have been sought to be reversed institutionally at the various state levels via higher education and corporate work in native languages. Bangladesh literally has no excuse in this having the luxury of being monolingual nation state. India also is largely politically organized by languages, no excuses. Only that Lutyens elite that inherited the country after the Brits used the English language as a way to cement their/our privilege. The whole output of this English vinglish Hinglish Benglish etc cultures is low IQ stuff. India has enough English language fluent folks that should be producing patents out of Indian corporates and academia. They’re not. The whole system is set up to produce clerks for the non existent British Empire lol. Bunch of rote learning and high flowery language constitutes those that know English “well”. India’s only going to produce call center workers with this kind of educational emphasis.

          1. Hello Bharotshontan, most of the things you say are so true! I could not have said it any better and with more intelligence- especially the GRE words part. It is so true. (And also added to the lack of engagement is that there is generally a negative incentive towards using the GRE words instead of the more familiar English words- people often tend to ridicule me or at least just view me plain weirdly (even I feel a lot about myself that way many times) if I mine some pure Telugu or Sanskrit equivalent for an English term from the dictionaries and use it. But in any case the massive influence of the English language that acts as the representative of and harbinger of science, technology, etc. (even if not newly and natively developed), on our dumb little bilingual minds is so glaringly apparent so sometimes it feels like there is really no point.) The discourse in English language in the native English-speaking countries and to a large extent in India as well is generally so vigorously conducted on all levels compared to the discourse in Indian languages.

            I cannot judge your comment about Indian-lish languages not adding more worthy stuff to the overall discourse anyway but the general argument in favour of supporting Hinglish, Tenglish, etc. is that these tend to have that element of a pure unadulterated vitality (and then hoping that something good and worthy will eventually come out of supporting them) as others also noted. At least I cannot imagine any other registers being as full of life as these, going as per happened history in India which saw the establishment of a very widespread and deep-rooted English medium education.

          2. The rival Latin coming through the English language can perhaps be countered in the domain of bhAsha by sticking to Sanskrit like a lizard sticks to the wall; at least it is better that Standard registers continue to do so while also beginning to vigorously increase discourse output. In the domain of bhAvaM (which in Modern Telugu also has a meaning of ‘content’, ‘stuff’ in addition to the original meanings), I don’t know what to do as I don’t have the sufficient IQ to address the issue and I’m not well-read on the matter either.

  12. Just some side observations a propos official Euro history…

    Anatolia – it is yet to be discovered its ancient past. Before Greeks came to Anatolia in the 4 c.BC (and much before Turks came) Serbs lived there. Even Wikipedia says something about this although very filtered. In Lydia, Lykia, Phrygia, the city of Troy – ancient Serbs lived. There are ancient maps where you can see dozens of cities which had the word Serb or Zerb as a root. There was the city Serb and river Serbica (historian Strabo wrote about this). Serb was renamed by Greeks into Xanthos. There was also the city Sard (later Sardinia was named) where Etruscans originated and left to Italy to establish city of Rome (giving the city Serbian name – Ruma) and western civilisation. There is an obelisk in Xanthos with laws written in Serbian alphabet which was later used by Etruscans in Rome. Wiki does not say that was Serbian language, it says – Lykian, Lydian, etc, (every city has its own language?!)

    In the city of Troy, Serbs lived much before Greeks appeared in history. The battle for Troy was about 1300BC. In the 564BC Greek Phisistrat translated Iliad (from which language?) and made the first written version. Who was transferring orally this poem for 6-700 years before it was written? Ilia was the chief Serbian god and Troy (Ilion) got the name after him. Babylon (founded by the first Aryan leader) also means – the gate of Ilia.

    There is a river close to Troy – Granik (Serbian word for border). Some historians say that one of the greatest world battles were there when the Greek army with Alexander the Great beaten the Persian army what opened him a path to the east. Actually, Alexander the Great was a Serbian and his army consisted of Serbian tribes. One half of the Persian army were Greeks (more than 20000) who offered the strongest resistance but they were decimated in this battle. Even Wikipedia writes about both armies and who composed them.

  13. Very cool article, Zack. One other point (that some commenter may have noted – I read only a few coments): India (at least North India, but the whole region via diffusion) has been vastly infiltrated by people from its west repeatedly through history. We know about the Aryans (now more certain after recent aDNA analysis), Hephthalites/Huns, Kushans, Turks, Mughals, Persians, Pashtuns – but now, thanks again to aDNA – we know of an even more ancient infiltration: That if the so-called “Iranian farmers”, probably more than 8,000 years ago. India is inextricably linked to its West by biology and thousands of years of history. Linkages to the east and north, while present, are nowhere near as pervasive and persistent. Islam, IMO, has simply piggybacked on this. It is not the cause or even the core of the connection to the West, though its muscularity makes it more prominent. You have correctly identified culture and language rather than religion as the deeper influence. As for why India looks to th West (rather than just to its west) today, do we need any explanation beyond the fact that it was the British, not the Chinese, who colonized us and dragged us into modernity? We go to them because they are still our psychological mentors.

    1. Ali, do you think the Iranian farmers might be the Chandra Vamsha?

      How many generations ago did the Iranian farmers come to India? 300?

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