Where They Learn Hindi from TV Serials

India & Maldives

Many Maldivian families follow the tradition of having their dinner mostly together and almost always very late at night. This also has helped

In the era before private television channels and sob soaps in India, members of an advance party for a visiting prime minister at Male, it is said, were reportedly overheard making not-so-very complimentary references to the hosts. It was in Hindi, and the Indian officials would not have known that some in the local population waiting for a glimpse of the visiting leader understood/misunderstood almost every word of what was spoken.

Those that overheard the talk had not visited India. Yet, they had learnt Hindi the hard way. They were daily listeners of Vividh Bharti, the film song programme aired by the Government-owned All India Radio (AIR). Some had taken that extra effort to talk pidgin Hindi among themselves, and improved it as days passed. They had some help from those who had studied in the madrasas of northern and western India, including Gujarat. Down South, those Maldivians who had gone to madrasas in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had picked up the local lingo, but did not remember much of it, owing to the absence of companions back home who could speak the language.

Today, things have changed. Not just the men who alone used to get an opportunity to visit India or other foreign countries in most cases, even Maldivian women get to pick up and learn Hindi, among other foreign languages, that too, sitting in their drawing rooms. No Hindi teacher comes home to teach them the language. Instead, every evening, they have a choice of Hindi television serials to pick up from and watch – as continuously as their Indian counterparts in some cases. Many Maldivian families follow the tradition of having their dinner mostly together and almost always very late at night. This also has helped.

Thus, a casual visitor from India should not be surprised if a local, who swears that he or she had not been to India even once, starts speaking in Hindi, or one or the other myriad Indian languages. Their comfort levels in the language exposition increases, depending on the continuance of the conversation. Incidentally, it is not only about Hindi and TV serials. Cutting across age and gender, Maldivians are known to watch Indian TV news channels and talk shows in English. It depends on what is happening in India at the time, particularly on the political front – than what is happening in their country, just then.

Historic Linkages

It is not just about TV serials and political talk shows either. At times, Maldivians trace back their history to migration from Gujarat, or even date it back to the vanished Sarasvati river civilisation’. Recorded history shows Buddhism from India was the nation’s religion until a ruler converted the self and the nation to Islam, influenced by Arab traders in the 12th century. In the earlier 11th century, southern Tamil Nadu kings, Rajaraja Chola and son Rajendra Chola extended their territory to include parts of Maldives. In the post-Islamisation centuries in Maldives, north Kerala rulers were known to have reigned over the northern parts of the archipelago.

It is still not about religion and rulers from India. Language also has linkages. The very name Maldives is derived from the ancient Indian languages of Sanskrit and Tamil/Malayalam. Referring to the garland-like shape of the island-chain, Sanskrit referred to it as ‘mala-dvipa’, where the word ‘dvipa’ means ‘island’. It is sad that not many Indians or other South Asians have taken interest to learn Dhivehi, the Maldivian native/national language. If they had done so, they would also have learnt more about the commonality and common roots between their languages.

No More in Isolation

For reasons of location, wind and weather, Maldives used to remain nearly isolated – or, insulated – from external influence(s) for centuries together. This had impacted not only their religious practices, but also work culture, healthcare, education and every other walk of life. It has all changed since the advent of tourism economy on the one hand, and the near simultaneous opening up and constant modernisation of communication across the world. Rather, the latter facilitated the former to begin with.

Maldives continues to be an all-Islamic nation following the Sunni sect, and is modern and moderate in comparison. For an Islamic nation, Maldives only recently introduced the death penalty, after being the only nation to abhor it for over 60 years at a stretch. That the reintroduction of the death penalty was also caused by changes in lifestyle over the past decades cannot be overlooked, though human rights organisations the world over are opposed to the same. Both in a way are a product of the inevitability of changes that the world has been going through – and from which Maldives cannot insulate itself entirely, even in terms of culture and civilisation.

Restoration with ASI Help

The unearthing of idols of Hindu gods in Maldives proved Indian linkages. Independent of it, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been involved in the restoration of ancient Maldivian mosques that badly needed repair. Brought in through an arrangement between the two governments, the ASI is engaged in repair and renovation work with minimum changes to the original, both in terms of the structure and material used.

The idea is to restore those mosques to the pristine glory from the era to which they belonged. Needless to say, the ASI projects are being funded by the Government of India, as with many other projects in other areas and sectors in Maldives. Independent of archaeological finds and the ASI involvement, the two governments should encourage students from Maldives interested in the study of archaeology to take up courses in India.

This should be particularly so in the study of maritime/naval archaeology, which is still a developing area in India itself. Yet, given the past linkages, for Maldivian students to study archaeology in India would help both nations to understand their collective – not common – past better than if they were to go to non-regional nations for such studies.

Wholesome Coverage

If viewing of Indian TV channels is high in Maldives, can learning from India be far away? Lately, students from Maldives have been enrolling in media schools, particularly in south India, for undergoing courses in news writing and production, script writing, and serial making and film editing, etc. The Government of India is also known to have organised workshops for Maldivian journalists in India, and for them to visit different cities and television studious across the country for exposure and skill-improvement. It may be time the Indian Government made it an annual programme, and also extend it to include Indian private channels of the visitor’s choice for doing term internships.

It is sad that despite the greater Indian interest in Maldivian affairs, there is little or no media exposure of Maldives in India. At times, important Maldivian visitors and their engagements with the Indian leadership are overlooked, both by the print and electronic media. Concerted efforts and initiatives should be made by the Government of India, as a part of its neighbourhood policy initiative, to encourage regular and wholesome coverage of bilateral relations, issues and concerns. They should cease to be irregular, incomplete and inadequate. The Maldivian Government can help in the matter.

The reverse is also true of original Maldivian coverage of events and developments in India. However, they cannot always match the demands of technology or commercial viability. The Government of India should, hence, consider grants and facilitation for the news and television media to connect with Maldives and Maldivians. It can consider underwriting India based news agencies to expand clientele-reach and news coverage to nations like Maldives in the neighbourhood. It could provide free/concessional uplink facility to television stations, both Government-owned and private channels, to transfer spot news and analyses in particular, across the Ocean. In the interim, the Government-owned media on either side could begin by exchanging their inputs for mutual coverage and usage.

The Government of India has built an ‘India Culture Centre’ (ICC) in the Maldivian capital of Male, as in many other global/regional capitals. The Indian High Commission (IHC) in Male has also been known for a long time to host/facilitate Indian celebrities, including film stars, to visit Maldives and host public programmes for the locals. The IHC and the Maldivian Government together also facilitated the visit of former President APJ Abdul Kalam to Maldives not many years ago. Kalam, as is known, was/is as much a cultural ambassador of India and Indians, as he may have been a ‘political envoy’.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.