While Pakistan&’s special bonding with China is both old and well-known, what really evokes curiosity is that for the last many years large numbers of Chinese are taking lessons in Hindi in Pakistan. Not only the Chinese, many officials of Islamic countries, including the United Arab Emirates, too are learning Hindi in Pakistan.

That Pakistan is emerging as a seat of Hindi learning and teaching was a big revelation for me. On a recent trip to London, I met a Chinese lady in a restaurant. She asked me in a smattering of Hindi, "Aap Bharat se aate hein". I said, "Ji, mein bharat se hoon." Naturally, Hindi made us friends there and then. Then she told me that she did her post-graduation in Hindi from Pakistan. When I prodded her to reveal more about her days as a scholar of Hindi in Pakistan, she told me that the Islamabad-based National University of Modern Languages (NUML) conducts classes for all those keen to learn Hindi. Many foreigners and Pakistani youngsters are studying there.

Later, I learnt that it  was established in 1973. It became the first university in Pakistan to provide certificates, diplomas, language courses, Masters and PhD degrees in Hindi. And after NUML, Punjab University, Lahore, too started various courses for those keen to learn Hindi in 1983. The University of Karachi also once had a Hindi department, but it was later closed. Given the fact that Karachi is home to lakhs of people who trace their roots to Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Bihar, the decision of Karachi University to shut their Hindi department is surprising. Moreover large numbers of Pakistani Hindus are settled in this port city. They would want to learn Hindi in order to know more about Hinduism. Hindus in Sindh learn Hindi from the dwindling population which studied in Hindi.

It goes without saying that Hindi was the huge casualty of the two-nation theory of All India Muslim League. It was almost wiped out from present-day Pakistan post 1947 except for the laudable initiatives of NUML and Punjab University. It was a different matter that Hindi was taught from school to University level in pre-partition days in all schools and colleges from Punjab to Sindh. Great Hindi writers like Bhisham Sahni, Narendra Mohan, Pratap Sehgal and Shailendra were all born in  then West Punjab.

Like other languages of Pakistan, Hindi too suffered a body blow from the one nation-one language policy of the monolithic state. Urdu, which was not the language of any part of the newly created Pakistan, got special treatment there. M.A. Jinnah declared it as the national language of Pakistan during his only visit to Dhaka in March 1948. That unilateral decision in respect of Urdu had created unrest in Bangla-speaking East Pakistan. Bengalis felt betrayed as their language got a raw deal. And that created a huge chasm between West and East Pakistan and led to the creation of Bangladesh. Anyway, Urdu has been a controversial language in Pakistan despite its official status.

Sindhis, Balochis and Pashtuns  have also resisted the one-size-fits-all Urdu formula. Yet, Urdu has emerged as the functional lingua franca of Pakistan. 

Yet, deep cultural bonds with India and curiosity to acquire knowledge of a regional language for establishing better communication may have driven many young Pakistanis to study Hindi.

While it is perfectly all right if Chinese or Arabs learn Hindi from Hindi teachers of Pakistan, the faculty in both Punjab University and NUML has Indian connections. Most of them are ladies who migrated to Pakistan after marriage. These ladies had their education in various Indian Universities.

Meanwhile, I notice that now Pakistanis use several Hindi words like Vishwa (World), Niti (Policy), Sambandh (Relations), Ashirvaad (Blessing), Charcha (Debate),  Pati-Patni (Husband-Wife), Nirashaa( Disappointment), Shanti(Peace) etc. Hindi words were not part of their conversation earlier. Arguably that is also the influence of Hindi films and Indian TV serials. Both are popular in Pakistan.

Irrespective of region, Pakistanis do watch Hindi movies and serials. Once, a Pakistani gentleman had told me that Pakistanis learnt Hindi from serials like Ramayan and Mahabharat. As if that was not enough, these two serials had created a kind of thirst among them to learn more about Indian culture and epics. Sadly after partition, young  Pakistanis know little about  great epics like Mahabharat and Ramayan. They grew up listening to anti-Hindu and anti-Indian stories.

Things, however, started changing once social media invaded our lives. Now the free flow of information has created  unlimited scope for anybody to learn anything. Because of the viewership of Hindi films and Indian soap operas, Hindi has had a notable cultural influence. For some Pakistanis, knowing Hindi provides an opportunity to follow Hindi media and develop an understanding of neighboring India, while for others it is an individual interest.

During the World Hindi Conference in Bhopal last year, some noted Hindi scholars told me that while two universities are teaching Hindi from Certificate to Phd level, Pakistan lacks trained professionals to teach Hindi. As a result the language does not get adequately promoted there. Meanwhile, at the Centre for South Asian Studies at Lahore, Hindi has now become a mandatory paper for those doing their M Phil in regional languages.

Deep cultural bonds with India and curiosity to acquire knowledge of regional language for establishing a better communication continues to drive many in Pakistan to study Hindi. Arguably those who teach Hindi in Pakistan are the true Hindi-Sewaks.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP.