THE DEPARTMENT OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGE (DOL) is located in Lok Nayak Bhavan, a large office building in New Delhi’s Khan Market. The market, which is one of the costliest commercial properties in the world, specialises in high-end goods in well-lit shops with glossy window displays. It is the kind of place where you can overhear hipsters in a café say things like “Caesar salad share karein?”
The DOL, by contrast, is comforting in its dimly lit, bureaucratic tones of grey. There are guards at the entrance, and you need a pass to go upstairs, but once there, on the second floor, you may roam as you like. You can duck into offices, as I have on occasion, and hear small groups of office workers chatting, in Hindi of course. They will point and direct you but will not tell you what they are doing. You can study the “Word of the Day” on a chalkboard hanging in one of the tube-lit hallways; it is an English word followed by its Hindi equivalent in Devanagari script.
On one of my visits, it read “obviate = dur karna”, on another, “desecration = upvitra karna”. The last time I had seen a chalkboard like this was at the Mettupalayam railway station in Tamil Nadu (“elithaana = asaan”). In the South, the chalkboard is meant to encourage (some might say enforce) Hindi as a second language. Here, in the heart of Delhi, the board is meant to remind us that there are ways to say in Hindi what we would like to say in English.