100 Years of Hindi

Inside a classroom of Landour Language School
The Landour Language School is one of the oldest Hindi-teaching schools in India.

Even as foreign language learning centres dot the urban Indian landscape, a quiet school that teaches Indian languages inside a church, in the tiny town of Landour, near Mussourie in Uttarakhand, is marking its centenary.

The Landour Language School, nestled inside the 108-year-old magnificent grey stone Kellogg Memorial Church, is ­counted among the world's top Hindi as a ­Second Language (HSL) schools for adults, and a visit to it is recommended by Lonely Planet as "one of the five things to do in Mussoorie".

Indeed, a visit to the school transports one to the era of the Raj. Its 15 rooms, spread over two floors, have high arched windows, through which sunlight streams in and lights up steel racks lined with books, white boards, and spartan tables and chairs. In one such room, Rune Selsing, an anthropology student from Poland, is reading Urdu scripts with his teacher Habib Ahmed. "I am studying Sufism and before travelling to Pakistan, I want to get my basics right," he says. In another room, Nicole Lievers, a British doctor, is studying Hindi and Urdu so that when she goes back to Bradford, England, she can communicate better with her Indian and Pakistani patients there.

The Landour Language School began with a different purpose though. The British Raj wanted its civil servants to learn Hindi in order to communicate with the local populace. They appointed American Presbyterian missionary, Reverend Samuel Henry Kellogg, in 1860 to design a course in Hindi. Other missionaries and educationists like Reverend Edwin Greeves and TF Cummings also joined in to design the course. In 1912, the school was set up in a sprawling Victorian mansion, the Childers Lodge, in Mussoorie, and was shifted seven years later to Kellogg Memorial Church, built in the memory of Reverend Kellogg.

On May 5, the school will celebrate its centenary. Or a hundred years of Hindi, according to its principal, Chitranjan Datt. "Till 1949, Hindi was not recognised as a national language," says Datt, who is currently working on a book documenting 100 years of the school.

The students' profile has been changing over the years — from civil servants in pre-Independence days, to foreigners with Asian Studies as their subject, expatriates, and globetrotters after Independence, to a growing tribe of NRIs searching for their roots in more recent times. "We have 500 students in a year, most of them from Europe, and Ivy League colleges, referred to us by education consultants, embassies, etc," says Datt.

Though Landour Language School started primarily to teach Hindi, it added other Indian languages to its profile over the years. "In pre-Partition India, Urdu was the most sought-after language. It was replaced by Gujarati and Tamil as the most popular languages in the following years. Now, Hindi is drawing the most students," says Datt, attributing the trend to India's reputation as an emerging economic power.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.