The storyteller of Hindi

McGregor chronicled the emergence of Hindi as the great popular language of north India.

Ronald Stuart MCGREGOR taught Hindi at the University of Cambridge from 1964 to 1997, and was a fellow of Wolfson College there until he passed away on August 19. He had earlier taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. A philologist, grammarian, literary historian, translator and lexicographer of the front rank, he probably did more for Hindi studies in the West than any other scholar of his generation.

McGregor was born of Scottish parents in New Zealand, where he took his BA in English. On a scholarship to Oxford, he studied early English philology but then turned to learning Hindi, a language to which he dedicated the rest of his life. He had, as a teenager in New Zealand, been given a copy of a Hindi grammar book published in neighbouring Fiji, where migrant Indians formed a large part of the population. That wind-blown seed grew into a mighty tree.

McGregor first visited India in 1959-60 to study Hindi at the University of Allahabad. He had already met in London a student of Indian history, Elaine, who was now researching at Calcutta; they got married there in 1960.

McGregor's PhD thesis was published as The Language of Indrajit of Orchha (1968). No one had heard of this Indrajit, a minor prince who was a patron of the major poet Keshav Das (1555-1617) but also himself a pioneering writer of prose in Braj bhasha. This early discovery was characteristic of McGregor's scholarly method: not to lose sight of the minor in the glare of the canonical, and to see the text in its wider context, including its vital social and cultural affiliations.

As a pioneering language teacher, McGregor produced next An Outline of Hindi Grammar (1972, revised ed. 1995), which remains a standard work of reference. He then contributed to a multi-volume History of Indian Literature not one, but two volumes on Hindi literature, the first on the 19th and the early 20th centuries (1974), and the second, from the beginning to the 19th century (1984). Together, they constitute probably the most authoritative history of Hindi literature yet available in English.

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