A recent survey has officially established the Queen’s language as India’s lingua franca. That comes as no surprise. We as a nation still suffer from a massive colonial hangover. In school we are essentially taught British. Mushrooming BPO s promote the Yankee version. Our children end up speaking a bastardized version. Texting has made it worse. Address is now addy, afternoon afty, vacation vacays...kids are playing around with the language, which may not be such a bad thing. Why waste time on silly things such as spellings and sentences? It’s so not cool.
The non-NextGen Indians on the other hand love their English, more than even the English. Nowhere in the world are people so particular about diction and grammar. Maybe it represents much more than just being particular. How one holds forth in English often reflects schooling, social background. Pepper your conversation with a few tricky words and you are qualified to fit into certain elitist circles. A rather superficial way of slotting people, yet most of us succumb to it.
The world over, English spoken with a foreign accent is considered exotic. Did any one of us snigger at Penelope’s Oscar acceptance speech? But dare anyone in our country say yem yen square, we make that person the butt of our jokes for the rest of his unfortunate life. We are a lot more tolerant of incorrect Hindi.
We name our pets Sparkle, Goldy and Tipsy. Parmeet becomes Pinky, Sandeep becomes Sandy. Our children are more conversant in English rather than their mother tongue. Even my daughter prefers English even though the first language we taught her was Bangla. Why blame the kids, it is the parents who reinforce the belief. An NRI friend of mine had briefly migrated to Bangalore. At community get-togethers try as she might she could not get people to speak to her in Bangla. Who do you think we are – village bumpkins?
Agreed, in a diverse country such as ours it is this language that binds us together. We are heavyweights in the global IT space largely because of our ability to think and speak in English. And we have scored over China in acquisition of brands like Jaguar, Tetley and Corus probably because our felicity in a western language engenders western comfort.
It has certainly helped us stay connected globally, access and upload information globally, and share experiences globally. Millions of us mull over the philosophies of Ayn Rand, applaud the visual wizardry of Avatar, and sway to Linkin Park (for me it’s good old Eagles any day).
But if this language is the great unifying factor, the harbinger of opportunities, it is also a divisive factor. Lack of it translates into lack of opportunities. Small towns and cities where subjects are still taught in the vernacular are still grappling with this change. In metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi our rich diverse vernacular is dying a slow death. I miss the mellifluous, full of “adaa”, Lucknawi Hindi which my Dad and uncles used to speak. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone speak in chaste Hindi. All I hear is a confused mishmash. “You won’t believe what I saw jee, I toh nearly fainted”.
Is our obsession with English making us lose our identity? Or are we evolving into a new progressive society? On the flip side, were we better off with Bombay and everything it represented, or are we better off now with Mumbai and everything it is being forced to represent? We live in strange times where, in rural India, innocent youngsters are being killed because they dared to fall in love and urban India is witnessing a sexual revolution of sorts. Rich kids are ramming their BMWs after a drinking binge but girls are being dragged out of pubs by self-appointed moral police. We are a nation of startling contrasts where many of us are yet to come to terms with this new emerging India.
We are beyond the point where we can discard English, because it really is a great enabler. And I suppose we will emerge stronger as a race and a nation when we treat English exactly that way – an enabler, not a labeller.