Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bole toh… its my English

My friend is a worried man. His only son, the apple of his eyes, is in class six in a convent school. No, he’s very good at studies. That’s not the worry. The issue is he does not speak English whenever he can afford to. He will eventually, I assure my friend. “No man,” he says, “he has started taking in a language, which I don’t really understand.”
And my friend teaches English in a local college. He is basically the son of the soil (how he hates the expression!) who struggled hard in life, and had acquired English late in life, but diligently, with a passion. It is the language of his vocation and he has tremendous respect for it.
Never mind the post-colonial hangover, English is the language of India tomorrow. A greater credit for the economic boom happening in India right now goes to English. My friend opines. Forget the debates about Marathi versus English. There is no logic in it. How can you compare English with any other language? My friend is in the mood for an argument. You cannot use one language instead of the other. Marathi and all other Indian language have their own place. But these languages should not plan to topple English, because they can’t.
I agree. I try to calm him down. The entire argument is misplaced. Why are we against English? Because English is a foreign language and because their was a time when the native speakers of that language ruled over us? Does this mean that we gained our political freedom, but failed to achieve linguistic freedom? So far as English is concerned we are still the colonised.
Even this argument is misplaced. My friend shows me an recent article by Pritish Nandy, where the writer claims that English is no longer a foreign language in India, but a language of our own. Forget the ethnic divisions among the population. Right now there is only one thing that divides India, those who know English and those who do not.
No offense to Marathi and other Indian languages. Marathi must survive, and flourish. But not at the expense of English. My friend gives an analogy. Marathi is the language of heart whereas English is the language of mind. Can we survive without either the heart of the mind? No. the same way, both Marathi and English must co-habit. This is certainly not an either or situation.
You know, how I learned English? My friend asks. I don’t know. He tells me the secret. I did my schooling in vernacular medium and I was voracious reader. So, I picked up the nuances of Marathi very fast, and trust me, it helped me a lot in acquiring English. Finally, the essence of all the languages are same. It tells, it communicates. And as long as you can communicate every language has its worth.
However, the topic of our discussion was not English versus Marathi, but about using English. What does it mean when we say that the English we use in India is our English? My friend smiles. This is a tricky question. I agree we don’t use British pronunciation (unless you are working in a call-centre) and sometimes we do play around with the grammar a bit. But does it mean that we can say anything and pass it as ‘our English?’
My friend tells me an anecdote. Two college-going was traveling in a crowded bus. One of them got a place to sit at the end while the other one stood by the railing on the front. When the conductor asks the girl at the back for ticket, she shouts to her friend: “hey, did you ‘remove’? The friend replies: “No, I’ve not removed.” The girl answers: “Ok, I’ll remove then.”
My friend burst into laughter before I could comprehend the joke. Poor girl, she literally translated the words: ‘ticket nikala.’ But she tried to speak English, you bet!
That’s the reason I send my son to a convent English. At least he would learn to speak English in a right way. But this is not the case. Where does he speak English? His teachers are all half-educated themselves, I mean, they surely need a training in spoken English, no? My friend laughs again. See, I also got their influence, ending a question sentence with a no. Man, this is not English. Is it?
And then my son, he speaks Hindi with his friend. All his friends are Marathi speaking. He can speak at least Marathi with them. No, he won’t. Hindi is a macho language, where as Marathi is the language of the mothers. He talks to his mother in Marathi. But I force him to speak English in front of me. This time my friend gives me a melancholic smile. You know, the father is always the culprit!

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