Why a fuss over English? (Post -7)

Date: sometime in June, 2009

It had been years since I wrote my last essay. Perhaps, it last happened during my 10th boards. Now that its time to pull up my socks for appearing in CAT and other MBA entrance exams, I am really worried about my knowledge and usage of English. English was the subject responsible for limiting my board exam aggregate marks to 94.4%. I have never liked the language much but I don’t agree to say that I dislike it. The worst experience I had with this language was during one interview for a scholarship by Singapore airlines. I missed free education in Singapore just by few well structured English sentences. Poor me! Never imagined how a medium of speech can take such an important role in shaping my future. Anyway, I never regretted. If I don’t like it, I don’t like it; its as simple as that. I am really grateful to my English teacher during my schooldays to be kind enough to put some extra hard work in me. He could see I was great at literature. I could easily delve into the toughest emotion and get the gist of the story but he shuddered to read my poorly structured essays. He just managed to put a smile on his face and said, “alright, it can be taken care of.” Well, today, after blogging for two long years, I feel I can write as much as I like but I am really doubtful about the quality and semantics of my writing. My friends say I am really cool and successful at expressing through my poems and prose but unfortunately, Hindi is my forte. I uttered the word unfortunately because when I typed the word “hindi” , it wasn’t auto-corrected (the h wasn’t converted to H unlike the e of English ,see).

The truth is Hindi is really losing ground despite of being our official national language. Messages like save Hindi, serve Hindi ,use Hindi at railway stations in India don’t do any good to us. I have been writing in hindi for last two years but unluckily, I don’t have many readers in my friend circle because they find it too heavy to connect themselves with my creations. I remember how I bunked my English classes during my 11th-12th days to learn some extra lessons in hindi. I preferred hindi over English and why not? It is my first language. I think, dream and react in it. But, things are changing. A fraction of Indian citizens have English as their first language. There are people among them who never went abroad but, still they talk 24 X7 in English. Few weeks ago, I was having an evening stroll in one of the parks nearby when I came across two little children, hardly 4-5 years in age. They were talking in English so fluently that I would have mistaken them for foreigners were they not standing in front of me. Their mother was now trying to teach them few hindi words so that they can communicate with the domestic help. Foreigners in their own country, are they? May be, but it will help them in future in any interview where everyone expects the candidate to be glib at spoken English. “At least, they wont be denied a Singapore airlines scholarship “, was all I could think.
The renowned writer Shobha De in her book Superstar India, admits that English is her first language and there is nothing wrong in that. Everyone has a right to choose his/her language. Why make a fuss? If English opens the way to interact with the world then, why not embrace it? But, on second thoughts, isn’t it a way to appease the West? Please give us the job, we are good at your language. English rules the world but despite speaking the language, we are ruled over everywhere. Its nice to speak in the language your customer speaks. We must not be as rigid on our languages as the Chinese are but, learning the language their way and trying to copy others’ accent is not acceptable. I remember last time, when I spoke to my old friend who works at a call centre, I was taken aback to sense the change in her tone and accent. Leave English , even her hindi had a tongue twisting tone!! Why cant we have our own accent. Why not the Indian accent? Why is it so uncool? May be, I have become too pro-indian or it’s a hangover after I read the book Superstar India but, I don’t like this debate on hindi or English. The writer of aforementioned book emphasized on this contemporary Indian ideology that learning English as well as learning in English secures the future. Children are moving out of hindi medium or regional schools to fancy English schools. They find it really cool and modern to use the F-word in public whereas, in hindi language, usage of such abusive words imply how uncultured we are. I come from a very decent background , brought up in a middle class environment, in a nuclear family but under a strong surveillance of my housewife mother. I never watched any MTV, FTV or Star Movies. I don’t know anything about Hollywood, Bryan Adams or Enrique whom my college friends nearly worship. Recently, I caught grab of some English novels and I am really trying hard to improve upon English knowledge and usage.

Today only, I got to read a column in the newspaper that Mulayam Singh Yadav, a well known Indian leader, is against English and English education. The very same column has inspired me to write this essay. He says that its against our culture and a major threat to hindi and other languages. I again thought, why make a fuss? French is also a widely used language with so many people using it. We adore that language. Few months before, we had a new student in our class. She was a French and she came to India for a semester on exchange programme. She was bad at English and hardly, few people in class knew French (that too to a meager extent). She had a tough time indeed. It would have been easier for her if she would have learnt English. Same is the plight when a hindi speaker goes down south of the country. People are too stubborn to interact in English or hindi. Such is their love for their language.
Not falling into this debate because I am a very confused person and really worse at taking a stand, I have a question to ask. Why do we love English? Is that because we were ruled over by Brits for hundreds of years? Had we been colonized by some French or Latin speaking country, are there chances that we would have been speaking some other language. Interesting thought to ponder over. Isnt it?

11 Comments:

Shivi said...

Right But take some stand Arpi! :P
You are stranded in the same boat as me, the confused boat.

Shivi said...

I also find a similarity with you on a point that even I cannot identify myself with MTV, FTV or Bryan Adams.But there are so many people in our Gen Y ,well acquainted with these stuffs that people like us are already odd one chucked out!

So better take a stand, and help me too take one!

Alec. said...

Nicely dealt post. Honest.
Sometimes I too think that we belong to a confused generation. But you know what arpita, accept it or not, but we are moving away from hindi very effortlessly.
Try talking in absolute hindi. Though not impossible, its difficult. There was a time when I wrote poems in hindi, but now I find myself searching for words. And that, indeed, is bad. As for the F- word, yes. I agree that we find it a cooler way to express our frustration rather than using the hindi term for it.
You know why? Its not a question of how civilized we are. Its a question of social acceptability. A word and its direct translation may have very different levels of intensity in their meaning. I mess up, i can easily yell 'Oh fuck' in public, rather than say some hindi slang. Coz' its social acceptability is lower.

Coming to the current condition of Hindi, well, not much can be done. You see, the histoy of hindi itself says that from the very beginning, it had tatsam and tadbhav words. Tatsam meant direct use of a word from some other language(mostly sanskrit)... and tadbhav meant the development of the word to a further level... there's a third type too, called 'sankar' but let's leave not enter into linguistics anymore.

This very tatsam property of hindi is eventually eating itself. We took so many words from English that now English itself has got hindified. But thats a simplified form of hindi, as hindi was, of sanskrit.

On a broader note, our Indian culture itself somewhere believes too deep in this 'tatsam-tadbhav' analogy. May be that explains this blind westernization. And I don't think the chinese and japanese share our views.

Tanmoy Hazra said...

i hv complet faith in ur english arpita. u write vry well!!!

Satya.... a vagrant said...

true. Hindi is losing ground n we are only to blame ourself and but for god sake dont give a refernce to politician's view point . they dont deserve a place in these sortta serious matter.

satya

ishan sharma said...

i hav gone thru watever u hav written and came to conclusion dat ur ideas are nt conveying any particular message r u can say that u r nt making ur stand clear. it seems like watever u hav written is quite discreet rather than being continous.I do thnk that that hindi has its place in indian culture and u jst cant replace it vid nay oder language but we must not forget that we are a multi lingual country hindi is the predominant language in north and central india.bt wat abt south ,north east.these are parts were hindi has no existence we must agree to the point that english is a language that binds all parts of india. so it shud nt be projected as being a foreign language. i think dat english is d language of modern india.

Alec. said...

@ ishan. yeah right.
1.Posts here are not meant for conveying messages.
2. Ideas are most of the times, discreet.
3. You think that english is the language of modern India. Well, the shopkeeper of my neighborhood is in modern India. He doesn't know how to speak english. Hell, he doesnt even understand complex english (apart from basics like thanks and sit down and some other words that have been taken into hindi).
Don't you think that the same constraint that you put on hindi in ur comment no applies on english here?

The question is, If we know both languages, which one do we prefer? That decides the officiality of a national language. And well, India's so big that knowing both languages for all people is impossible.
Here come we, the fortunate ones who do know both. And our preference is what Arpita's talkin about.

Kabir said...

Good Article to read!
I don't know which is better or which be promoted (personally I feel, I am better in English but love Hindi more), what i believe is this that languages and cultures can't be bound in rights and wrongs, better and worse, they are like rivers meandering and making their own paths, best left to themselves to evolve.

Alec. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alec. said...

By the way, while working in my office in ahmedabad, we used to have some nice discussions over the Indian culture with a veteran architect, Mr. Qamar Sheikh. In one of those discussions, we talked about the development of languages in India, and discussed about the genesis of hindi itself. Just after the vedic times, when scholars used to write texts in sanskrit, Prakrit evolved as the script of the common people. The local ethnic languages, like magadhi (magahi), maithili, bhojpuri etc. of Bihar got derived from Prakrit only... (they are cousins of hindi, u know, which is more influenced from sanskrit, the script being devnagri).

What i want to point out from all this info is that Hindi once emerged as the simplified version (apabhramsa) of sanskrit. Now the modern culture has simplified it further down to the SMS lingo.

As Ravi said rightly, languages do evolve. And we can't do much. But what makes me really sick is that not knowing english is leading towards inferiority complex in many Indians. That's bad, and sad.

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