Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dark Side of Indian English

A person belonging to a scheduled caste told Anjali Puri of Outlook India: "English is a Goddess we worship." [From CBC's Dispatches. Listen here.] And why not? In a country where tools of education and livelihood are venerated and accorded their own special day, it does make sense to add the Language of Economy and Power to the pantheon of locally-relevant concept of Gods. No one will endorse this belief more vehemently than my now-deceased, agnostic, maternal grandfather who moved from the village to the city, leaving the life of a small-time peasant to eke out an equally unsatisfying living as a petty rice-shop owner.

My thatha went to prison marching against the imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu. Keeping in line with his philosophy and practical needs, he diligently taught himself to read the news in English. He died when he was 47 and I was only four. The most vivid image of him that comes to my mind is one in which he progresses slowly from one page of his English newspaper to the next through the course of the day; between customers who haggle with him; and among his many duties as head of a lower-middle class, multi-family household. He rejoiced when his daughter chose (and his son-in-law afforded) one of the better schools in the city for his granddaughter, but wasn't around to see her prize for highest marks in English at the end of 4th grade.

My thatha would have disagreed with Chachaji's advice to Anjali Puri. The thought behind the advice would have puzzled and troubled him. As proud as thatha was of his culture and country, he would have welcomed any genuine attention -- local or international -- to the English-language divide that weighed so heavily on his life and the lives of his children, nephews and nieces (and continues to adversely affect some of their offspring, even today). He would have been forced to sadly conclude that some people prefer to sweep major systematic (subcontinental) socioeconomic problems under lush imported carpets in distant North America, for reasons most suited to themselves. And he would have felt betrayed.

Reference: India's English Speaking Curse. CBC's Dispatches. April 20, 2008. (Host: Rick MacInnes-Rae)

1 comment:

kallu said...

I like your short word picture of your thatha Malathi. A lot of affection comes through the image of an independent man, struggling hard to make a living and yet having time for more.
And it makes me think.And slightly ashamed. Im 47 and what have I stood up for? nothing. If I were to die now, is there anything that could be said about me except she lived and died? No-:-((
Well,more thinking. Thanks.

Nice new pic. They youngest?