Friday, August 16, 2013

English Vinglish

It was India's Independence Day and I was busy watching the critically acclaimed movie English Vinglish. Its a fun movie which never ceases to make me smile, and cry. However it did lead me to the thought of how obsessed we are with the English language, even more so than any other indigenous language of our own.

India is a huge and diverse country with a change in language, food, clothes and culture every few hundred kilometers. There are 30 major languages, over 100 minor languages, and a total of over 1500 languages recognized in India.Yet we never tire of going all gaga over English.

Of course we can blame the British for this obsession: it was they who introduced this language to the Indians. And the results are there to see for everyone even 67 years post independence: Angrez chale gaye par Angrezi chhod gaye! However, we were not the country to have been occupied by the British Empire, yet we seem to be the only ones who have embraced it so with so much fascination we seem to not only have forgotten about our regional languages, we consider it shameful to converse in them.

Look around you. Today the urban youth want to read, write and speak only English. Mothers are consumed with teaching their kids English since they are born - beta, kela nahi banana bolo! Teachers in school punish kids if even a word of hindi escapes their lips inside the English Medium School premises. Today most literate people know the English Alphabet by heart. How many of us know the full Hindi varnmala for instance? How many of us read hindi/regional language newspapers/magazines? We even read regional literature like Premchand / Tagore / Ismat Chugtai translated in English. I bet most of us find it difficult to read and write Hindi, and most of us don't even know how to read and write our other regional languages.

Go to any Asian country, European country... While English may be one of the languages they speak, the primary mode of communication and media is the regional language. Most of these countries, like in Europe for example, are very proud of their languages: even tourists there try to learn their language so its easy for them to travel there. And here we are in awe of foreign languages - even in school these days it's the in thing to learn French or German. Regional languages are studied only if compulsory.

Why are we so enticed by English and so dismissive of our own? Why do we want to show off our English speaking/reading/writing abilities, and literally hide our skills in regional languages? Sure English is like the dollar of currencies- understood and accepted in most places around the world. But does that mean we disrespect or ignore our language and their speakers? Watch an international beauty pageant or other such world event: many educated people from other countries feel proud of talking in their language, even if they need interpreters. But we would die of shame if we were to talk in our regional language.

Not that I am bereft of blame. I too read, write, speak mostly in English. And feel guilty for not giving my mother tongue Hindi the respect it deserves. I have started to consciously engage in conversations with my relatives, neighbours and help who know only hindi, to become more comfortable with the language and improve my vocabulary. I have bought, read and enjoyed complete works of Premchand in Hindi, like theyre meant to be. I write notes for my cook and maids in Hindi to stay in touch with the writing. Im even teaching some of my international pen pals Hindi through letters.  I am also pursuing self-taught courses in Marathi to appreciate the local Mumbai language, and Urdu to appreciate Indian literature better. And I am not ashamed to say I know, read/speak/write Hindi and will make sure to imbibe that respect in my future generations. I am doing my little bit. Would you?


lepakking said...

This is a meaningful post as I also feel that people should be proud of their own language, culture and heritage first and foremost. The people is a secondary issue but still.

I see many British trying to speak and write like Americans - which is a disgrace as they once ruled the continent. Same goes for the other Europeans, the Asians, Latinos etc.

Aditi Varma said...

Totally agree!