Thursday, March 25, 2010

‘English cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture’


Pavan K Varma, in conversation with Kanchan Gupta, says the local must prevail over the foreign

My first encounter with Pavan K Varma, or rather his writing, was when I reviewed his book Krishna: The Playful Divine many years ago. Before reading the book, I had this image of him in my mind which later proved to be entirely wrong. I had thought of Pavan as a stuffed shirt, a self-obsessed and utterly boring member of the exalted, twice-born Indian Foreign Service. Half way through Krishna, I had begun to doubt whether I had the right impression of the author; by the time I finished reading the book, I knew I was wrong. No stuffed shirt would have written a book like that. When I finally met Pavan, which was some years later, I realised he was a cut above his colleagues in the IFS, a class apart from those who represent India abroad. At an open air Hindustani classical music concert where Kishori Amonkar was in full flow and all of us had lost track of the hour of the night, Pavan taught me, with great élan, how to appreciate the finer nuances of Raga Nand Kalyan which I would have missed otherwise.
One of our finest diplomats, Pavan K Varma remains rooted in all things Hindustani — from culture to clothes to language. And that is evident in the series of books he has written exploring the mindset and worldview of the Indian middle classes. A gifted writer — he makes his point without belabouring it repeatedly — he is what may be called a ‘thinking bureaucrat’, which could be mistaken as an oxymoron by those acquainted with our bureaucracy and babus. The Great Indian Middle Class and Being Indian fetched Pavan, and deservedly so, critical acclaim as a commentator with profound thoughts on the past, the present and the future. His new book, Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity, proves that praise for his earlier work was not misplaced. It’s a brilliant, incisive exposition of how colonialism has moulded the way we look at ourselves, our culture, and the world. “Those who have never been colonised can never really know what it does to the psyche of a people. Those who have been are often not fully aware of — or are unwilling to accept — the degree to which they have been compromised,” he writes in this book. That, in a sense, is the theme of Becoming Indian.

I met Pavan for a long adda on a lazy late spring afternoon in New Delhi during which we discussed his new book. What he had to say, as always, was scintillating. Below are excerpts from that free-flowing conversation:

Kanchan Gupta: So tell us, what prompted you to write this book? To take the middle class series nearer to a conclusion or something else...

Pavan K Varma: Essentially, after 60 years of independence, I thought the time had come for a cultural audit. This audit entails two things. One is a rigorous analysis of colonialism because, as I write, colonialism is not about the physical subjugation of a people but the colonisation of their mind. And while a political audit takes place after the Union Jack comes down and an economic audit takes place to take stock of what is lost and what is gained, a cultural audit is something that does not take place ... this is something which is common to all colonised countries... to, in a sense, recolonise the mind. So, it is both a rigorous analysis of colonialism and a meditation on the state of culture today in our country.

I must confess I profess a fair degree of anguish at our low threshold of satisfaction and self-congratulation. Because we are not only a nation, we are a civilisation. We have 5,000 years of history, antiquity, peaks of refinement, assimilation, diversity ... but underlying that diversity, what is not visible to a superficial observer, is great unity. We are not a parvenu civilisation, we were not born 200 years ago, and therefore it is legitimate for us to see where we are in terms of our culture today in contrast to the journey we have made and where we have come.

And I believe in the reappropriation of our cultural space without chauvinism or xenophobia. This is all the more important because we are simultaneously in an aggressive phase of globalisation where the subtext in the field of culture is often co-option, where the victim is the last to know. And, when the educated are relatively rootless, that co-option becomes all the more easier. So that, essentially, is the paradigm of the book.

KG: Nothing offers a better platform than a book for a study and discourse of this nature... By the way, some people feel you have been needlessly uncharitable towards English and Western culture...

PKV: There is hardly any space left for cerebral discourse. There has been an oversimplification of what I have to say in my book. One is that I am against English. I am not. I am not for the imposition of Hindi. I am just saying that there must be respect given to our languages and while English is an indispensable language of communication, specially to help us interface with a globalising world, it cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture.

There is a language of communication and there is a language of culture. The language of culture is a window to your history, mythology, folklore, proverbs, idioms, to your creativity ... and it’s the language in which we cry and laugh. There is no contradiction between the two. Recent research shows that all those who are well-grounded first in their mother tongue pick up a foreign language that much faster.

KG: Do you believe English is still a foreign language in India?

PKV: I genuinely believe that while it is a language of communication which has been indigenised in India, it can never take the place of our natural languages. And, badly spoken English cannot become the lingua franca of a country which is so rich in its linguistic heritage.

KG: Your book opens with an intense personal experience centred around your father — his attempt to learn English and thus qualify for the ICS, in which he was successful. Did that influence your career choices? After all, the IFS, in fact the civil services, are part of the colonial governance construct, it has a hierarchical structure put in place by our colonial rulers.

PKV: Without a doubt I am a product of the milieu that, in a sense, I was condemned to inherit. That is why I went to St Columba’s, St Xavier’s and St Stephen’s. And I am not against these schools and colleges. But I have mentioned in my book that my mother withdrew me from Modern School and put me in St Columba’s because she said the standard of Hindi in Modern School was too high!

People place priorities because they are products of a milieu. English was the language which was inherited by us, it was the language of social status and, by that virtue, it was a language of exclusion. If you did not speak English with the right accent and fluency, however shallow you might be in other respects, or accomplished for that matter, you could never be part of the charmed circle which ruled India.

So I am a product of that milieu but I am able, at some level I think, and I don’t take any special credit, to see that no nation can sit on the high table of the world as we aspire without giving respect and pride to their own culture and languages. So when we try to be like them at the cost of being who we are, that forces India to become a caricature. I have served all across the world and I have seen this happen.

The whole point is that you have to be an authentic spokesman of your own milieu. Today, I believe that as far as our general cultural scene goes, Kanchan, mediocrity, mimicry, rootlessness and tokenism have become features which we need to introspect about. I don’t say this with anger, I say it calmly.

Look at the state of our humanities departments, not an original work! This is the country of Nalanda? Doctoral theses are being written with footnotes by foreign scholars. Look at the state of our literature, the man who won the Bharatiya Gnanpeeth told me his books sell less than a thousand copies. Look at the state, pardon my saying so, of even our book reviews. If you are in the UK, the country that colonised us, on the weekend any broadsheet will have 30 to 40 pages only on book reviews. Here we have leading newspapers who have dispensed with book reviews!

KG: Look at the state of our classical arts... music, dance...

PKV: Exactly! Look at the state of classical dance… I mean I have been a cultural administrator also. Top exponents of a parampara which goes back 3,000 years have to telephone friends for days before a performance to fill a hall when the entrance is free. Look at the state of classical music, the raga represents a 4,000-year-old parampara and it is a very delicate structure... the elaboration of the mood the gradual vistaar and the drut... Today we have eminent musicians performing like adolescent pop stars, catering to the lowest common denominator of an audience.

Now, I am not against pop culture. In Hyde Park — I have lived in London — when you have a pop music performance thousands go for it. But on the same day I have seen people queuing up from 11 in the morning at 20 pounds a pop to attend a performance of Western classical music. Mature civilisations nurture both. We cannot be reduced to a sterile simplicity that it is either popular culture or nothing else at all. So these are things we need to think about.

Look at the state of our monuments. Of our museums. Of our libraries. The MGMA gets 30,000 visitors a year. The Louvre gets 2.5 millions at 12 euros an entrance. The Tate gets four million visitors a year at 1.20 pounds an entrance. These statistics are there in my book. A country like China, in spite of the setback of the cultural revolution, is investing in 100 new museums, 83 are already built. Beijing alone has 150 art galleries. There’s a full gallery district. Here you have a gallery but no curators, no cataloguing worth the name! So what has happened that our threshold of satisfaction has become so low?

KG: Maybe it’s the sarkari thing, perhaps we should get the state out of it?

PKV: Hundred per cent. But the state will be out of it when there is a cultural vibrancy in the people. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The performer will be bad if the audience is unresponsive. Whether at the level of the state or at the level of the common man or at the level of the artiste and our creative people, there needs to be something that jolts us out of our complacency. Because, as I said, we are not a parvenu civilisation. We were the benchmark of civilisational excellence, Kanchan. I was amazed when I read it, 200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Bharata wrote the Natyashastra, 6,000 Sanskrit shlokas not on any particular art ... a meditation on aesthetics, what constitutes rasa.

Even in popular culture, Bollywood, which we hold as a brand ambassador now of India abroad, I have nothing against it, some very good films have been made, but 70 per cent of Bollywood is a lift of Hollywood! What has happened to India’s originality? Music and story? So, there is reason for us to introspect...

KG: We get carried away by foreign awards...

PKV: Yes, any foreign accolade! I give the example, I have nothing against Slumdog Millionaire although on merit I believe it was mediocre, but when it got the Bafta award, it had not been released in India, people had not seen it. Yet, without application of mind there was only only euphoria, it made headlines and breaking news everywhere. Similarly with the Booker. I have read 12 reviews of Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger in the British Press, substantive reviews, some good, some damning, some panning it. In India, when the award was announced, there was hardly a review. In this great flexible civilisation with its own refinement touchstone, the only news is that it got the Booker! There has to be santulan, there has to be equilibrium, which is a sign of maturity…

KG: We are constantly looking at foreign awards…Somebody gets the Sahitya Akademi award or Gnanpeeth does not even find mention in the media…

PKV: I will give an example, I will name the person. Sitakant Mahapatra, a very sensitive Odiya poet, he gets the Bharatiya Gnanpeeth award, and his book sells 843 copies! Even till this day in Russia, when a new edition of Pushkin is published, a million copies sell. And they were selling even during the stage of transition during and after Yeltsin when people had not got salaries for three months. So you have to think...

KG: You also talk of the mimic men!

PKV: You see mimicry is a natural consequence of rootlessness. People mimic when they are not secure in their own anchorage and my worry is that for a great deal of the educated in India today there is that rootlessness and therefore that mimicry.

KG: But Nirad C Chaudhuri, about whom you are critical in your appraisal, was equally comfortable with his Indian identity while living in Britain...

PKV: Without a doubt. But Nirad C Chaudhuri, and this is my own feeling, went out to prove that if you have to be the brown sahib, you should be the most educated, most accomplished, most knowledgeable, beyond tokenism brown sahib. And he did it in many respects. His taste of wine, his knowledge of Western culture, his reading his writing… I personally believe that it was one of those complex consequences of colonialism which produces a man of his towering intellectual stature who judges himself only in terms of his ability to be the most accomplished Indian in terms of the Western touchstone of refinements. At another level he remained Bengali at home… But to be harmonious schizophrenics is also a sign of colonial legacy.

KG: You are also harsh with Rammohun Roy…

PKV: I have used Rammohun Roy as an example to show how the well-intentioned leader in the colonial phase needed to caricature his own civilisation in order to win the approbation of the ruler. First of all, his movement against ills within his own society and religion, especially sati, was a well-intentioned crusade. But if you read his letter to the Viceroy, he first devalues his language, the learning of philosophy and metaphysics, and without a doubt they struck the right chord. And, as you know, when he went to London he actually argued in the House of Commons for the permanent residency in India of the British and a mixed community through inter-marriage between both. So Rammohun Roy, as I say in my final paragraph, shows that people are products of their times. Colonialism was a hugely, hugely impacting influence on the lives of our well-intentioned leaders…

KG: But it did help bring about reforms…

PKV: I give him credit for his crusade against obvious evils, but I analyse how when you are part of the colonial syndrome, to do that you need to caricature aspects of your civilisation — which is totally unnecessary — to win the approbation of the ruling power. It’s only an example.

KG: Today we have crossover sahibs who subscribe to the idea of being global citizens, world citizens. For them, the Indian identity becomes baggage.

PKV: I would say I honestly believe in today’s time, the authentic global citizen is one who has the tools to interface with a globalising world is one who is rooted in his own milieu, his own civilisation. Because it is only that person who is rooted in his own milieu who can be a confident interlocutor with the world. Otherwise, we are producing clones. One of the great myths spawned by globalisation is that having been reduced to a global image we have all become mirror images of each other. But I believe that differences are real, that diversity needs to be respected and people who are the legatees of such a civilisation must preserve that identity because only then will they get respect.

(Pavan K Varma’s book, Becoming Indian — The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity has just been published by Penguin.)

Photograph: Alwin Singh


[This interview was published in The Pioneer on Friday, March 26, 2010.]

18 comments:

Manik Ghoshal said...

It was very interesting to read about the thoughts of Mr Pawan Kumar Varma, obviously a proud nationalist. While I agree that Indian Languages need to get more attention and recognition but I don’t agree that it could be at the cost of English. I am myself a proud Indian and Bengali (who unfortunately didn’t get much of an opportunity to study my mother-tongue being schooled in Jamshedpur) but do still appreciate a good Bengali song or movie, which are becoming rather rare nowadays due to the inroads Hindi has made into the Movie theatres of Bengal and the Music industry. I don’t wish to sound negative but we must not forget what happened in East Pakistan where the dominant West Pakistani tried to impose Urdu at the cost of the regional language. Let’s remember that the first thing a child learns is his/her mother-tongue. Islam, Hinduism, Indianness, Nationalism etc, naturally come second -as was proven by the Bangladeshis.
Fortunately in India English is very well utilised by the educated and progressive who are in no way less proud of their Indianness than the Pandits of the Hindi belt. Tagore was proficient in English but also a proud Bengali and Indian. I am not sure whether he knew much Hindi. English in India is totally indigenised and more over the English have long lost their monopoly over the English language anyway. When I came to London many years back from a proud English medium background my English was totally Indian and not British at all. What I mean is even NDTV English cannot be easily understood by the Goras, Amrikis or Ozies , unless they listen closely. So let’s stop insulting the language that has United India (North, South, East and West), was the official language throughout the freedom-struggle of India, used by hundreds of Freedom Fighters and Nationalist leaders across India, as a ‘foreign’ and ‘colonial’ language. Let’s not replace ‘British colonialism’ with ‘Hindi colonialism’. I would also like to remind Mr Varma that even here in the UK there are regional languages like Gaelic and Welsh which are taught in Ireland, Scotland and Wales with increasing zeal. But the people in those Kingdoms know well the importance of English as the link language, although they may not be emotionally as attached to it as the English.
It was unfortunate to read about the works of Sitakant Mahapatra, the Odiya poet, Bharatiya Gnanpeeth award winner, who sold only 843 copies. This is symptomatic of the slow decline of regional languages in Northern India with the tremendous rise of Hindi domination. The Odiya people are not as proud of their mother-tongue as they ought to be, probably. The Siv Sena could be perceiving a similar situation in Maharashtra. I am afraid there is a ‘Bangladesh Syndrome’ brewing in many parts of India in a diluted form because of Hindi.
Hindi is a regional language at the end of the day, and attempts give it a dominant status in India at the cost other regional languages could be detremental to the unity of India in the long run. No one linguistic group could become the 'previledged' in India. National Language?- only Sanskrit deserves that status. Let us all learn it in schools like the Jews have had to learn Hebrew! But will Kanimori (Mr Karunanidhi’s daughter?) agree? I wonder! Problem! That's why English is important in India!

G said...

If you believe that Indians are weak and inferior and the best they can do is imitate the westerners, English is perfectly acceptable. But if you, like me, believe that this blessed land has a glorious destiny, that it exists in this world for a purpose, then work on restoring the place of our languages (without necessarily having to ban or discard English or any other language)

The foreign medium has caused brains fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses. The foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own lands. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system. - Gandhiji


The old orthodox man may be ignorant, he may be crude, but he is a man, he has a faith, he has strength, he stands on his own feet; while the Europeanised man has no backbone, he is a mass of heterogeneous ideas picked up at random from every source — and these ideas are unassimilated, undigested, unharmonised. He does not stand on his own feet, and his head is turning round and round. Where is the motive power of his work? — in a few patronizing pats from the English people. I would not submit to that. Stand and die in your own strength, if there is any sin in the world, it is weakness; avoid all weakness, for weakness is sin, weakness is death. - Swami Vivekananda

M. Patil said...

In general Indian education system does not encourage reading and critical thinking. The result is that people rarely read for fun, those who do are the exceptions. I think that explains why so few books are sold either in English or in local languages.

All most Indians do for entertainment is watch mindless Bollywood movies or useless IPL.

Manik Ghoshal said...

This is a reply to G for Gandhiji. When I said English should remain as an official language, and link language I do not mean the Tamil must forget Tamil, The Andhraite must forget Telegu, The Keralite must forget Malayalam, and the Bengali, I know, will never give up Bengali. But For writing and reading National noticeboards in other parts of India I would like to see English. For example if I go to Chennai I would like info to be in English too, and same should be the case in Lucknow or Patna or Kolkata. If a Hindi speaking guy can not read English- tough! Similarly if a Bengali can not read English than it will be tough for him in Trivandrum. HIndi speaking people, you better cool off! Hindi does not symbolize India just as Tamil or Bengali or Marathi do not symbolize India either! They are mere parts of the whole!

Manik Ghoshal said...

Just another thought! Why is Gandhiji browsing an English blog instead of a Hindi blog? It’s because the intelligentsia in India (not Hindi belt only) still rely on ‘Indian English’. Hindi will never replace English as all-India language for the Intellectuals in blogs like this one- I can promise you. So people may as well stop dreaming. And if anyone says he or she is more Indian than me because he/she can't speak English, or because I can, he/she would have to be a moron. I am as proud of my country as any! I have read hundreds of books on Indian history, philosophy, religion etc, all in English, and none in Hindi or even Bengali (unfortunate because it is my mother-tongue). But they have all given me knowledge that I was seeking! Language was never a barrier. I have travelled to many parts of the world and I can tell people that English has been helpful for me in foreign lands and also for foreigners to appreciate an Indian (or I would be back where I came from).

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I entirely agree with Varma's take, and in fact, I have avidly read his earlier books and urged a lot of people, students and friends alike, to read them - to find out both what they need to be proud of, and what they need to change for their own greater good. I shall now read his new book eagerly. Thanks for the interview, Mr. Gupta. It prompted me to link your blog to mine, http://suvrobemused.blogspot.com

~rAGU said...

Thank you for the interview. We may never settle what is absolutely right but one thing is clear: priorities are misplaced. Music is no longer in a bad shape it used to be. Reading however is in a bad shape. When I quoted a thing about some technology, my friend asked me for the source. When I replied that I read it in a reputed Kannada magazine, he said, "oh, give me something in English", as if it was unreliable simply because the source was in Kannada. The point is, as long as first language is not studied in childhood with a sense of belonging, Jnanapeeta copies will not sell more. English as a dominant language is a message that the Indian languages are inferior. English may remain but not like a hanging sword on our mother tongues.

shaan said...

Very interesting. He is right on many points. However I observed some inconsistencies in his statements. When he says - "I am not for the imposition of Hindi", he also says "...there is a language of culture..." and "...it cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture...". Do you think this is a grammatical mistake? I don't thinks so. It is in the subconscious minds of most of the self proclaimed torch bearers of Indian culture that Hindi is the only language the reflects Indian culture and all other languages must be given secondary importance.

I don't know how many people in the north go to pop concerts but in Chennai people really swarm Indian classical music concerts.

@Manik Ghoshal, I agree with most of your points. You are right in doubting whether we (Tamils) would accept Sanskrit as the national language. We will never accept. Our language is not derived from Sanskrit and for thousands of years we have used Tamil for our religious works. "More than 55% of the epigraphical inscriptions – about 55,000 – found by the Archaeological Survey of India in India are in the Tamil language" says Wikipedia.

Mukesh Pratap Singh said...

Kanchan ji, how can a publisher of English newspaper talk about superiority of Indian languages? English language has given you your customers. Don’t you want your newspaper to sell?

G said...

@Manik (and all those who are raising Hindi):

This is not about Hindi versus English. This is not even about Rashtra Bhasha or link language. It is about what a child in Karnataka or in Assam is taught in the first standard. English or regional language? What affect does teaching in a foreign language have on a child starting his/her education? He will forever take education to be imbibing foreign ideas.

No one is asking us to discard English in higher education. We are asking for native language in primary school. Mind you, native language, not mother tongue (although for 90+% of Indians they are the same).

Anonymous said...

It is Manik Ghoshal's views that I resonate with more than Pawan Kumar Verma's.

Am reminded of what the octogenarians plaintively carp "in-the good old days we bought so much for three annas" punctuated with a lot of sighs.

Interacting with diverse cultures is inevitable. It has a humbling effect. It is up to the individual to take the good , filtering out the undesirable.

The core message of Hinduism is the oneness that binds us all. Not petty isms. That way All Glory belongs to our Maker who cannot be circumscribed within one region or confined to one religion alone.

Manik Ghoshal said...

Probably G has got it right this time. I do apologise for misunderstanding your earlier comment. I do agree wholeheartedly that the native languages should be given more prominence, in the different states of India.

I studied in Bihar and had to study Hindi as second language. I am totally happy about it. But a person from Bihar studding in Kolkata should have to study Bengali as second language.

I suggest Hindi or Sanskrit to be taught as third language as a link-language if necessary, although I feel the Hindi movies are enough for the propagation of Hindi as a verbal-link language only. English should be given more importance, as suggested by G, as a National Office-Purpose language. To imbibe nationalism schools must have more books on the ancient cultures of India; I mean before the Arabs and the Turks invaded our country which resulted in a mongrel culture and languages like Urdu and Hindi.
And for God’s sake someone please don’t repeat the folly of White Western historians and quote that Aryans invaders from Central Asia brought civilisation to India. New archaeological discoveries have proved that an advanced Vedic civilisation goes back probably 9000 years. Look up the digs at Mehrgarh, in Baluchistan, in Google. Root-canal treatment was being done in the Indus-Saraswati valley up to 7000 years before Christ. No wonder then that ‘Danta-Shashtra’ in Sanskrit is called ‘Dentistry’ in English. There are thousands of English words which are derived from Sanskrit. Eg.- Dwaar =Door, Gauw= Cow, Sapta = Septa, Ashta = Octa, Nava = Nova, Dassa = Deca, danta + denta etc. European languages are called ‘Indo-European languages’. (Those interested must Google) I think, far from being a foreign language, English could actually be an off shoot of our own Sanskrit, from people who moved to Europe from India after the last Ice-age 10,000 years ago. It’s quite obvious that William Jones and Max Mueller didn't know about the ice-age.

Kumar said...

The fundamental flaw in the thinking of Pavan K Varma is that he seems to be assuming that any acceptance/adoption of anything perceived as "western" is only due to “colonial influence” (and never due to other factors like merit of ideas etc). One can also adopt something after a considered thought of what is good/better etc - like the notions of basic human rights/dignity/justice/freedom/liberty etc. For some reason if some of these notions were not so emphasized in ones own culture and so one picks them up when one sees them emphasized in another culture, what’s wrong in that (based on the merit of ideas)? If the point Mr. Pavan K Varma is making is that we should be careful not to pick bad influences and be careful to pick only good influences, then one can agree. Otherwise it is just paranoia. As for things like music, art etc they always evolve with various influences etc and one is free to consciously 'promote' any style etc. It is an open competition of ideas (no quotas/reservations here).

uthamanarayanan said...

Every thing the author holds good,native language is not necessarily be the mother tongue of one who studies in that language.Well, I am not supporting English medium schools .My example being , my grandfather in colonial time was in Railways migrated from Andhra pradesh, came down to Kerala, my father studied in Kerala both his schooling and college,during my time father got transferred and came to Tamil Nadu where I studied Tamil and English, never studied abroad to be colored as colonial hang over.But we speak Telugu which may not be fully comprehensible to our relatives living in Andhra Pradesh, I speak and write both in Tamil and English.
What to say for that?
Times are changing , may be in 50 years from now , some country develops in some field like IT, we may be forced to learn and master that language.All depend on either mental blocks, of Psychological origin.

shaan said...

@kumar,
Notions of basic human rights/dignity/justice/freedom/liberty, etc have existed in our literature for thousands of years. When compared with Western literature Indian language literature has more volumes of works in these areas. We still have these literature as part of curriculum for Tamil subject in TN. I hope similar works are part of the curriculum in other states too.

Anonymous said...

Varma's thesis is a bold and innovative idea, and it is bound to cause fears and insecurities amongst those who benefit from the existing language policy. The knee-jerk responses of some of the readers here are reflective of this closed mindset.

I once had an argument with a Christian preacher on English. Midway through the argument it dawned on me that the fellow's allergy to Indian languages stemmed from the fact that he looked at the "Christian British" in high esteem, and therefore considered their language as a "Christian" language.

This communal mindset doesn't permeate non-Christian thinking, but there definitely is an English-speaking caste. I have seen many people do well in the corporate world merely on the basis their ability to speak English well and with the right accent. On the contrary, I have also seen very brilliant people, from small-town backgrounds, remain on the peripheries of stardom but not quite make it because of their poor English. This (mostly unthinking) discrimination has got to stop.

Also, the most ardent defenders of English often happen to be those who make a living out of it. English-language print & TV journos, third-rate writers whose only redeeming strength is that they can write in English better than in a native language etc. Livelihood is at stake for them if English loses prominence, so they tend to get nasty when a discussion on English comes up.

Do you make a living in the business world? Do you have to assess potential new hires on their "communication skills"? Never make the mistake of equating those skills with the ability to speak English well. You will miss out on some very smart people.

Manik Ghoshal said...

The Anonymous before me has made a very interesting argument (I wish I knew his name). Hey! Guys like me can speak fluently in English, Hindi, Bengali, also in Assamese (I did my PU in Shillong), Oriya (I worked there for P & G), Arabic (I worked in KSA for 3 year).
But let’s get 2 so called ‘smart guys’ together face to face for a debate- one a Bengali who can speak no other language, and a Bihari who knows only Hindi- now what is the 'Language of culture’ between them- although individually they do have very strong ‘languages of culture’? Should the Bihari learn Bengali or Bengali learn Hindi? Or should it be a fair deal and both learn a third language, an easy neutral International language-English (along with their native languages of course)? That is my argument. Let’s see some responses!
My mother had three choices when I was 3-4 years old. She could have prepared me for a Hindi school, a Bengali school or an English school (and make the whole world my hunting ground). Guess which she chose! Oh Ma, tusi great ho!

Anonymous said...

thanks amigo! great post!