Why English Is My Favourite Language… and Tharoor’s Repatriation Gimmick is Lame

A still from the comedy movie English-Vinglish. The plot surrounds an Indian housewife suddenly thrust into an American way of life with a very limited knowledge of English and how she copes up with it.

Being an Indian is a feeling that can’t be expressed in words. Well, not in few words at least. So, when I decide to attempt such a feat, which language I’d most likely prefer? Obviously, English! Call it a legacy of our colonial past. Call it an elitist snobbery of the urban upper middle class. Call it whatever you like. With English, it’s simply easier for me to express. Aside from that, I also think there’d be more readers for it. English language is a unifying force. If we were a relatively smaller country with one or two predominant languages, it would have been logical to defend the one language you call your mother tongue. However, in India, there is no such thing. I know I can land in a lot of trouble for saying this but I am in no apologetic mood today. Think about it. We have Hindi as our “National Language” but seriously, it is an idea that has to be enforced. It just doesn’t come natural to the millions of people living in regions where local ethnic languages have been their only language of communication for hundreds of years, if not thousands.  I am a Bengali, and my mother language should be Bengali. Although I can speak it fluently, I can barely read it and can’t write in it to save my life. I am born and brought up in a completely different linguistic culture where Hindi is predominant and I’ve only learned it to communicate out of necessity. When I briefly worked in Gujarat, I had to adapt to a completely different language for the job. In a sense, despite the fact that a barely workable professional communication can be managed in Hindi across the country, it is not sufficient. On the other hand, English is not only more convenient,  it helps shed the discomfort of an “outsider” working in an ethnically different workplace.

Never mind the linguistic nationalists who can’t put together a decent sentence in the language they think they are good at; all the pseudo-patriotic rues of a moron who denigrate those who speak in English and yet secretly strives to become more articulate in it, while failing at it because of the contrived attitude in the first place. This is quite a dilemma actually. Should people give up the pretenses of being loyal to their ethnic languages and embrace the one which is in fact likely to get you paid more at your job?

The answer to that requires a more visceral understanding of your place in the world. For me it is the solace of a language that is neither my mother tongue nor the adopted tongue. No one compels me to communicate in English. No one asks me to abide to it because of my culture or my environment. Through English language, I am connected to a bigger reality, a beautiful and extensive culture of art, literature, music and cinema. I am not confined. In John Oliver’s videos on YouTube, I listen to a British guy living in America delivering some witty quips on the sociopolitical scenarios there. In Jack White’s lyrics I find profound emotions that are so primal yet so modern. By watching the episodes of Star Trek, I realise that there is a whole different dimension to science-fiction (a genre that is almost non-existent in most Indian languages.)

To say that I appreciate the English language more than any other language is an oversimplification. Sure, Hindi lovers will call out a roster of poets and authors from Premchand to Amrita Pritam and my mom would reference works of literary figures ranging from Bankim to Rabinranath. However good all their works might be, I can only give them so much of my mind. It’s good to have a perspective of your roots but from a person whose outlook has evolved almost entirely in a post globalization world, what more can you expect? The biggest industrial export from India are our services. Namely Information Technology. Would you comprehensively enforce higher education in regional languages or in Hindi for that matter? Never. Repeated failed attempts say it’s a bad idea. So why won’t you openly say that English is my favourite language? It is not just my bread and butter. I’m in love with it.

Anyhow, this post doesn’t intend to comment on geopolitical interests in upholding local languages. For that matter we Indians are far more open than developed nations like France and Germany. Speaking of which, I also feel a great relief in the fact that, of all the colonial nations that engaged in similar practices around the world, we happened to be ruled by the British. Yes, they were rude and racists at times but then they were the “colonialists”. At least their language stuck around with us. Mr. Sashi Tharoor demanding that UK pay repatriation to India for moral reasons, I say its bollocks. From Britain’s perspective, they did nothing wrong. Sure they did some bad things but then it was just good business. While we were bickering among each other, they just saw opportunity in divide and rule. Sure, the consequences were devastating for us but it would have happened nonetheless. For what its worth, they just made a movie about Churchill and refurbished his image as the “Man who got them through a world ending war”.  So, us crying and whining about the losses we incurred is just an embarrassment. It is more akin to the “Mautana” (Money against Death) custom prevalent in my region. In one particularly jarring incident relating to this local custom, the family of a person who died due to a disease held the ambulance driver responsible and started demanding money from him. We can not go around demanding dimes for every hurt others cause us. We are not that deplorable. The best apology is what you get without asking. If we receive repatriation from UK then we’ll forever be the victim. Should we go around asking for repatriation from native countries of every invader who ever ravaged us? We should dismiss such trivial pursuits if we ever want to gain an equal stand at global diplomacy.  So, UK, keep the money, but sure, buy his book.

We should focus on the things that are worth nurturing. Intellectual repatriation is more valuable than physical assets. You see, of the many legacies the British left us with, the most useful one is the English language. It is perhaps the biggest repatriation in itself. We definitely make a lot of money due to the fact that we have a large population of English-speaking youth. I think we own English language just as much as the British people. The community of Indian authors, poets and speakers (to which, Mr. Tharoor himself belongs) has contributed immensely in the enrichment and propagation of this language as a medium. This is certainly something to be proud of. Our future dominance depends on it. Hence, we should ensure that English language continues to endure. It is shameful to see people making daft replies to Mr. Tharoor’s tweet (Although in truth, it was a bit pretentious and revealed to be plagiarized after all, but that’s not the point.) It was not so incomprehensible as to warrant such mockery.

 

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Yes, a better knowledge of English language does give rise to a bit of snobbery among a certain class of Indians. But then so does a better knowledge (or access) of anything. Humility is a virtue we have almost shunned away and what followed were pretenses, unjustified ambitions and jealousy leading to mistrust. We definitely need to tackle that. The recourse is in the acceptance and assimilation of all good things. The English language is without a doubt one such asset. Language is merely a medium to communicate. How we behave as human beings is an entirely different matter however.

 

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