Urban India: The English Republic… or Macaulay’s Children?

Published March 15, 2013 by vishalvkale

Disclaimer: this article is not about Hindi; Hindi is not the national language of India. The article is about the preference to English over the regional tongue – even when both the conversationalists are adept at the regional tongue. Further, there is nothing wrong with speaking English; it is a nice language. The point is the superiority attached to English, and the attendant disregard of our culture, which I shall take up in later articles

This is the first post in a series of articles on culture wherein I am attempting to understand some fundamental  peculiarities and dichotomies that pervade our  Urban classes behaviour. I freely confess that I myself have been guilty of some of these attitudes that I am criticizing here. I have always been forthright in my writings, and disconcertingly blunt; I have no intention of reigning in my writing style in  the interests of not hurting others – I shall call it like it is, like I see it. One does not instil change in either self or others by being diplomatic. Change -especially internal change – requires a blunt and factual assessment of current realities. This is more of an attempt to understand India as it is today, and understand my culture – and myself. Hence, my apologies in advance. 
We, The English…
All – note, All my bosses will faint on reading this. Throughout my life, I have been known as the guy who speaks English; and it is the same me that is now doing an about-face… it has been a long journey for me, traversing from the point where I was to where I am today. In my attempt to understand Urban India, I shall look at 2 interesting facets of this behaviour in this article:
Anyplace you go to, any restaurant, any movie, anywhere in Urban – and especially Metropolitan – India, you will see a very peculiar and ludicrous scene. You ask a question in Hindi, and the reply comes in English. All the time, every time. McDonalds, Multiplex, Malls enquiries, Friends, etc. Any celebrity – including Hindi movie stars – will speak purely in English. Everywhere, in every scene, in every situation. Kyun Bhai? Maine sawaal to Hindi (Yaa Marathi) mein poochha thaa. Toh jawaab English mein kyun?You are a Hindi celebrity – so why give interviews in English? Hindi  yaa apni matrubhaasha bolne mein sharm aati hai? Are we trying to prove that we can speak English, or are we just programmed that way? In either case, it is not a a very good habit. You have no way of knowing whether the other person can speak English – or not! It looks contrived, and artificial! Why do we feel a sense of self-gratification, and a sense of superiority (whether consciously or on a subconscious level) on speaking English?  
English is essential for success. That is what everyone in India says. I used to believe that fervently; now I dont. After 14 years of jabbering in Hindi and Marathi with my team and my channel, I dont regard English as even a requirement of success. The basic need is an ability to communicate, and the ability to express oneself in written English lucidly enough to prepare your reports. That apart, all that is required that you follow the written word well enough to understand the mails coming your way. And yet, I have seen people struggling to speak in English in corporates! Arre dadu, ek-sau-baasathh percent par baithhe ho; 5 saal se lagaataar targets meet karr rahe ho; tumhaari team bhi zyaadaatar tumhaare saath hai. Bhaashaa se kyaa fark padtaa hai? Aur agar itnaa achhaa performance nahi bhi hai, toh ek aisi bhaashaa mein bolkar – jispar tumhaari pakad nahi hai – kyun khud ko marwaa rahe ho? Why are you getting conscious? Speak in Hindi, man! I care a damn! I am more interested in checking whether your implementation of strategy is accurate; whether your strategic judgements are progressing sufficiently fast to consider you for the next level in the coming appraisal! Unfortunately, some bosses also stress the English component even in levels where it is not required! Interviews are conducted purely in English in quite a few places; while the job requirements require the local language! Does that make any sense? It doesn’t to me. Not anymore. 
There is nothing wrong with communicating in English (note my choice of words, please) – indeed, there are decided advantages of English in terms of increased competitiveness. But the problem is that we ignore our local heritage, and frown upon it in condescension. The Urban Indian is blissfully unaware of how the rest of India lives: you can walk upto a tea stall (within a few kms of any Metro) and state : “Please give me a cup of tea” – and get stared at as if you are from the other side of Ganymede  the moon of  Jupiter! The total lack of comprehension on the stall-owners’ face leads to “ek cutting denaa yaar“! This is basis personal observation on innumerable occasions. You may not be showing off – but trust me, that is what it looks like. In RCity, I recently asked for directions : “Indigo kuthe aahe?” She looks enquiringly. Me: “Indigo kahaan hai?” She: “Take the elevator to the 3rd floor, 2nd wing”. Huh? Where did that come from? Whatever happened to “Teesre maale par jaayiye?” At Pizza Hut: Yes, Sir? (?????) Me: “Ek 99 waalaa lunch meal denaa“. He: “Right Sir. Will it be lemonade, or pepsi? (?????) Sharam aati hai kyaa, Hindi yaa Marathi mein bolne mein? For South Indians: my point is not Hindi, but that please speak in the language the other person is using! 
The Film Connection…
Next, note ourselves: We watch Hindi movies, but are frequently embarrassed   on a comparison with Hollywood. We trace Hollywood’s every move; Indian moves are judged on their performances abroad; international awards are sought after; we google international responses on our movies – although we stay here. Why? Kyun? Mumbai film trade is called Bollywood: frankly, a derogatory term. But we dont notice anything strange in it. Indeed, we take pride in it. The stars strut about in international festivals (nothing wrong with that), but remain absent (some of them) from Indian festivals, which is wrong. Dont we have an independent style, an independent identity? Why are we subjugating ourselves culturally? Why give greater importance to an arena that is alien? I am fine with internationalising; it is great. We get to export our culture; I have a problem when the same stars regularly remain absent from internal events, or treat Indian film fests with utter disdain. I have a problem when an Indian superstar plays a non-event in Hollywood, and considers it a crowning achievement. I have a problem when an Indian star’s hollywood roles are puffed up without any apparent reason by either the star, or the media. Aren’t our movies totally different from the West? So why model ourselves on them? Cant we accept that both Hollywood and  Indian films are equally good, and in a class by themselves? Why do our stars – with massive followings go gaga over a bit-part role in Hollywood? Why does our media treat that as a symbol of the star having arrived? Just as you state that we cant emulate Hollywood, we can also state that they cant emulate us! Simple truth – whether or not anyone accepts it. So what makes the English movies better than ours? Why cant we accept that both are good? Kyun? Ghar ki murgi daal baraabar – yaa phir sharm aati hai naach-gaanaa screen par dekhne mein? Khud toh sab log shaadiyon aur partiyon mein bahut naachte hain. Tab kyun nahi sharmaate? And why the needless comparison? Just as it is tough getting those special effects right, cant we accept that making emotive scenes and song sequences is also tough, as it requires imagination? Why cant we accept that portraying melodrama on screen is equally tough? They are good, no doubts. I too have watched Home Alone, Die Hard, Terminator, The Guns Of Navarone, The Longest Day etc; and enjoyed them. But I have also enjoyed 3 Idiots, Sholay, Ram Balram, DDLJ, Ram Lakhan, Sarfarosh, LOC Kargil etc – and I have now stopped comparing them. Sure, we cant make a Terminator. But they cant make a Ram Lakhan either! Even stevens! There are 2 aspects in play here: an aping of the west, and an English complex in operation. I shall look at the aping aspect in another article; the English factor is in play here as well… somewhere in our subconscious, there is a proclivity to attach a greater importance to English imports. This is readily apparent when you compare the penetration of Hollywood movies in the metros and the other cities. Outside the top-20, the craze takes a nose-dive; just like English. I am a small-town guy who moved to Metros for a career; so I have observed both sides of the coin…
Food for thought… I myself have displayed all three of the above at some point in my life; something I am now embarrassed to admit…

2 comments on “Urban India: The English Republic… or Macaulay’s Children?

  • accha likha hai aapne par kya karen .Desh ko saririk azadi to milgayi par mansik azadi nahi.Hindi mein bolne par log ghas hi nahi dalte par tuti futi angrezi mein kuch bhi bolo yesi izzat dete maano aapse bada gyani koi nahi hi bhale unhe aapki baat samjh mein na aaye .Jobs Interview mein English speaking skills ko kain baar anye prathibao se bhi kam aanka jaata hain matlab ek candiate bhale hi accounts mein banane mein kitna hi accha ho lekin agar angrezi bolne mein asehj ho jaaye to usko jab milne ki chance gayi samjho .School colleges se hoti hue ab to yeh ghar mein bhi aagyi hain .ek manobhav ko janta hun jab unke ghar gaya or unke bacho se hindi mein unka haal chal liye to vo meri taraf yese dekhne lage jaise maine koi videsi bhasha boli ho to unki maa boli “bhai sahab hindi mein bolooge to kya samjhenge hamare bache only understand English”.Bas yesa laga dharti fat jaaye or main usme sama jaun fatafat vahan se nikla .

    Ab kya karun hun to Hindi bhashi hi par jaanta hun angrezi ka mehtav ab chahye iska kuch bhi karan ho lekin apni bhasha ka triskar vo bhi apni aankho se bardast nahi hota .Asha hai ek din desh vashi is sachai ko samjhenge or hindi smet sabhi bharatiye bhashao ko unki sahi jageh prapt hogi.

    Jai Hindi Jai bharat

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