An Idiot's Tale

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An Idiot's Tale

Cacography of a madcap story teller, JAYEETA GHORAI

Excuse me! So the British never did the subcontinent any good, did someone say?

I chuckled reading this, shook my head.

Now let me see. I’d have accepted every word of the Facebook post, if only it didn’t have to be written in English, which I presume it was for mass comprehension and acceptability of those same valued opinions.

Also I wonder why, 65 years after Independence, no politically elected government, of the many that came and went, has managed to find one national language consensually agreeable and readily understood from coast to coast, other than this impoverished borrowed tongue? Why does this lingua franca of our erstwhile heinous oppressors still continue to be the language of officialdom across Indian latitudes from the foothills to the gravel beaches?

In the Babel-land that is India, its delicious heady plurality notwithstanding, heaven help me if I didn’t have this one safety net to fall back on during my solo travels to Calicut or Imphal. I wouldn’t have any friends left if my Tibetan, Malayali, Nepali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Naga pals were robbed of their missionary school education and their impeccable English. Or if the Chennai taxi driver, the Kashmiri shawl seller, the Jabbalpuri tea stall owning aunty-ji, the Tamang guest house caretaker, the waiter at the Dhakai restaurant, the Punjabi papa-ji, the Jaipuri saree retailer, my next door Chinese neighbour were all bereft of easy-to-catch-and-vigorously-nod-at phrases in their pidgin.

How on earth would I expect to communicate with my non-Indian friends at all, settled from China to Bolivia, but for this hated tongue?!

I have witnessed how many of my meritorious friends lost out on the chance to get better employment opportunities, unable to express their ideas to interviewers simply because they couldn’t articulate well in English. The inability to pick at an alien syntax, choose between the correct tenses and prepositions or mixing up the phonetical jabberwocky, was all that their considerable acumen was reduced to, in the end. And for no fault of theirs.

As someone who’s grown up during Jyoti Basu’s chief ministerial stint and witnessed close at hand the fall outs of his government’s disastrous ‘ban English’ education policies, I beg to differ on the language question. A generation of talented but communication-crippled youth was made redundant to the workforce by the Forward Bloc’s misplaced patriotism.

The world, on the other hand, has moved far ahead in its dependence on English. Even countries where the British didn’t step or where their presence was heavily contested and they never became the undisputed dominant political force, English has grown to be the prime inclusive force. A new boost has been given to English language learning in communist China and Russia. The corporate presence in India, which is the largest single hope for employment and tolerably decent sustenance today, is heavily hinged on English for its internal and external communication needs.

A generation of Bengali youth has been left out of sync, displaced and disposable.

In industries like FMCG and Banking, intra-country networks operate on the backbone of English communication aptitudes. While Hindi or any other language besides the mother tongue can be picked up via cultural influences aka ‘Bollywood’ and daily TV soaps, there is clear lack of facilities for the mass to pick up rudiments of any world language. Forget international, there is hardly scope to learn any other state language in an Indian metropolis at present; a Bengali can't learn Gujarati or a Bihari can't learn Kannada no matter whether for  professional requirement or personal knack.

Post-Independence academic policies have shown a marked failure to promote bilingualism. Thus states break and rebuild, governments come and go, we haven’t been able to substitute the phoren tongue, nor disseminate it to the common people through an easily affordable frame work.

Yet, ironically, English with its socially divisive impacts, remains the single most  unifying factor across the land.

The British also brought the railway and postal systems to India (agreed, to strengthen their own economic avarice but who’s benefiting today?) The British birthed the concept of urban spaces. My city, hypothesis says, could have been born of other agencies, but historical facts remain, it was born of no other. The very nature of its architectural appearance, the crumbling old houses I love so well, was a British import.

For me, the biggest personal gain was the first massive knock on the butt to the old patriarchal way of Indian life. Education and property entitlement rights toppled the complacent oppression of one gender class in the name of Manu Samhita. As an Indian woman I’ll be forever grateful that some progressive Indians, backed by liberal English government officers and Christian missionaries, made it possible for me to go to school for fourteen years. Wearing a knee-length dress to boot. Whatever their motive, and not all of it was blameless or altruistic, the fact solidly remains, there is no knowing where urban educated Indian women would have reached in a thousand years without this imperialist accident.

Patriotism is noble, but cultural and historical ignorance is not. A broad paint brush denial of all imperialist heritages is wishful thinking. Call me an optimistic fool or misguided Anglophile, but history is telling its story; no bribe or cajolery, no theory or inferences can erase hard cold facts.




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