Your papers please

“Good morning Sir, May I see your papers please?”
“Oh Sir, what a relief! You speak English. I was worried how I would get around here”
–Gives papers–

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I didn’t know if America spoke English”

“Really? You’re pulling my leg aren’t you?”

“Oh no Sir, I didn’t know Sir, so do a lot of people speak English here? What other languages do you speak here?”

“We all speak English here, some of us speak Spanish”

“Really! The whole country! But it is such a big country! Oh how very excellent, this is really quite a relief for me, thank you Sir, and good day”

“Here are your papers, Good day to you”

“Good day to you Sir”

Isn’t education great?

I don’t think there is a language more moralising than hindi, especially when it comes out of Narendra Modis mouth, or my fifth standard hindi teacher, the poor lady could never sell her language to us. I have always wondered, did hindi borrow the comma, the question mark etcetera from english? Ah, and commas, if only I knew where they went, too bad I never needed to learn to pass my exams in english. If people think english is just a language, just a tool, they are terribly wrong, it divides people and societies, prevents country men from understanding each other, in my school we had the manchester- united worshiping- chilli- pepper- singing- not- knowing- where -the- comma goes -can’t -write- a- piece -of- writing-to-save-their-lives- but- don’t- need -to- to- pass -the- exams group, and the other group, unable to speak to English, or specifically the slangy spoken english, speaking in their minds a much more sophisticated language, that unfortunately didn’t travel as much historically, crushed by the dominance of this job-giving language. “words are the planks on which we traverse the abyss of our minds” said the french author. How do I know why Indian men and women behave this way or that if I don’t know what they are reading as children? What do they find funny? How can I connect if all I feel is guilty about not having read enough Shakespeare to understand 17th century britain? It took me to come to a country that resolutely does not speak english to understand what it is to live in one language, from end of the spectrum to the other, where a language represents centuries of thought about how people live, behave with each other. When these moralizing idiots come at me, I don’t know where they are coming from, and what they grew up on, unfortunately I grew up on the slimy froth that America spat at me through my childhood, spread thin over endless hours of senseless television, and it continues, making me wish I could one day go there to master the twang of their lazy accents, to colleges where “real” education happens, oh what power it is to make someone do something without forcing them, all this which has nothing to do with being Indian, and which reinforces the cultural hegemony sold in the perfumed garb of “open-ness”, “liberal-ness” an “modern-ness”, Oh! if only I could go to United states and be in New York City! Oh! then I can come back and criticise a country I do not understand in a language they do not understand. Isn’t education great?

I am not Indian

I am not Indian. No indian author have I read that played with words like Oscar wilde. No indian television show influenced my language as Nickelodeon did, or Friends did. No indian science inspired me to think critically the way western modern science did. No Resnick Halliday walker came out of an Indian writer I read. Nothing is as incomprehensible to me as Hindu fanaticism, I know christianity better than hinduism, nothing is as absurd as the sycophancy of the indian middle class, nothing makes me cringe like bollywood. It seemed terribly important if Chelsea lost tomorrow, or if France lost the world cup. Its a world cup you see, and we are part of the world, its important to be part of the world and whether Di caprio did or did not win an Oscar. I have never been so perfectly close to a county far away (The US), and so far away from a country next to me. No indian music speaks to me like american music. I wait for no indian tv show like the american tv show. Indiann-ess is the dresses I wear, and vague customs I follow, and the dirt I am used to, the pundit’s feet I touch even though he speaks nonsense to me, telling me the sun is stationary, a kind of sprinkling on top, to not let things seem too absurd. How wonderful it is that sanskrit is “used in computer science”, I am sure Panini would be glad to know how relevant his language is today ^^… I don’t know how many indians are not indian, but its not a good sign for india, or for other countries with non-countrymen. We are all citizens of the world perhaps, but some live closer home than others. In the mean time lets pay lots of money to have Coldplay sing caricatures of a country we and Coldplay don’t know, and lets have Federer play baby-tennis for us, and get exited about it, lets live in the shadow of the west, and lets call it “fusion-music”, or something like that. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is it y’all?

Language and sophistication

Language plays a significant role in sophistication. In the link here, an english actress describes how she played a prank on a friend of hers by placing a bit of chocolate in between the persons buttocks while he was sleeping. Everybody on the set here is very glamorous, well dressed, well spoken, famous actors, this is a 5- minutes bit to show the british and the world public what it is like to be glamourous. The english the lady speaks is delightful to hear, such is the draw of her expression, that one finds the otherwise silly and even stupid story, charming. The expressions used in the middle like “and yet I was still after the rush of doing it”, “and then the horror horror horror”, “and it just sort of unfurled so well”, “no but I loved them dearly but”, “oh…Kate you’ve put chocolate in my bottom” render the récit so fluid, and, o heck why not use the word, mellifluous.You can see here that I am trying, in vain, to make my description sound lovely, and well written too. But thats another (related) problem. My point more specifically here is that I simply cannot imagine this conversation happening in Hindi or another Indian language. A public craves sophistication, it wishes to live via the television, vicariously (am I using this fancy word correctly?) a life it cannot live, it also wishes to be told what sophisticated is, because they see a good in it, to mock it, to emulate it, to envy it, to behold it. Ah! if only my such-and-somebody could be as sophisticated as that actor I saw. There are “fancy” stars in cinema in India, but they dress like the west, they speak english (certainly not as well), but If I think of sophisticated, I see the word “sophisticated”, I don’t know the word in hindi, and I certainly don’t know what the equivalent of this extraordinary display of charm and language would be IN hindi. But there was a sophistication in India, because there were emperors, there was word play, but a bollywood star does not treat himself as an indian emperor, in this context Shahrukh khan is very specifically NOT a badshah, but a poor man’s brad pitt, the equivalent of a talk show in India, is just a bad version of this, there is no mellifluous hindi, no awe inspiring display of charming word play. So if they don’t present us with an distinctly indian sophistication, the adoring fans won’t aspire for it, and everybody will treat this (wonderful) thing as the definition of sophistication. This leads to an alienation of a people with its past, with its sophistication. This explains why I, and many others of my age, were never attracted to hindi, it isn’t the language’s fault, its the glitteratis fault. Even cuss words, I have never learnt a fancy insult in hindi, or heard it said with a sharp, cold and penetrating manner. I wish for an indian sophistication I never experienced, somebody robbed it from my country, the world will be richer for it, I want to also envy a distinctly indian kind of “poshness”, to repeat in my head a particularly well expressed idea, to use it on a friend, to learn to be haughty in hindi. I have had enough of dhishum dhishum and grammatical mistakes, lets go back to the emperors, we aren’t going to find indianness written in english, I don’t care how much they insist that english is a mere “tool” or “vehicle”. I am annoyed with the american centrism of the world, the world would be a much happier place with several cultural centres. They should be made to modify “the sexiest woman alve” to “the sexiest woman alive…in our part of the world”. The fact that we lap up their stuff with eagerness is because the alternatives aren’t real. I don’t like it that we treat indian culture as tourism, as a sort of thing to be preserved, visited, but not to put our hands into and play around with. Culture, in english, comes from the idea of a seed in dirt being watered and grown, not a seed kept in a box, labelled, looked at and earned money off of by selling to foreigners. First step: what is the etymology of the word for “culture” in Hindi.