Desi Babu, English Maimed

The BJP seems to be in a mulligatawny soup, and that is as English as you can get.

India's literacy is not something to be proud of, so questions about language are less about parochialism than about power.

The BJP party president Rajnath Singh told ABP TV:

"English language has caused a great lot of loss to India. We have started forgetting our religion and culture these days. There are only 14,000 people left in this country speaking in Sanskrit. Knowledge acquired out of English is not harmful but the anglicization penetrated into youths in this country is dangerous."

What religion is he talking about? Do believers forget a religion only because they speak a language that the scriptures were not originally written in? Nobody quite knows what the good angels, apostles and sages conveyed via unknown means that today form holy texts. These are available in translation in regions where they are not even the prominent faith. It is part proselytisation, part academic interest.

In India, many religions are practised and many more languages spoken. Is the BJP, under the guise of lamenting for a language, merely pushing a faith agenda?

Then, we come to the issue of culture. Culture is lived experiences as much as what society might deem to be 'cultural aspects', in terms of heritage and creation of indigenous ethnic art and mores. People imbibe these and add to them along the way. There is no single culture that can be forgotten or remembered. What we broadly term "Bharatiya sanskriti" (Indian culture) is an amorphous entity made up of all of these.

I do agree with Rajnath Singh, though, on the point about anglicisation. It is not dangerous — we do know of the dangers from non-English speaking Indians only too well — but it is limiting. However, bringing in Sanskrit here is tactical. To revive a dying language is one thing, to use is as a political tool quite another. It is part of the reclaiming our heritage agenda that is always kept on the burner. This is dangerous.

Of the 14,000 people who speak in Sanskrit, how many consider it their primary language? Do they use it in personal and professional interaction, assuming their profession is not propagation or teaching of Sanskrit?

Should the BJP not helm this movement and promote Sanskrit among its target audience? Give electoral tickets only to those who have some knowledge of Sanskrit. Start a poster campaign in Sanskrit. Use it to at least begin their meetings.

We know this is only to rake up some cultural issue as a preemptive election strike. Oddly enough, it will not alienate the acolytes, who know no language other than English, because they are being sold a dream, and dreams come cheap.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had gone on to say the situation under Congress was worse than British rule (my full post here):

"Today, there is an insistence on education in a foreign language (English), instead of education in the mother tongue. As a result, the importance of the foreign language has increased to a large extent in the country.”

English is as much a foreign language as Hindi is to someone from a region not much exposed to it, as South Indian languages are to those in the North, the East...we can go on about these languages that people speak today and not in the past.

Having said this, I do believe that we are losing pride in our languages and look upon English speakers as superior. There is a neat divide between the English speakers and those who use regional languages, and this is manifested in almost every aspect. The hierarchy should bother us, and I say this even as I write in English and am more comfortable in it than with other languages that I do know and some I try to understand.

However, in diplomatic discourse I think a unifying language helps a country like India. Japan and China are supremely confident and get away with it. We might not, and unfortunately when we use an international platform with Hindi it is tom-tommed as something special, instead of the most natural thing.


This reminds me of The Times of India’s Teach India campaign I had mentioned earlier. Look at their promo. Why would someone ask “Englis aata hai kya?” and make a kid feel awkward? Does that person not know how to pronounce ‘English’?

I also don’t understand how a boy at the edge of opportunity will look for open spaces in walls. If he is at the edge, it would be a mountain or a ledge. Where do walls come in?

And all this is to get a working knowledge of English to open up “many little career opportunities” and help in the “surge forward”.

That’s really kind. No big opportunities for the little people, and are we not surprised that this would be a surge forward and not backward?


End note:

In a debate, there is always room for some lighthearted moments. Madhu Kishwar had written in a piece: “The brown sahibs of today have made English their language for love making, talking to their infants and even scolding their pet dogs!"

I had no idea that infants could understand languages they were cooed in. And would dogs get a superiority complex only because they were scolded in English? Would an ordinary mongrel acquire a pedigreed halo if told to shut up, instead of "shanti"?

What language does love-making have? It is touch. It is visual and olfactory as well. Does moaning have a language? Yes, some words are used, but would it alter the intimacy if they were whispered in another language from the one the two people are at ease with?

For those who do wish to revive Sanskrit, I offer you two words that might help: 'siddha', achieving, could be used for climax; if the experience is overwhelming, you would be in a state of 'samadhi'.

Try it and tell me how it was!

© Farzana Versey


  1. FV:"The BJP seems to be in a mulligatawny soup, and that is as English as you can get. "

    Your honor, I object. "Mulligatawny" is a distortion of "Mulagu thanni" (pepper water) in tamil. It is not of english origin. This is a Juggernaut of an article except for this misrepresentation.

    It is funny that all of those that want to revive sanskrit miss the point that English is so popular because it has freely absorbed words and ideas and ideas from other cultures over time and increasing its popularity. Insularity does not help a language flourish, but who is to teach that to all the language chauvinists that abound in India (and elsewhere).


  2. FV,

    BJP are known to be hypocritical. However, they are not the only ones!

  3. FV, As you note, it must be recognized that all Indians need access to an english education to allow them to be upwardly mobile, instead of tying them down with language chauvinism. English is here to stay and more Indians need access to it in their schooling.

    Nontheless, independent of the above issues, the elitism of people like Mani Shankar Aiyar and all the pretentious wankers from St. Stephens College is extremely disturbing and disgusting -- their pretensions to being better humans because they were taught to speak better english than the rest of the unwashed masses in India takes classist, elitist behavior to a different level.

    The IAS/IFS types like Mani Shankar Aiyars and Shashi Tharoors seem to think they are the replacement for the British Raj in India after 1947, with their contempt for the average non-english speaking Indian and Indians who did not graduate from St. Stephen's college or some other pretentious institution from New Delhi.


    PS: Here is a flavor of the mentality of the Duke of Dicksworth, Mani Shankar Aiyar. Apparently, if he is not referred to as "Sir" or "Mr." he gets very angry.


    ", “Janet, party of two; Paul, party of one; Mani, party of three. Come down. Now.” in stentorian tones. No, “Please”, no “Mr”, no “Sir”, just stentorian commands"

    This is MSA's version of "Do you know who I am"? I am better than you.

  4. As always, crisp and sharp, FV.
    At the best I look at the politico-cultural mask used to thrash English as a faceoff. Real intention is to have a bottleopener for their exclusive champagne -another parochial agenda. Intentions are class system with a commandeering lingua. English - yep, it will continue, but for the creamy & elite leaders whose clingons will mostly be in distant Amreeka +
    Commoner will be forcefed localeese, todays ClericPreparationSystem.

    Madhu Kishwar - why should anyone take seriously a someone who criticizes bad influences of English in English! How does she get conscientious only when the party she sympathises with confesses too. How again someone makes love with Mantra Chanting & barks to dog tantrically does not matter to others.

    My take is, do not blame it on language when your intention is society control. All languages but Dravidians' are imported or brought in at various timelines.

    I consider the entire act on English as humour of hypocritic kind.

    Pardon spellos & typos since on this laptop the comment box is too tiny.
    Admire your writing & phraseology.
    Takecare, Goodnight!

  5. "but for the creamy & elite leaders whose clingons will mostly be in distant Amreeka +
    Commoner will be forcefed localeese, todays ClericPreparationSystem."

    Bee, All that sounds mostly conspiratorial -- there is nothing wrong with the concept that a local economy in any state in India can be fully functional without knowledge of english. Existing examples of this are Tamilnadu, AP and gujarat to name a few.

    Indians aspire to be clerics and bureaucrats, and not businessmen or artists because this "clericpreperationsystem" has been perpetrated by Nehru and his fan club in the Indian bureaucracy for decades (and most of these bureaucrats retire to the USA or elsewhere after ensuring that their children settle down abroad).

    India is a "socialist republic" and this is not the fault of the opposition party. It is the fault of the current ruling party and its policies that further this suffocating and worthless bureaucracy that chokes and paralyzes India and the creativity of its citizens.

    If Indians had economic freedom like it exists for people in more developed societies, it would be quite normal to be able to make living without knowing any foreign language, as is the case in say South Korea, Japan...not adding China to the list, because India is very similar to China when it comes to crony capitalism.

    So while Madhu Kishwar's self-serving nonsense is laughable, it is a stretch to pretend that English is indispensible in India. It only seems that way currently because governments would rather keep the polity dependent on government handouts via policies that stunt job growth in the private sector.


  6. India is a very diverse place with people speaking many different languages. Logically Hindi could become the primary language of India. For reasons not clear to me non Hindi speakers seem to oppose that idea but have no problem with English. We could argue that it has to do with our Colonial hangover and the current world order with the Western Powers on top makes learning a European language more attractive and English is the most accessible one. This situation might change in the future and English may no longer be most attractive after some time. Lets wait and see.

  7. "India is a very diverse place with people speaking many different languages. Logically Hindi could become the primary language of India. For reasons not clear to me non Hindi speakers seem to oppose that idea but have no problem with English. "

    Why should hindi be the primary language? On what basis do north Indian arrogate themselves to imposing their language on south Indian, if they are not willing to learn south Indian language? Who the hell do the north Indians think they are to make such one-sided demands of non-hindi speaking states?

    English is acceptable because all government business and a lot of the world's knowledge base is in english. None of the other Indian languages are a repository of knowledge to be considered a replacement to english.


  8. "This situation might change in the future and English may no longer be most attractive after some time. Lets wait and see."

    Sai, All hindi speakers can Keep waiting -- not happening any time soon. Irritates me to see this obnoxious attitude in hindi speakers. And you all can shove your anti-colonial rhetoric too -- this is about self-interest and upward mobility in life.


  9. Sai, Just to clarify -- I am capable of reading and writing hindi, and can understand hindi conversations though I do not get much practise in speaking. That said, I deliberately refuse to use hindi with obnoxious north Indians that believe everyone must know hindi. I used to think that the anti-hindi protests in Tamilnadu were a bad idea when they happened, but over time I think that was the best reaction to the center trying to impose hindi on all Indians. India is a multi-lingual country, and the center should do its job of governing the country properly (which they have failed to do) instead of passing diktats on what language states need to follow or thrusting wasteful spending policies on states that cannot afford them. Time for the states to assert themselves and destroy the arrogance of the central government.


  10. Hi Al,
    As a Telugu fellow my Hindi is mediocre at best. Hindi simply has numbers on its side and I noticed that several people from Non Hindi regions (Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Gujarat, Goa) seem to know some Hindi. Don't know much about North East and of course South is a different story altogether. For a large number of Indians Hindi might be easier to pick up than English. Knowing Hindi does seem to make it easier to go to a lot of different places in India.

  11. Sai, I don't believe hindi is easier to pick up than english -- was not the case for everyone I knew growing up in Tamilnadu. Hindi is extra-ordinarily obtuse for a tamil speaker, and more people aspire to know english than hindi for whatever reasons -- besides english is as much an Indian language at this point as hindi is, and it is easier to standardize on english as a national language than hindi. In any case, I think Hindi will never catch up as a national language period, short of the government shoving it down everyone's throat like they do currently, and that is not going to be without consequences in the long term.



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