Mind Your Language



I grew up speaking English because that was the common language between my parents – my father’s Hindi wasn’t even half-way as good as my mother’s English. And most certainly not her Hindi. Her Tamil was no match for his Malayalam. So English it was at home.

But that was sheer accident of birth which got us all talking so many languages – I lived for ten years with a Bengali aunt in Bombay and got my own place in a hurry when I realised I was beginning to dream in Bangla!

So I was very horrified at news reports last week that two school children in Andhra Pradesh had been beaten up by teachers for speaking in Telegu instead of English.  After all these years of regionalism and linguistic chauvinism, one has to admit that English has become the language of commerce and hence of progress – even the French have been unable to escape the invasion of English. But that’s no case for not learning more than one language – and not being allowed to speak in your mother-tongue!

Mine is Hindi (if you speak of mother-tongue, then that’s what my mother speaks best). I have always regretted being unable to speak the South Indian languages too well. Malayalam was my `father-tongue’ and though I did well when my father made an attempt to teach me his native tongue when I was young (making him proud by scoring 20 out of 20 in dictation when all native speakers scored less), living in the North all our lives gave us no opportunity to pick up on the South Indian tongues.

But this century, I notice, even politicians who were the prime movers of linguistic chauvinism in earlier years have no compunction about attempting English, largely due to mobile technology, I think – there is a Sarpanch from a village in Maharashtra who regularly texts me in English, though sometimes I have to call him back to ask what he meant. Like a few days ago, after a prolonged text conversation, I couldn’t understand what he meant by `gn&sdms’. But at the end of the day (literally) it was so simple – Good Night and Sweet Dreams! Obviously even village politicos are catching up — and why not?

So here I reproduce a piece I wrote for the Bombay edition of Hindustan Times after the post-26/11 faux pas by then Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil – though this was now Hindi that had tripped him up. I hope the wider readership logging on to the Hindustan Times blogs might be somewhat tickled by some of these gems.

Here goes:

“What will India do if Pakistan goes for first strike?’’ a reporter in Mumbai asked Sharad Pawar soon after he became Union Defence Minister in 1991.

“Let them go on strike. How much does that matter?’’ replied the Maratha warlord who had just been bested by PV Narasimha Rao in the race to the PMO. Many critics had then written about his unsuitability for the job because he could speak neither English nor Hindi too well at the time.

Pawar, I noticed, was soon making a sincere effort to catch up. He once asked me to give him a “twinkle’’ so that he could tell me when to come over for an interview. And his language was liberally peppered with army slang so that when Bal Thackeray once angered him with some remark, he raged, “What do these Johnnies think of themselves!’’

The Sena tiger, though, was even less nuanced when it came to the English language (after all he has had to keep up with his Mee Marathi image all his life). So, in a counter-interview to me, he gave Pawar a fitting reply, “Tell that Tommy that I do not need him to tell me anything!’’ he snapped.

Of course, I did not have the heart (or the courage) to tell the Sena tiger that that sounded suspiciously like he was referring to Pawar as a dog. But this faithful animal has been under much abuse by our politicians of late. It was completely out of place for the Kerala Chief Minister to refer to dogs in the context of the martyred Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s family.

Now I do not understand the nuances of Malayalam too well but it was apparent even to me that Mr VS Achutanandan did mean to give as much offence to Sandeep’s father as Thackeray had to Pawar all those years ago.

My career as a political journalist has been liberally dotted with such instances of `misunderstood’ phraseology. But I started in an era before television journalism came into its own and so I understood what former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil had been saying last week. He did not mean to trivialise 26/11. All that he meant was that big cities like Bombay should always expect to be attacked, big time or small, by terrorists. But he is a rural rustic uncomfortable in any language but Marathi and so it came out all wrong – Bade, bade shehron main aise chhote-bade haadse hote rahte hain.

Unlike Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (the lipstick-powder-suit-boot remark, remember?) and Achutanandan who meant to give offence, Patil was merely being sincere.

Pawar, one is sure, knows that as well as anybody else, considering he has been full of those malapropisms himself but it was expedient to sacrifice Patil for his party’s own political gains in Maharashtra. This is wartime, though, and I guess Patil should have been less earnest. But even during times of peace, across party lines, I have picked up gems from politicians.

Like this BJP politician who cribbed to me about her Gandhian husband who insisted that, out of deference to the less fortunate millions, she live in just khadi and cotton. “Even so I have managed to collect five functional sarees,’’ she said proudly. Meaning? “Oh, I have some silks and chiffons that I wear to functions.’’

But the jewel in the crown has to be this one: after a day’s coverage of a hot May election, all I wanted to do was to get home and under a long, cool shower. As this Congress party worker dropped me off at the nearest railway station, he graciously offered me and a colleague a meal to make up for the long hours on the road. When we shook our heads, he said reassuringly,“Don’t worry, Madam. Even I am a vegetable.’’

We were both vegetarians, you see.

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  • smita

    Of all last line was great”Even I am a vegetable”
    In elder world though we cannot take thins for granted but yes we give enough space to understand mix languages used in 2days scenario.
    But beating up children for language learning is intitutitions fault

    rgds

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Yes. Beating children up for not knowing language — any language — is a horrendous crime. Languages are meant to unite but in our country they more often than not divide.

    [Reply]

  • Amitabh Varma

    Great! If the guy loved nature, he could have been a ‘green vegetable’.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Yes, I suppose so!

    [Reply]

  • Sunil Tyagi

    So does the ‘Khichdi’ of various state languages mixed with English and I guess also Hindi created a big change in writing in the media? I see TV advertisements and it’s of course now a proper mix – hinglish.

    We of course read more or less subconsciously but I wonder how much effort (senior) writers have made in changing their words over the decades. It should be quite a lot, I would presume.

    I am not sure the young guns of today (print and television) had to work hard since being born in this world of amalgamation.

    It sure is interesting to see people adapt, especially people born in complete regional milieu or elderly people living life in set ways.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    But I believe Hinglish has got our advertising professionals to get original. Which is a good thing because earlier all Indian ads used to be local copies of western ads!

    [Reply]

    Rajeev Reply:

    Sujata,
    I was looking your picture very closely. You look retarded. Why is that so?

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    May be because I am not a saffronist like you?

    [Reply]

    Rajeev Reply:

    It has nothing to do with color saffron. I can see madness in your demented face especially eyes.

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    The beware of the dementor!

    Rajeev Reply:

    Seriously you must see a doctor. You look demented.
    I can see a phycho in your eyes.

    ripal mehta Reply:

    oh yeah she is not a saffronist … she is green daba de daba da … her house is green… her boy friend is green.. her every thing is green… daba de daba da … daba de daba da….

  • ripal mehta

    miss sujata

    when you spoke engish all the time at home how come your english is poor, i saw you speaking in some congress mouth piece news channell the other day and you could hardly mutter some words here and there in english. How do you manage to write columns in english. Oh yeah you must have kept some malyali to english or tamil to english translator. you jounor under congress rule can afford anything now a days. You also have your own car after all.

    regards

    [Reply]

    Sunil Tyagi Reply:

    Haha…This IS phhunnny…..bery funnny…

    You can’t be serious but then, hmm… why won’t you be?

    So…what’s poor? Who are the ‘rich’ guys in spoken-english on TV? SRK? Lalu P? Raj T, who now only speaks in Marathi? Advani ‘Ji’?

    Interesting…why it bites for one to bark when nothing should matter as such – haathi, ghoda or palki…

    Hmm but it does…

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Agree. That `poor’ comment really made my day. Just had to laugh!

    [Reply]

    ripal mehta Reply:

    that was funny .. offending … pinching.. wasnt it.. ??!! hope you seriously laffed…

    ripal mehta Reply:

    what was that ..??? why it kicks for one to do honchi… when nothing should matter as such — kutta , hathi , palki.. some thing like that???

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Also my own house, my own furniture, my own maid, my own driver, my own friends, my own neighbours, my own family….. The list is really endless, Ripal!

    [Reply]

    ripal mehta Reply:

    hey miss you are gettting offended, but seriously how do u manage to own all those endless things.. and oh yes.. your family also owns the similar things!!!?? boy a boy.. you muct be a hell of an enterprenaur… any tips .. miss??

    but seriously miss you were awfull that day on tv.. i thing you should avoid it…

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    If you think I am offended then you are deluding yourself. And I am surprised that you saw only that one programme. There was more of me on television during the Maharashtra elections

  • aparichit

    This is really funny — but at least they were all trying. Even Laloo these days has gone English which never fails to raise a laugh. But I guess we will be stumbling similalry in languages that are alien to us!

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Yes. The point is that they at least try. We may laugh and have fun but I think it would be wrong to ridicule and be malicious about it.

    [Reply]

    ripal mehta Reply:

    there was more of you on television ..??!! really..???!!!!! god saved me… i dont even wanna ask .” on which channell “???

    and are you trying to tell me you were much better in other programs?? let me calrify that i was just surfing the channels when i saw your that awfull program where you couldnt even fully express your green colour… i dont care how good you were in other congress ncp mouth piece news channels..

    [Reply]

    ripal mehta Reply:

    congress mouth organ manish tiwaris english.. take a bow… but he sucks.. really …bloody fake..

    [Reply]

  • Diwakar

    There is a growing tendancy to learn and speak English even at the cost of the native language/s and the mother tongue. What happened in AP doesnt surprise me at all, as there are several schools that officially charge a fine if a student is caught speaking in a language other than English. While there is immense benefit in learning additional languages, more so English, it should not come as an alternative to your own language. However, the way things are going, it appears that the divide between rural and urban India will increase further, contributed by the language factor too.

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    I believe English is not the language of the politician but of the bureaucrat. And today while many deprived persons might make t to a politician’s gaddi the aspiration is really to be much more — and that more comes from the IFS, IAS, IPS etc — and the gap widens

    [Reply]

  • Atul

    Thinking in ones mother tongue and then articulating in another language has always been a challenge. And then trying to fit in the local terms makes the results hilarious.

    I have been asked to “Please chew your food” (invitation to eat), “Take your shirt upstairs” (doctor examining me), “If I can serve you personally in any way” (By the bellhop), “will you firm, or should I firm”? (Signing a document), and many more…..

    Poor politicians, having to speak in a language they are not all comfortable with!!

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    Atul, I guess we are not the only ones. Here are some samples that a friend sent me from across the world. I laughed when I read it but later thought: I guess we are not too badly offI

    here goes:

    wonderful english from around the world

    In a Bangkok temple:

    It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner, if dressed as a man.

    Cocktail lounge, Norway:

    Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.

    Doctor’s office, Rome:

    Specialist in women and other diseases.

    Dry cleaners, Bangkok:

    Drop your trousers here for the best results..

    In a Nairobi restaurant:

    Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.

    On the main road to Mombassa, leaving Nairobi:

    Take notice: when this sign is under water, this road is impassable.

    On a poster at Kencom:

    Are you an adult that cannot read? If so we can help.

    In a city restaurant:

    Open seven days a week and weekends.

    In a cemetery:

    Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.

    Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:

    Guests are requested not to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in bed.

    On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:

    Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

    In a Tokyo bar:

    Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.

    Hotel, Yugoslavia:

    The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.

    Hotel, Japan:

    You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.

    In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian orthodox monastery:

    You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.

    A sign posted in Germany’s black forest:

    It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for this purpose.

    Hotel, Zurich:

    Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.

    Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand:

    Would you like to ride on your own ***?

    Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:

    We take your bags and send them in all directions.

    A laundry in Rome:

    Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.

    [Reply]

    Deep Reply:

    Good ones..specially “Take your shirt upstairs”..lol..

    I remember one similar incident at doc’s clinic, patient says ” mere pet (stomach) mein headache ho raha hai “

    [Reply]

    Sujata Anandan Reply:

    But I think the best is from one of my classmates at school years ago: My head is eating circles!

    [Reply]

    Atul Reply:

    Open the doors of the windows and let the atmosphere inside.

    Why are you vibrating in the corridor?

    Meet me behind the class

    the list can go on an on….!!

    Rajeev Reply:

    Atul,
    What about use of ‘NAA’ after every sentence by Indians?

    “Don’t do this NAA”.
    “I am eating food NAA”.

    or use of “What Ra”

    “What ra..How is life?”

    or peculiar mallu “Ungle, Aundy”..

    Rajeev Reply:

    Tell us about one of your own quotes..Your poor classmate can not defend herself.

    Atul Reply:

    Rajiv,

    Those are cultural add ons

    Nothing to do with the concept of thinking in one language and articulating in another

    jyoti Reply:

    well this is really bad in india dat 4 nt knowing other language…bacche ko pita jata hai…aise kafi case sunne ko milte hai…mujhe ye smaj nai aata if u r speaking in ur mother tongue dn wat the problm wid ppl….i know now everyone prefer english language as cmpr to hindi…HINDI HMARI MATRBHASHA HAI…agar aap apne culture ko adopt karne me ya phir aapko apni mother tongue me bolne me shame feel hota hai i only say..first adopt ur culture, feel proud nd dn adopt watevr u want…. learn so many language bt dont feel shame jb aap apni mthrtongue me baat kare…

    [Reply]

  • Anil Kumar

    Sujatha even in her attempt at wag can’t shed her Congress/NCP love.. SO R R Patil’s was an honest mistake but Mukhtar Naqvi was devilish..

    You go girl ..keep this unbiassed journalism alive

    [Reply]

    Bob Mathews Reply:

    “:You go girl ..keep this unbiassed journalism alive.”

    Use spell check ……….the correct spelling is ‘unbiased.’

    [Reply]

  • Anil Kumar

    let me recount my anecdote from the last India trip. Our neighbour Dr. Mohan Jha ( england return, buzz is that he once visited england in order to explore higher studies opprtunity but had to return within a month for some reason) despite my serious Maithili/Hindi kept talking in his boorish English. HE even kept mentioning to his aid( compunder) that English came naturally to him. Doctor saheb was there to see my wife apropos her throat infection. During all this I kept looking at my wife’s face and could tell she was trying her best to check the giggle over doctor saheb’s broken english and his associated boast over how he can’t help it.

    When doctor saheb eventually used the phrase “Blood pressure shall shoots up” , she could not take anymore and burst into giggles.

    I was in a real quandary there given doctor uncle was visibly annoyed but could not really express it. Given my wife was just married american babe in hinterland of Bihar, her giggle before doctor uncle was talk of the gossipping circle in neighbourhood for months.

    [Reply]

  • ripal mehta

    she is even wearing a green dress in her picture posted on the blog… no wonder she hates saffron colour..

    [Reply]

    Rajeev Reply:

    She is unripened GREEN NUT :)

    [Reply]

  • http://www.ecomenow.com veptReems

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    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/magicalvoodoo Ever Smith

    the source of happiness for others around you, begin your day with meditation. To each one, there is a meditation that can make the wining difference. read more http://www.mastervoodoospells.com/

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/pinky12j Suressh

    While every one lauds the valor, honor and integrity of the general, they have also forgot to reckon with the same integrity and honor with which Antony the minister too associated with, and he would not grudge to give whatever is due to a person, let alone the general. So now the matter is subjudice would wish the media and journos keep away in opining on the subject, till the court decides.

    [Reply]

    Deepak Reply:

    Saint Anthony actually needs to lose his job. His lack of action to sort out the issue earlier is typical of how he has dealt with the Ministry over the years and single handedly degraded our military capabilities by inaction.

    [Reply]

    Javed Reply:

    hey dumba88 seeing a lot of muck from you for the army chief lately. Pls kindly care to explain – if both of them are of high integrity and are men in charge of their respective areas – then who else has the power to do mischief?? dont you think this is serious & bad reflection on the govt?

    [Reply]

  • Javed

    very informative article in comparision with shallow unresearched edits on this subject from HT itself

    [Reply]

  • (Dr.) B.N. Anand

    Yes, it was indeed a pleasure to go through this article as a matter of fact. But it’s accuracy has been challenged by one of the fellow blogger who disputes about what the author says about Gen. Bikram Singh being related to the PM. The author needs to clarify it.
    BNA

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    Do we see ominous sign of Civillian-Military fight? Will we see a coup one day when like of Laloo and Sonia will be hauled up in military court? Just thinking loud…

    [Reply]

  • Kumars1

    The politicians and bereaucrats have a chip on their shoulder and an inferiority complex where army men are concerned. Therefore these scumbags never miss an oppurtunity to humiliate army people. They humiliated upright heroes like General Thimayya and Field Marshal Manekshaw among others. They praise Bin Laden as ‘Osamaji’. The megalomaniac Krishna Menon, defence minister under Nehru, used to call the Army Chief for 4am meetings for silly reasons. He and Nehru caused the army’s defeat in 1962 by their shoddy mishandling.

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    UPA II has faux passed all its governance in the last 3 years.It has abdicated its responsibility in 2G scam CWG scam Adarsh Scam and now the army chief age problem.PM is statue in PMs house.He is not taking any action himself but doing all his talks by promptings by sonia.DM is under sonia.The issue of age of COAS is a issue which should have solved by PM himself but as he didnot took any decision huimself it is made muddy.Now SC would have to say whatever it likes but damage has been done 2 army and govt.

    [Reply]

  • Balaji Kartha

    Maybe I am not too smart, but I still don’t get it! This “honor” part of the General. Throughout his career he went along on one age, got his promotions & medals on this age and now he suddenly wants the government to say he is actually a year younger – and that his ‘honor’ depends on that?!
    What is the man upto?!

    [Reply]

  • anil

    Can’t you find anything else in life to think about?

    [Reply]

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WH4VQ5LEB4I7TE2YNDXG5AWAH4 Khagaraj

    If the homosexuals give up their ‘ in your face’ attitude and missionary kind proselytizing,they would be pretty nice guys.

    [Reply]

    Karan Thakur Reply:

    I agree. I’m still being pretty nice and obeying almost every rule, law religion where as see for yourself my homophobic friends… :-P

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/BootLadyTeri23 Teri Horne

    Re: The rising number of rapes.

    Are the numbers rising, or is it that women feel more confident in REPORTING sexual assaults? If it’s the latter, while still horrible they were attacked, it’s a sign of a progressing society.

    What happens in the bedrooms of consenting adults should not be legislated by governments or religions. If you want to live in a free and equal society, you have to learn tolerance.

    [Reply]

  • Abu Ahmed

    Educational advancement and economic progress would make our society tolerant and humane in time. Its good that the courts have pushed the envelope so some extent.

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Its like you’re not aware of truth of your very own culture Go to Wikipedia and visit the places and temples and sites which shows Homosexual Practices in older Hindu religion. Search more, to know more, because less knowledge is always a dangerous knowledge

    And anyhow, Someone being homosexual cant express his sexuality even in locked doors with their lovers means Violation of Right to Expression/Speech/PRIVACY.

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Exactly, I agree they should’ve written more supportive examples. Anyhow, I still appreciate HT(Hindustan Times) for spreading awareness. And we always have sites like Wikipedia to guide us with even better examples.. and real sights, place, temples, etc.

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Its a way of Nature and Nature made Homosexuals & Heterosexuals.
    Go read about Homosexuality in Nature. You’ll get to see that Nature not only made Human Beings as Homo/Heterosexuals, there are over 1000s of species of animals too, and still counting.

    Link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Yes, it does… and over 10+ friend’s family too support it :-D

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Somebody, wants to see personal issues by ignoring the mass affect happening to Homosexual ppl out there. Baby they were born that way. And There is nothing wrong with it. Go up and read my other posts+links.

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Because they’re our god and they thought us the way of life and we must follow that… And There is nothing wrong with being Gay :-)

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Totally, senseless and baseless comment… :-)
    My dear its nothing like this…

    [Reply]

  • Karan Thakur

    Gods/Gurus came to show us the right path and to enlighten us,
    Not become rigid and narrow minded and life always teaches something new.

    “Human Being is all about Evolution, not stagnation.
    Religion was also meant for making human civilized not rigid”.

    And No Religion/Culture reads being homosexual is wrong, be it any religion.

    [Reply]