Is English A Language Or A Sign Of Your Modernity?
“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race and range of time and is both the free and compacted composition of all.” Walt Whitman
8 AM – I call my colleague to pick me up for an event at CP, Delhi. The event is one of the biggest Children’s Lit fest in Asia. As I was getting dressed up for the event, I have all the beautiful images of little children coming and attending the event. We leave for the event and as I enter the venue, I could see the beautifully dressed little kids with their parents, teachers running around with their students, a bright sun with cold breeze, beautifully decorated stalls for kids, the storytellers with their interesting stories. All these made the environment glowing with Children’s smile and laughter.
10 AM – We were at the event to let the world know more about us, to hear the life journeys and aspirations of the women out there. To make the most of the event, we went person to person to hear their life’s journey and ask them to explore SHEREOS to get more from life.
1 PM – I was in conversation with my colleague when I overheard someone saying that “yaar kya modern women hai yaha, sab angrezi bolti hai.” At that moment, I thought to let it go and moved away from the place. But the thinking and perception of the person about English and modernity astonished me. It created and urge within me to share the topic with the world out there and bring out certain facts about the language and Indian ethnicity.
5 PM – I see a stall offering chocolates to children. I went there to claim my freebies. The guy says that “Madam how many children do you have?” I glanced at the chocolates and hurriedly counted the number in my mind and said 5! I have 5 children. The guy gives me a vague look and offers 10 chocolates. I made a quick move from there, realizing that he must be thinking from where do I look a mother of 5 kids.
6 PM – Till date, I felt that English is just another language and it doesn’t matter whether you speak English or Hindi. It is only a medium to communicate. Curious, I flip open my laptop after reaching home. I had that urge to research that when and how we Indians started speaking English and when does second language (English) became our status symbol. To my surprise, I found that though we have a rich culture, we tend to forget that our lifestyle and mindset have largely been influenced by our colonial past. The British influence seems to have changed the way we look at ourselves and has stripped us of a confidence that comes naturally to a people belonging to an ancient and great civilization.
When the Britishers introduced ‘modern education’ in India, they set up the 'educational institutions' with the agenda of wiping out the thought of freedom from the minds of Indian youth, rather than inculcating rational and scientific thinking. They wanted to bring the value of British presence in the subcontinent. It was just an assumption that these institutions spread 'modern education.
The Britishers had a two pronged agenda- using English language as a means of both communication and division. Thus the Indian society got divided on the basis of modernity. Those who could get education from these ‘modern Institutes’ were actually considered modern and were given job by them. They were taught that knowing English is the new modern and one will get job in our governance only if you know our language. As stated by one of the student of Government college in the late colonial era, “we were keen to look modern, act modern, and imbibe modern ideas in general, which in other words, meant that we gladly welcomed western influences and language.” This modernity, thus, did not 'educate' them to question, but 'trained' them to obey their masters.
Even after 6 decades of colonization, we still divide the society on the basis of who is modern and who is not. And our definition of being modern is still restricted to the fact that do we speak English and which school did we study in? How many of us know the definition of ‘modern’? Let me just write it here for you Modern is “relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past.” It has clearly nothing to do with language.
The irony is that the world over people take pride in their native language and communicate largely in that, while in India the native language is delegated to the second language you speak. While it is good to speak a second language, it is equally important to communicate in your own language.
Richard Rodriguez, a Mexican-American writer in his book “Hunger of Memory” suggests that the public language must be one that unites us all and that must be your native language. If one is bilingual or speaks more languages; that’s great — but it’s greater if all communities in public could understand and communicate with each other. So if you know English then it’s great, but try not to impose the language anywhere and everywhere. I have seen many people speaking in English with waiters in hotels and restaurants, with auto drivers, in metro, in public places while dealing with vendors and trying to dumb than down and assert their superiority. One must realize that the ability to speak in English is neither the definition of how educated you are, nor does it bestow your special status. Intelligence, wisdom, human behavior and social conscience are better parameters of who and what you are, rather than your ability to speak in English.
The fact that we have embraced English and made it our language as much as Urdu or Hindi or any other local language, speaks of inclusiveness of Indian society. Therefore, we must understand that being proficient in a native language is utmost important to make the world know about your culture, history and ethnicity.