Trotting on your high horse?

Headed to Buckingham Palace? Chances are you’re more than likely not going anywhere near there. Then why this compulsion to speak the Queen’s English, eh?  Here’s what I think the issue is…

It’s an instant giveaway that although you’re a product of independent India, you haven’t quite broken away those shackles of your colonial past – even if you were born two generations later. See this invisible long chain… your parents’ thinking influenced your childhood. They in turn were a product of parents amid an entire generation who believed that speaking English with the appropriate vocabulary, specific diction, pronunciation – ‘a command of the language’ would get them in high places. What does ‘high places’ really translate into? It meant a better paid job, access to an ‘elite’ inner circle, a membership into a club reserved for those not just with the means, i.e. wealthy, but also with a certain ‘polished’ look and feel about them. In other words, knowing which spoon to ‘not slurp’ that mulligatawny soup with, which fork to jab the paper thin phulka roti, or dosa with… and which knife to stab the steak with. No… you can’t pretend to be shocked! This was hurtful… because it’s true…

Well, in a desperate effort to give their kids a head-start parents work even harder in urban metros, I hear, paying an arm and a leg to see their kids sail through an International Baccalaureate program offered by a school that may even be tens of kilometers away from their residence — which is hard on young kids. Ostensibly, there’s the  ultimate payoff i.e. easier access to an Ivy League School, or at least better chances of admission to a good university in the US; or even to Cambridge, Manchester, Stirling, Oxford in the UK; or even down under in Australia! Isn’t that true? On the other hand millions of kids and youth strive, struggle and must elbow their way to come out ahead through education at poorly-funded municipal schools (not ‘Public Schools’ since those in India are the elite schools), or ordinary primary, middle school and high schools that are  close to home. In rural areas, they have to walk miles and overcome challenges to get anywhere near a school.  And that’s another story. I’ve digressed.

What crossed my mind is the following. Remember Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam? 11th President of India? Ever listened to him speak, whether he addressed the nation, or in an interview on Knowledge at Wharton? He spoke in English, but with an accent that is construed as ‘thick’, not just in the western world, but among his own people – the ones from elite schools. Listen to him, and say you don’t think so… but wait, pay attention to the content and his line of thinking? Amazing…

The point is, with the spread of languages we are exposed to routinely, we are at such a huge advantage (as compared to those who speak only one language — English)! Even the Eastern Bloc folks learn English, but foremost each one speaks their own language, may be even a different dialect. We know that the Japanese, Chinese, in the Philippines, natives of numerous African nations, the French, Spanish, Greeks, Hungarians, Scandinavians, Portuguese… they all are proud of their respective languages. As Indians, to express ourself, if we don’t find an appropriate word in English, there’s always another language we can borrow from… I often do. Just dip into your ‘mother tongue’ – no, chances are English is not your mother tongue, even if your entire family speaks in English! The joy of sprinkling your everyday parlance with your native lingo is immense… it’s so satisfying. It’s like having a complete meal – tangy, salty, spicy, sweet, and oh, with even with some bitterness in the mix! It’s all made so very flavorful…

When I hear Indians say with a hint of pride, “Oh, I only speak English, and am unable to read or write in any other language”, it makes me sad. What if one day, our human race turns into a homogeneous society where everyone speaks and thinks in just one language… how boring will it get! Science, math, technology is all boiling down to zero and one (0,1, 0, 1, 0, 1…) If all the languages of this world are reduced to just one, society, I’m afraid may be reduced to zero. They world may feel, “Know thy English“, but all I would like to say is, “No, to thy English.” “Ride, no?” 😉
QE On Horse_archive_hourseandhound_CO_UK

On 11th June 2016, Happy Birthday to Queen Elizabeth II… Her Majesty turns 90! 🙂
Photo Courtesy: Horse and Hound

Hima Kala Kendra

We knew her as Ms Hima Devi.

I always remember her as a lady with immense attitude, a cigarette between her fingers, puffing smoke in our middle school classroom. After a while our Victorian “ha, hoo” shocked by her stance, simply stopped.

Hima was just Hima… cool. No, we did not use that term then. But in my mind, I always remember Hima as an angry woman. Upset with the world outside, while the insides of her brain were immersed in drama – Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, Shakespeare… and continually pacing in the classroom, her feet were perhaps eager to dance in Manipuri while her fiery eyes matched the exaggerated movements in a Kathakali.

She once picked on me in class announcing rather dramatically that I would be the first to go behind the ghunghat (a long veil drawn over my face) — symbolic of a newly-wed bride (in another era)… 😉 Would she chuckle, I wonder, if she knew that I almost missed that opportunity of wearing the coveted veil… or would she roll her eyes in disbelief!

I wonder if anyone remembers how we were summoned to pay an immediate visit to Strand Book Stall – no, not New York’s Strand that claims to hold miles of books in its single store in Manhattan, but the one off Pherozeshah Mehta Road, and a stone’s throw from the Reserve Bank of India building in Mumbai. Alas, Mr. T.N. Shanbag has also passed on. The book, I remember, that was imperative for us to get – in middle school, again, within walking distance of this ‘bookstall’ (a book lover’s delight)  – was the late 17th century literary work of John Bunyan… The Pilgrim’s Progress!

There’s very little I actually knew then about this doyenne, a grand dame if you will… every now and again I run a search to find so little. While updating my previous post that I wrote five years ago, in the comments I added some articles others have referenced her in. But here are some visuals… piece these together to learn a little bit more… note how far back these will take you…

Hima 10Hima 8Hima 7Hima 6Hima 5Hima 4Hima 3Hima 2

 

Although there are few references available, there’s little doubt in my mind that hundreds and thousands of students who were under her tutelage, however briefly, would always have at least an atom sized space about Hima, in their memory. We loved you, admired you. Few can emulate your grace, sharp wit, your elegance, your style, your sense of timing, your voice, the words, the tone, the pitch, diction, the drama… you will stay with us.

 

 

 

 

 

“Alone”

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

My heart feels very heavy; the worries creep along

20150527_104408

Look, wispy clouds are wafting; yonder, romance is thickening

The chill came along, it made its home here;

But look outside, aren’t those butterflies flaunting?

Listen to my heart, in it lives the whole wide world;

Hear this thumping heart, it’s amassed all its silence

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

——————————————————————

Despair is fleeting, life is nothing, there’s no reality, it’s only fiction

When a knife pierces through, why wait in vain,

There’s never counteraction

In this wheel called ‘Time’, I ponder, “Who am I?”

I’m nothing; just a trifling, at best, a tiny-teensy ‘cog’

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

——————————————————————–

No matter whom I talk to, fear seizes me

I press my hands together,

With respect, all in all in good faith

In case you are my teacher

In case I am thy teacher

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

——————————————————————-

Someone comes up close

Someone drifts afar

Nothing holds an appeal, alas,

This heart is still ablaze

It seems I’m just a jumble

Perhaps I’m a maze

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

——————————————————————-

She who dwells inside this heart

Today, her thoughts keep haunting me

O Lord, our parting was a curse upon me

It filled my heart with despair,

Now despair doesn’t pause to catch its breath;

It just keeps trickling down

Today again I’m alone; yet again so lonely

(P.S.: This was my humble attempt at translating a Hindi poem, “Akela”, published by Vijay Akela in “Lashkar“.)