A certain aspect of Indians irks me no end — the tendency to pre-judge people on the basis of their hold on the English language. It is no secret that knowing English and the ability to converse fluently does open lot of doors in India. We have been brought up in a culture that puts English a notch above the regional languages and the importance is underlined by making us speak at home in English. Although it is somewhat shameful, I willingly admit that I am much more comfortable and fluent in English than in my own mother tongue. It will take me ages to read through a page in Marathi. I won’t blame my parents but rather the culture of our society that makes English the de facto standard if you harbor any significant career aspirations, although the Chinese, French, and Russians do not always agree.
Knowing more languages or ability to converse in English rather than your mother tongue is not the issue here, but rather the false illusion of power that English bestows upon you is. I have come across numerous individuals who blatantly look down upon people who cannot grapple with the subtle nuances of English. English is an ever-evolving language with its vocabulary growing almost every day and what was “cool” a few years back is frowned upon today. I don’t think anyone, especially second-language Indians can profess to be masters of language because we never speak perfect English in our daily life. A bastardized version, Hinglish (Hindi + English) might soon be the most common version of English. So let us not try to preach and accept the fact that we barely get by in communicating our thoughts.
If you have ever heard Ashutosh Rana or Shatrughana Sinha speak in chaste Hindi, you cannot deny the beauty in their words and they are not even intellectuals in the field. I have had plenty of vernacular friends who were much more capable and intelligent than any know-all English dude, but sadly were battered into self-doubt and dejection. I studied in a Central School for three years where Hindi was the preferred norm and they played “hindi kavita antakshari” on a regular basis (yeah I know, huh?). Due to a weird bureaucratic mix-up, I was forced to study Social Sciences in Hindi for a year and I barely managed to scrape through. But that experience impressed upon me the difficulties for a typical vernacular student in an English-dominated world.
Yet people strut around arrogantly just because they can speak and read English bit more fluently than the person next door. To top it all, they have the cheek to extrapolate that ability to their intellectual and personal abilities. I have nothing except pity for such people and trying to change their minds is a futile exercise. I have seen and read about people who come from the hinterlands and climb the pinnacle to greatness, winning adulation and respect of all. Language was never a determining factor for them. Admittedly, it can give you a head start but it can only take you as far. After that, all it takes is an open mind and ability to adapt to change. And of course, respect for others irrespective of certain frivolous language skills.