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English Vinglish

written by Bunkumbee October 17, 2016
English Vinglish

I am Bankim Biswas and what I write is a lot of bunkum and wishwash.

Once upon a time, there was a language named English language. It was an intellectual property of, and therefore under the ownership of the British Empire. The fact that the intellectual property and ownership words did not belong to the English language and were later day embellishments, inserted by takeover tycoons is another matter and the subject matter of this article, more on that later down the page. If you’re on the same page, that is.

So this English language told its worldwide subjects, “Come! Learn me. If you learn me and master me, you’ll wear shoes and pantaloons. You’ll have porridge for breakfast and supper for dinner, not a tiffin and certainly not anything that sounds like masala dosa.  You can devour a banana and not ’have a plantain’. You’ll be counted amongst the elite and learned. You’ll still cut ribbons at inaugurations even if you’ve not discovered radium or invented the electric chair. And above all, you’ll discuss weather like no one can. After all, how many people know the difference between fog and smog? Only English can teach you that.”

So this English language told its worldwide subjects, “Come! Learn me. If you learn me and master me, you’ll wear shoes and pantaloons. You’ll have porridge for breakfast and supper for dinner, not a tiffin and certainly not anything that sounds like masala dosa.

So this English, which allowed you to be snooty and stiffen your upper lip, ruled the roost all over the world. In order to make it learnable, English unleashed its agents, known as teachers. There was an infrastructure of lexicons, linguistics, phonetics, Wren & Martin, adverbial clauses, past participles, and a nice social mix of comely vowels mixing sociably with macho consonants, unlike the Oriental counterparts which kept the vowels secluded above the line in a zenana kind of isolation.

One such agent of the English language was the pretty Peggy D’Prazer. Her orange skirt had pink flowers printed right up to the hem which stopped a few inches above her knee. She was a good teacher, but for some reason, kids scrambled to sit in the first row and drop pencils, sharpners and erasers (thanks to Ma’am Peggy, we do not say rubbers anymore) and bend down eagerly to pick them up and stay bent down for eternity. It was only when Peggy wore sarees, yes –still orange and still carrying floral imprints – that kids sat silently and listened to rules that would make them proper.  You cannot say, “your name is what?”. You have to say, “what is your name?” Stop saying, “why you are not eating?” Say, “why are you not eating?” What do you mean by “rats are running in my stomach”? Ok, maybe your dad says it, but in English, rats run behind the pied piper of Hamelin or scurry into rat holes and do not take over gastric systems. Oh God! Stop saying “he did not lift the phone.” As in phone nahin uthaya. Your servile servant may lift the phone to clean it. But you have to answer the phone, not lift it.

English was ruling. And under no threat to its existence.polite-insults Hence it continued with its haughty ways. With idioms and proverbs. With metaphors and polite insults. Much like a fellow intellectual property known as cricket. In cricket, you needed to sculpt a willow into a bat and season it with linseed oil. You had to play it in the grass that was grown right and proper. A dot ball, formerly known as a good ball, had to be played with a stance that was proper. Despite a no-run, you would be rewarded with a standing ovation for being proper. And if you scored a boundary with what was known as a cross-bat shot, you would be heckled and boo-ed even when the scoreboard ticked forward. Strange were the ways of those who thought in multiples of 11.  Ball weighing 5.5 ounces, team numbering 11 players and pitch measuring 22 yards. All masquerading as British propriety.

Is it any wonder that socio-economic forces in the world would force a change one day? It started with Kapil Dev. Still wore starched whites, but he was sure that he was a Jat from Haryana. He was a ballebaaz and not a batsman. His ambition was to swing the bat and belt the ball in any which direction, propriety and strokeplay be damned.  Crossbat-frossbat… it did not matter. Palmolive would pay him fancily if he got runs, never mind if it was not proper, not British and not in English. This takeover of cricket from the Brits by its erstwhile serfs was the motivating point for the rest who decided to take over the language and the institution itself.

Oh God! Stop saying “he did not lift the phone.” As in phone nahin uthaya. Your servile servant may lift the phone to clean it. But you have to answer the phone, not lift it.

Just like the neo rich builders lobby took over decaying and crumbling Nawab’s…oops… Nabob’s palaces (we’re British) and turned them into heritage hotels and built restaurants in the style of designer dhabas, there were a few mafia lobbies waiting to take over the English language.  The IT lobby struck first. They invented modems and broadbands that travelled faster than paperbacks and London Times.  So they started pinging the Brits with gay abandon. (Nota bene: we’re talking about the old Brit word gay and not the one that’s travelling through chromosomes now) They started googling for words called search.  They photoshopped the Lord’s stadium into a respectable edifice and hid its wrinkles and faultlines. They crusaded for paradigm shifts that were probably nuanced. They had a take on several issues which was a low hanging fruit and a bang for the buck for all the stakeholders. They took a call (BTW, Peggy also took a call from my furious Mom who wanted to know “why you’ve given my son only 82% in Englis, he will speaks best ma best Englis.”… coming back to the story, these IT Mafiosi guys took a call whenever they had issues with the English language. (BTW again, Peggy never had any issues. We gave her such a strong headache, it lasted right through her hubby’s attempts to sire issues.)

The Management Gurus struck next. And ended up as secondary partners to the IT world in this business of mergers and acquisition of the English language.  They sought some actionable items frotwo-cupsm this new global confusion. The cricketing Kent and Lancashire had moved to Mohali and Begaluru. So it was but natural for them to seek some deliverables and key takeaways from English. They wanted a buy-in from those who could think outside the box and design cutting edge technologies that could deliver state-of-the art environment to solve problems created by English.

English needed to get back to the drawing board to realise why it was faltering and crumbling like all its edifices built upon its name. People were playing better cricket in Dhanbad and also eating idlis in English, so where did the Earls and Viscounts get it wrong? Why did spreading yield to ? Why were we inventing new ball games? (BTW, Peggy walked out of the ballroom when Hindi Sir Pande told her that he had two balls) Guys wanting to turn English around ask you “what’s new?” knowing very well that nothing is new in this trending world. The i-phone you bought last week has trended-out as has your laptop, your villa and your wife.  The What’s up question can only get you an answer that sounds like onion price or dollar rate; will not evoke dirty lewd answers anymore.

We’re living in an impacted world that needs to be restored to its default setting.  Did the default setting start with primness and properness of the land of the Yorkshire pudding? Actually, No. Let me be bold enough to say No Re! Default setting lies in the land where the mind is without fear. And the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way to narrow domestic walls. Into that heaven of freedom my Father, my country shall surely awake.

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