Embracing English

When I was posted to Kerala (Palghat) in the year 2000, I did not know a single word of Malayalam, except for the fact that the word “Malayalam” is a palindrome. In my new assignment, I had to often talk to press persons. Every time I used to talk to them, I used to invariably get the answer, “I got it” – which made me wonder as to why, they have a special way of saying, “I got it” – even from normally Malayalam speaking persons. I reasoned, that this may be because of Kerala being the most literate state in the country. Months later, I had to bargain with a vegetable vendor, and for something that I said, he replied, “I got it!” – I was, amazed at the English speaking veggie vendor when it suddenly dawned on me that he couldn’t have possibly said, “I got it” – I then began a research into the term, and found out that all these days, I was being told, “Aikottey” – in Malayalam, which means, “OK” or “let it be” !

But it was not only the Malayalam that confused me. The SIMBLE English that is spoken in Kerala, is a different English altogether. Whenever I heard them say Lorry, I distinctly remembered the North Indian festival of Lori. When Rajini’s movie, Shivaji the Boss was released, many asked me, “Sir, have you seen Shivaji the Bose?” I started calling my North Indian boss as “bose” – and he immensely enjoyed it.

Once, at a new year party at the Railway colony, music was being played, which was a bit slow for party music. Suddenly, a malayalee youth, who wanted the music to be fast and loud, started shouting, “Roke music!” “Roke music!” – Luckily, the sound system guy did not know Hindi, or he would have promptly stopped the music.

When I got transferred, after eight long and very happy years in Kerala, I knew that I had to ”adjust” to the new “Tamilish” that is being spoken in Tamil Nadu. “Sir” was replaced by “Saar” and I found myself at odds with the English that is spoken in Tamil Nadu. To tell about the Tamilish, one requires another full blog, so I will stop here.

Recently, I got an SMS from an acquaintance, wanting a berth on emergency quota, thus : “Sir, please give birth for my son in train No.—-of date—-“ I preserved that SMS for quite some time, and only recently deleted it, after showing it to my wife, who was a “spoken English” teacher once.

In Railways, we often used the term, “Window Trailing Inspection” to denote an open window in the last carriage at the end of the train to enable the inspecting officials to see and inspect as the train moves. One day, I was amused to see a note that said that one of the top officials was going on a WIDOW trailing inspection! I had preserved that note for quite a long time now, hoping to include it in some book that I might write someday.

But in my travels all over, I have found that English, is one uniting factor. English, even though it is a British legacy, is the only language that really brings people together. Imagine people from Jammu, Himachal, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, etc, meeting together and trying to have a meaningful discussion? Hindi will have an edge over other languages, but certainly, English will have an edge over Hindi?

Once, when I had to visit my wife’s place in North India, I had the occasion to interact with some of her relatives, and one of them repeatedly asked me to eat well, and not feel shy. (In North India, the “damaad” is fed, fed, and fed, till he is fed up!). He repeatedly kept telling me, “please eat nicely, and don’t embrace me” – I kept wondering as to how I could possibly “embrace” him when I was atleast a few feet away from him. Only later I realized that I was, actually, “embarrassing” him!

Embarassing or not, English is one language that is embracing us, literally!

(Note : I am from South India, and my wife is from North India – which is why we were able to really appreciate Chetan Bhagat’s “Two States” immensely. We have gone through a lot together because of and despite our cultural and lingual differences, and we have taken a lot of efforts to see that our child is not affected by these two states…..But we fondly hope that the day will come in India, where no one will be able to say, that he is from this state or that, and that, he or she is, simply, a Bharath vasee! ( “Indian” is also a british coinage ?) – The great Tamil poet, Bharathi, speaks of India, only as “Bharatham” – the land of Bharat. When it was decided that India will have her Freedom, Lord Mountbatten received a number of letters from astrologers to not only change the date of independence from 15th August, 1947 (as it was considered inauspicious by the astrologers) but also on naming the country as “Bharat” instead of India…..)