‘English is an Indian language.’ I agree with R.K. Narayan there. It came into India with the British and was adopted by the people of this country, though grudgingly. It is the adopted daughter of parents who are still trying to figure her out. One might argue that the bond of blood is lacking in this case. But I would suggest that sometimes, bonds forged with struggle over time are stronger than the ones of blood.
Take Hindi, for example. It is not the mother tongue of the whole of South India, Rajasthan, Bengal, the northeast and Punjab. Yet it is the national language of this country. Isn’t that another kind of language domination?
Priya Venkateshan, in her essay ‘English gave my generation a voice*’, rightly says that “fewer and fewer children are born in India with both parents speaking the same language. Even fewer grow up in a state where the official language is the same as their mother tongue. An increasing number move all over the country during their childhood.”
I was born in Kolkata, grew up in Hyderabad and Delhi. Now, I reside in Bangalore. My father and mother, both, are Bengalis. However my step-mother is an Oriya and my step-father a Tamil Brahmin. What does that make me? Half Bengali, one-fourth Tamilian and one-fourth Oriya.
By this logic, my Bengali should be flawless. But that is not the case. My Hindi is better than my Bengali. The language I can, however, claim my own is not Hindi, Bengali, Oriya or Tamil. It is a language my people have adopted; a language which was forced on my country. It is English—the language I think in.
The boatman mentioned in Aatish Taseer’s piece ‘How English ruined Indian Literature**’ will not identify with me. He would rather glare at people like me and curse my family for not teaching me my mother tongue. I wouldn’t blame him. He is entitled to his rage. His son (say) Ramesh, despite having done graduation in accountancy, is unable to get a job. Why? Because his English is broken. This would enrage any father. What does an accountant have to do with English- he would ask his son? His son would reply that that is the way the world works.
It is indeed sad how we place one’s accomplishment in the English language above their academic merit and proficiency in their field of work. Anyone who can speak flawless English is deemed to be from a high social ranking. But how is this the fault of the language? The way I see it, the reason English has been given the status of a ‘class’ in this country is the naivety and gullibility of the people.
Language, for the mass, has a very utilitarian role. It is a mean of communication and only that. The academia and the literary community sees a different role of languages. They are right in their own way. For a literature student like me, English is more than a mean of communication. It is art and I take my art seriously. But just because my neighbor’s daughter has not grasped it with the fluency I did, I have no right to look down on her.
India needs to change its thought process. Blaming a language (which is after all, man’s creation) for class domination is not the answer. That is the easy way out. It is us who have placed English on a pedestal and it is us who will have to do the same with all the other Indian languages.
Read the following articles for a better perspective: