Friday, 31 January 2014

Does knowing English create a class barrier?

George Bernard Shaw said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

In India though, English, which is not such a common language everywhere, creates barriers.

When you arrive in England, you realise knowing English just means it is easi..."er" to communicate, but it doesn't automatically place you in an elite group of people, who share a different aspiration in life, whereas in India it does.

My brother had related a story to me, about the conversation which followed when he reached his lodge, where he was staying in Patna while he studied in Science College. The conversation was with his lodgemate (if that makes sense), who was not from an English medium school,  and it was after brother dear reached the lodge, having watched the blockbuster Deewar.

Lodgemate: Humko to nahi samajh me aayegi?

Brother: Kyun? Deewar kyun nahi samajh me aayegi?

Lodgemate: The War...English hogi na?

Apparently he had concluded that my brother must only watch English movies!

Similarly I have watched people (friends, relatives) become tongue tied in social interactions simply because they feel that the expectation is to speak in "farratedaar" English.

People start teaching their kids even before they are born and in the endeavour whole households seem to be speaking in English all the time and their need to speak in Hindi becomes confined to speaking to servants (a class apart). Don't know if it is true about other Metros but Deceptive Delhi, definitely.

I have been at the receiving end of this snobbish condescension, since the time I arrived in South Delhi to attend for the first time, a co educational school; from a little known small town in Bengal with oiled hair in braids, having hardly ever listened to any Western Music, having no sense of fashion whatsoever (I realise that hasn't changed at all since those early school years) and having just my tenth marks as my claim to fame.

I soon learnt about painful and painstaking measures of female grooming which are now deemed essential, started listening to Sunday requests on the radio,  became aware of the fine balance of "come hither" and "get lost" looks pretty girls gave to chasing boys. And yet, I still feel judged and inferior when face to face with a name dropping, designer clad, well heeled, articulate and fragrant member of homo sapiens- male or female!

Needless to say, I am sure I have been guilty too of making others feel this way. However, as I have grown older and wiser, I have come to realise what a load of rubbish "class" is. I am sure all of you read about the world famous violinist who played anonymously near a train station and nobody except pre-schoolers paid him any attention. I wonder if dogs listened, our dog was usually a good judge of character!

I remember as kids we used to have our favourite relatives, people who we were usually in awe of, people who were young; seemed smart, articulate, well dressed; people who smelt nice, told us stories and brought us gifts. Our parents always taught us to be grounded and therefore we also saw how my dad bathed and tended to a poor far off relative from the village, only because he was a distant cousin of mummy's, was sick and needed treatment. We were taught the basic values of courtesy, respect and care but...

When we grew up and when my parents wanted to go on bride hunting sprees for my brothers, I was the most vocal in saying we needed life partners who we could connect with, who we had a lot in "common" with, people who we had "got to know", people we could watch "English movies" with.

I was young, energetic, idealistic, eager to take on the world; the ways of which I now realise I had little idea about.

Being a migrant in an English speaking country is a great leveller too. I still can't sometimes understand the jokes going back and forth in the operating theatre. Culture, education and background...they can be used to create barriers when people choose to, but positive energy is able to dissipate most barriers

 The older and wiser me realises the essence of the words- "its the thought that counts". I have realised how the things which matter most are vibes, thoughts, actions which speak louder than words in any language. I realise how the simplest people can look so beautiful and all the designer clothes can't inspire the energy which a brave and loving person's actions can. I realise that you need to have nothing in common to be friends and certainly very little in common to be life partners and love does make the world go around!

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