Three events in a row, have been rankling in my mind for some time now.
A birthday party earlier this year. The birthday-boy was English, and his grandma and I were making P.C (as my dear friend Sowmya refers to ‘polite conversation‘). She enquired about our plans to ‘settle down abroad’ and I replied that we intended to ‘head back home‘. When she said, ‘Well, good for your son that he is ‘here’ now, he can learn his language (English) here’. I laughed it off. Inwardly, I was SEETHING.
A chance encounter with a friendly Mum-Kid duo at a play-area. The mother was Indian, born and brought up in Africa, and now settled in the UK. In the course of our conversation, she happened to say – with evident surprise – ‘Your English is beautiful!‘ and wanted to know how I managed to speak English, coming from India.
A little conversation on a canal boat in Amsterdam. The American couple seated in front of us, struck up a conversation, and happened to mention that they were surprised to hear my son’s ‘British/American accent’. Naturally, the question that followed was how he managed to converse with our relatives/friends back in India, and IF people in India could speak English.
Three incidents. They were friendly and innocent remarks, not meant to cause any harm or insult. However, the unspoken words set me thinking.
So, why is it that foreigners ASSUME that people in India do not understand/speak English?
It is not just foreigners. Even second generation British Indians (i.e. whose parents or grand-parents settled in UK and these folks were born and brought up here), seem to think the same way. I was asked by an ‘Indian’ colleague, if people in India could speak English, and if everybody was still very poor! I remember being quite shocked at the ignorance and stereotyped image she carried of her country!!
So, does India still project this image of being a third-world country, where people wear saris or dhotis, chew paan, speak only their regional language, and watch snake-charmers perform tricks by the side of the road?!
Does the word ‘India’ conjure up a picture of beggars and snake-charmers or monkeys performing tricks and people throwing coins onto a ragged cloth spread on the dusty road?
Does the western world not know how developed we are, on various grounds? We have miles to go, that is certain, but we aren’t exactly an undeveloped, tribal land today!!
Do they see us as Slumdog-non-millonaires? (On another note, I remember being angry at the producers of Slumdog Millionaire for projecting such a pathetic, stereotyped image of our country!)
Does ‘India’ not represent a modern and growing nation at all? What of all the IT parks and banks that have sprung up in the last couple of decades? And the dreaded call-centres that cater to western countries? What of the high-rise buildings and roads crowded with cars and bikes? I do understand that our villages are a far cry from cities. But they too, are developed in more ways than we can imagine!
If nothing else, what about our adorable Kalmadi, Radia, Raja and Kanimozhi :roll:? If nothing else, atleast these esteemed folks should give them a better idea of the state of affairs in our country 😆 😆
On an interesting note, I googled ‘India’ on Google Images, and this is what came up: Our flag, the Taj, maps, even a picture of Shahrukh Khan posing for Chak De 😆
Now coming back to the question of ‘understanding/speaking English’, from my limited experience, most Indians can understand the language, and can communicate fairly reasonably, if one can ignore the grammar/pronunciation. Even the simple vegetable vendor can understand a few words. So if a foreigner were to visit an Indian city (I am not sure about remote villages), he can manage to get across a few basic words. Just as he/she would, in, say, Russia or Germany! Don’t you think?
On a lighter note, we can “…talk English, walk English and even laugh English because English is a very phunny language.”
Well, to the friendly American tourist on that boat – I strongly recommended that she make a visit, cover the grand palaces in Rajasthan, and go all the way down South to marvel at the exquisite temples. She genuinely seemed quite interested. Just before we left the boat, this is what I said to her:
‘I do hope you visit India some day, its a beautiful country. Only, don’t expect to see any snake-charmers!!’
She replied, with a smile, ‘Damn!! I was hoping to see some!’
So people, how do non-Indians perceive India? Any ideas?