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 😆
Sadly, there was no Anna, and heavens be blessed, no Ramdev 😉
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?
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?
[Caution: Potential heated discussions ahead. No personal attacks please. As always, let us share our views in a civilised manner :-)]
So I was having a very interesting argument with Mochachilo the other day. It started with his post describing his recent trip to Chennai. My ears perked up the moment I heard the word ‘Chennai’! Now, like all cities, Chennai is unique in its own way. Unfortunately, it did not meet the author’s expectations, for reasons that were valid to him.
The die-hard-Chennai-ite that I am, I obviously took up the gauntlet and challenged some of the sweeping generalizations made against the city, which I felt were incorrect and biased.
Please note: I am certainly not here to attack my friend Kartikay 🙂 AND I am not here to defend Chennai by arrogant (and ignorant!) claims that it is heaven on earth.
I am merely going to state facts – from MY limited experience.
I love Chennai for its unique culture, the manageable pace of life, the distinctly gorgeous old-world-charm that is still preserved in places like Mylapore Tank.
I love all that just as much as I hate the muggy weather, the conniving auto drivers and politicians, and the pollution.
So there! I do not aspire to call Chennai the best city in the world or anything of the sort. Like my darling sister always says, ‘That-that person, that-that favourite city’!!
The crux of this blog post is this: Kartikay stated that considering it is a metro city, Chennai is not cosmopolitan.
However, as someone who has lived most of her life in Chennai, I would like to throw some light on the place that I lived in, and still do.
This is a quiet residential area. In this typically old-fashioned and ‘non happening’ part of town, there is a famous Temple, a Church of historical significance, and a popular mosque, all within exactly 10 minutes walking distance from each other. Infact, right opposite the mosque is a temple.
Believe it or not, we wake up to the call of prayer from the mosque, and also hear the evening aarti at the temple. There has never been a religious problem – ever! Touch wood!
People understand Tamil, English and a bit of Hindi too. You don’t necessarily need to know Tamil to speak to auto-drivers. They are a bunch of thieves, and they fleece everyone irrespective of caste/colour or language!!
Cinema theatres air all sorts of movies (some of the posters can make one cringe :roll:!).
Restaurants offer a wide variety of cuisine! You name it, you can find it!! From super-soft idlis and golden crisp masala dosai to dal makhani and gobi manchurian, its there for the asking!
You walk into a shopping mall or even a roadside shop – and find people dressed in all sorts of clothes – ranging from saris, salwar-kameezes, skirts, shorts, jeans and tees, shopping, eating and making merry.
Amidst the excited chatter, one gets to hear not just Tamil, but also lots of Hindi and English.
There are shopping malls, libraries, architectural wonders, and more. There is a steady influx of Oriya students pursuing higher studies. Our dear Marwadi brethren have set up flourishing businesses (clothes, diamonds, etc) in the city. I have a Punjabi friend, whose entire family has been settled in Chennai for the last 2 generations, and plan to continue to do so! I have so many Mallu friends, who form a lovely part of my life!
And hey, we even built a damn temple for Khusboo!! 🙄
To quote LR: ‘Temple for Khusboo… Temple for Namita. Now we are more accommodating than any one could imagine 😆 :lol:’
I can go on and on, about what a melange Chennai is (rather, has always been). But that might be a biased picture too. So I will just stop with: Every city has its fair share of pros and cons. To focus only on the negatives and brand a city as ‘dull and boring’ is simply not correct.
One does not go to a city known for its temples and music seasons and focus only on the seeming lack of nightlife!!
This is like visiting Egypt and whining about ‘broken down buildings and the lack of a disco!’
So a statement that Chennai is ‘not happening’ or ‘not cosmopolitan’ – to me – sounds pretty loaded with prejudice, and to a small extent, arrogance too!
Chennai, like any other city, is famous for certain attributes. One learns to appreciate those, and not slam a culturally-rich city for lacking in nightclubs and not conversing in a language familiar to ‘you’!
Now, coming to the moot point here: Mochachilo’s statement that Chennai is NOT cosmopolitan and someone entering the city does not feel ‘at home’.
He has infact given a really wonderful definition of ‘cosmopolitan’.
Despite our top tier metro cities being so straight-jacketed (unsure if that is the right word!), we proudly state that they are ‘cosmopolitan’.
However, any other city with the exact same characteristics (local dialect, unique weather, city-specific attire) or similar characteristics is NOT cosmopolitan?
Is that correct??
Or have we all become so self-obsessed that we think OUR city’s culture is THE culture of the whole of India, and the cities that do not ‘conform’ to our city are actually not cosmopolitan?!!
Those of us who CLAIM to live in a cosmopolitan city, let us think it over. Does our city really reflect a blend of cultures ACROSS India? If one thinks his/her city is a melting pot of cultures, I think it is time to think again!!!
As for Chennai, I do not claim that it is entirely cosmopolitan. I appreciate that a non-Tamil-speaking person might find it difficult at first (exactly the same way that a Tamilian who cannot understand Hindi, is bound to struggle in Mumbai or Delhi, until the time he/she learns the local language or finds people who speak English!).
If you asked me, India is simply too vast for any city to be truly cosmopolitan. Even the most ‘modern’ metro cities are steeped in a culture of their own. There is no way it is reflective of the COUNTRY.
I am not sure if a Tamilian who enters Karnataka or Delhi for the first time, feels ‘at home’ in that cosmopolitan city. Or is made to feel at home by friendly locals or any initiatives by the local government?!!
I am not certain that a Keralite visiting Calcutta (a metro city) would feel at home if he/she did not understand Bengali!
IMHO, Mumbai might score a notch above other metro cities, for sheer number of immigrants. However, we do have a Thackeray who defeat good intentions there!!
Therefore, I cannot confidently say that ANY Indian city scores high on being cosmopolitan.
It is up to the visitor/immigrant tofit into the place by learning the local language and adjusting to the local weather/attire/culture.
At the risk of sounding biased – I’d just say in Indian cities, it is immigrants/visitors who put in efforts to blend into the local culture. The local people do not necessarily take efforts or facilitate such blending. One just takes baby steps to try to fit in.
On the contrary, take a look at a city like London, for example. To be fair, I’d say THIS is a city that is cosmopolitan. You have people of diverse cultures living under the same roof, aka sky. They speak their own distinct language. ALL the major festivals of EVERY community are celebrated with pomp. If people celebrate Christmas, they also equally enjoy Chinese New Year and Diwali. People love croissants, sushi AND curry. There are churches and temples, functioning smoothly ALL the time. Everybody is eligible to vote. Believe it or not, some council offices even have a full-time Bengali translator for the non-English speaking immigrants. Touch wood. You find people of every race and colour walking about the streets.
Yes, there are problems. But absolutely nothing like the ones we find within India!!
So, dear readers, what do you think of your city? Is it truly cosmopolitan? Or do you think any particular Indian city is really cosmopolitan?
Is there any such city in our country where an ‘immigrant’ (I am not referring to the upper strata of society or people like expats) feels completely ‘at home’ and ‘not marginalised’?
Please share your views on an Indian city that you think is truly cosmopolitan?
PS: Our esteemed rapist’s name is hardly mentioned by media. So I am taking the liberty of calling him ‘Brute-Rapist-Sohanlal’. Earlier, I had typed ‘Rapist Sohanlal’ but that sounds quite filmy, almost entertainingly trivial even!
A lot has been said about the ‘Brute-Rapist-Sohanlal’ case.
Now why did I choose this title ‘What a wonderful life’ for this post.
This is why:-
(1) Our WONDERFUL Indian culture sweeps ‘rape’ under the carpet. You can steal, punch or even murder someone. But RAPE? Oh no! Now Rape is taboo. We can DO it all the time, but we just DO NOT TALK about it! Praise be to Indian culture!
This is exactly why women do not often lodge a complaint about rape. If the rapist has raped her ONCE, our precious MEDIA involuntarily RAPES HER IMAGE MULTI-FOLD. She is left with ‘no face’ to show to society. She and her family are either pitied or scorned. Either way, they become a disgrace.. a black mark!
Indeed, media does help to fuel ANGER against the ‘incident’. But at what cost? The victim is left with no privacy and no respect, while the rapist remains anonymous!
THE ONLY WAY WE CAN CHANGE THIS CULTURE IS IF WE BEGIN TO FOCUS ON THE CULPRIT RATHER THAN THE VICTIM.
Every article that the Internet throws up talks about ‘Aruna being attacked by a subordinate‘. The rapist is a nameless entity. A man, without an identity, name or description. There are no pictures of Brute-Rapist-Sohanlal. There are only those of the victim.
Why are we, as a society protecting our rapists? Why don’t we expose them??!!!
There is only one way forward – Every time media flashes ‘Breaking News’ about a rape, they should bombard us with pictures and history of the RAPIST, not of the poor victim. Instead of interviewing the tear-stricken face of the victim and her shame-faced family, they should focus completely on the inhuman rapist and his family/friends!!
LET US SHAME THE CULPRIT, NOT THE VICTIM!!!
This, should not be ‘Aruna Shanbaug Case’. It should be ‘Sohanlal Brutal Rapist’ case!
(2) Our wonderful society very often seek to explain and justify WHY Sohanlal raped the victim.
Almost every link from the internet has featured this sentence:
No offence to any authors/websites please. I am MERELY WONDERING, if our SOCIETY SEEK TO JUSTIFY RAPE?
All the articles try to explain WHY Sohanlal raped the victim. It is almost a Cause and Effect scenario. So somewhere, in the darkest recesses of our mind, we are probably trying to ‘UNDERSTAND WHY HE RAPED’.
That, to me, is dangerous. There is NO REASON, NO EXCUSE for a man to rape someone!
(3) Our WONDERFUL judicial system convicted the rapist, of what had been legally proved. Robbery, and ATTEMPTED murder.
She asks a simple question – ‘Would YOU be willing to spend even a moment in Aruna’s shoes?’
The Supreme Court has now legalised PASSIVE EUTHANASIA. So someone in Aruna’s place NEED NOT go through the hell she is still living. A patient’s blood-relations can move for passive euthanasia. That is a minor victory, no doubts. But is it enough, atleast for Aruna?
Life! Wonderful Life!!!
You know what would REALLY BE WONDERFUL?
1- Media HUNTS DOWN Sohanlal, shames him enough to last a couple of lifetimes, and then hands him over to the judiciary!
2- The judiciary re-opens the case, and awards him punishment that is fitting, for his crimes! It is never too late, is it?
It would be wonderful to see Sohanlal hanged in public, on the same day that Aruna might die!!!
3- Going forward, we must jointly expose rapists rather than the victims. Let us stop embarassing the poor victims, and make them feel they are still part of our society, and that it is the rapist who does not belong!!!