Indian English Language: A Literary Perspective
By: Bijay Kant Dubey
Indian English is in reality whether you believe it or not neither Welsh English nor Irish English nor Cockney English nor Scottish English, neither King’s Standard nor Queen’s, neither of Oxford nor of Cambridge nor Harvard nor California nor New York nor Virginia. Neither Australian English nor the English spoken in New Zealand nor Caribbean English continuing from Rhodesia, called Zimbabwean now-a-days or is it South African variety. Indian English is Indian, purely Indian, Indian English, Hindustani English, a turbaned, dhoti-wearing with a tikka on the forehead and a clamp of hair hanging from the crown of the head man’s English. Indian English is Bengali English, Marathi English, Tamilian English, Indian English is Malyali English, Kannadiga English. We mean to say that there is nothing as that to show of Indian English, but to present how the speakers use and apply it for different purposes. Indian English is Bengali English, Bihari English, Oriya English, Haryanvi English, U.P.-ian English; Bhojpurian English, Gujarati English, Punjabi English, tribal English. There is nothing as Indian English, but it depends on how the people of multi-ethnic groups and races apply it, we mean the multi-lingual indigenous people suit it to their purposes. The people who speak Bengali, Hindi, Oriya, Assamese, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Malyalam, Kannada, Tamil, Urdu, all use it. The people who speak Sindhi, Kashmiri, Himachali, Santhali, Ho, Mundari, Karbi, Nagamese, Lepcha, Bhutia, Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Angika, Maithili, Nepali, Mizo, Manipuri, all those who use it. As the speakers are so the users of the language and their stress and accent keep varying from one to another. One who has read in his own way, pronouncing and learning it by rote will have to change the style to switch over to the possible standard tongue so that he may appear to be in his adopted speech.
India is so diverse and different, so exotic and wild, so impregnable and multifarious that one will not be able to understand it if one knows it not the history of the sub-continental features of Indian geography, art, philosophy, culture, society, living, manner, ethics, morality, spirituality, food habit, expression and so on. A society divided along caste, creed, sect and religion lines, complexion, ethnicity, race and lineage , culture, tradition and society, it is really difficult to understand the nomenclature and protocol prevailing. The cartography and mapping of the area too is so diverse and discriminating, separated from each and other that one cannot come to conclude what India is. India is a bundle of contradictions, so contrary and cutting across. The strata of society too lie in differing from. Language and regionalism created confusion from step to step and we could not do away with. Many men, many minds, the case with India and it still holds true. Now in order to keep pace with the modern age and its times, we have started talking about globalism and the global village, but the troubles lie in crossing over the contours of local cultures and traditions.
If the people speak Bengali in West Bengal, Angika, Magadhi, Maithili and Bhojpuri are in Bihar and Jharkhand in addition to tribal languages Pahari, Santali, Ho, Mundari and others. Hindi though is the main language spoken in Bihar and Jharkhand which but owes origins to some of these Aryan dialects. It has been seen on many occasions that an Angkia speaker has failed to converse in Hindi though he or she may understand it. Sometimes not very often we come across people, one speaking in Angkia dialect while the other answering in Bhojpuri. Similarly the two fellows somehow continue to share the thoughts in two dialects. The Biharis and the U.P.-ians touring West Bengal can face such a problem; the ones from M.P. and Chhatishgarh too may feel it while coming to Kolkata. Here just broken Hindi can bail one out and that too these days as for the filmy Hindi. Though one may do through Hindi or its allied dialects in Bihar, U.P., M.P., Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, but how to do in Bengal, Assam, Orissa? Suppose you this too can be done in a struggling way somehow. But the tribal dialects are unintelligible. One cannot even a word of it. The Dravidian ones we the speakers of the Indo-Aryan stock can never. Malyalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, we can never, never understand, we mean those who speak Hindi. Nepali is understandable just like Bihari Hindi dialects. But Lepcha, Bhutia, we do not know. The businessmen, temple-pundits, tourists, travellers, cart men and military men, they have the prospects of being polyglots. In the past they used to be as for various transactions. At that time classical Sanskrit used to be the lingua franca of India. Pali too worked as an international language of communication in the ancient times. Prakrit too had been so popular from which many Indo-Aryan languages have descended today. But those languages are dead today. The Hindi of Delhi is Urdu-ized, Persiania-nized, Arabia-ized apart from Punjabic and Haryanvi. Actually, it is Hindustani, Khari Boli, we may call it. Though for the films and commercialization, Bombay has swung to Hindi, but Hindi is actually not the native tongue of the local people. It is but Marathi of the chivalrous Marhattas calling not for truce easily if disturbed. Rajasthani is spoken in Rajasthan and Gujarati is in Gujarat. The Sindhi-speaking people too live in India who are actually from Sindh.
The experiences will be different if one tours and travels to the North-east, far off Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal. The southern part of Bihar itself had been so full of forest lands and hills clustered around that it was impossible to go from one side to another. The Gangetic plains too were so crisscrossed by the Ganges and its tributaries that it was difficult to go from one side of the bank to another. But the Naga sadhus used to come traversing the far and wild. Similarly to go to Assam was mythical and legendary. Those who used to move perhaps rarely returned to. Ancient India actually was of sadhus and sadhaks and what they did continued with us. But superstition and fanaticism wreaked havoc as we failed to take to reason and logic. We could not reason it in the right perspective. Everything that we did we assigned it to God. Nothing thought we as to be humanly, everything but His Will or divinely. This is where we erred. The intruders, looters, plunderers, raiders and invaders would have wreaked havoc had the English not united the nation, peace-loving and shelter-giving to all. The medieval barbaric hordes would have finished it off what it was in India, its Indianism and Indianness, Indian art and culture, thought and tradition, religion and philosophy, spirituality and metaphysics, ethics and etiquette, morality and didacticism, what it was in its doctrine of maya and vasudheva kutumbakam. But the idea of British nationalism clicked and it saved us narrowly.
Indian English is the official English, the official language used in for administrative correspondences and the art of writing, delicacy and manner, etiquette and style. Indian English is the language of the officer’s English, we mean the sahib’s English, memsaheb and sahib going together with for a walk and the local Hindustani men seeing, in contrast with burquawallis and medieval purdahwallis. The saheb, bibi and gulam, chatting whereas the local people unable to share with them, not up to their standard. The gulam can speak in English, but the locals cannot. The English took time to understand India and the Indians too took time to understand them.
India is not what we see it today, India was not what we saw it then. India has changed quite a lot. Absolved from the purdah pratha, the Sati system, the child marriage, it is reaching a milestone in terms of human welfare and development. Witch-hunting and social boycotts so inhuman and discriminating used to make the hairs stand on. There had been so many superstitions and disbeliefs doing the rounds in our society hinging on the concept of dark medievalism. The experiments with the tantrical trends we could not take them in a right perspective. The other thing is this that we took the heart-matter so much in confidence rather than intellect too. The heart not, but the brain is at the root such a scientific development, medical discovery and invention and of the making of life-saving drugs. But we the emotional Indians, exotic and indigenous, racial and multi-linguistic relied on the heart-matter, taking it to be the centre of all.
Had the English not fought battles and defeated the nawabs and rajahs, could they have? Had they not linked the far flung terrains and territories with roads, bridges and dams, how would have been the things? It is a matter of conjecture and reckoning. Had they not the post-office, the telegraph, the tram, the rail, how would it have been the India of today? The Indian politicians and leaders may talk big, but the reality far from.
To talk of Indian English is not to talk of it merely, but to trace the commercial routes of the trading companies and their water ways, the launching of the ships as or maritime activities and commercial transaction. How did they come upon following which routes? If we start the discussion in such a way then the names of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras will naturally come up for discussion. From Calcutta to Delhi they switched over the capital later on, linking with the whole of the world, exploring and discovering the ways and means of evolution.
They wrote the books first, studied the different aspects of Indian culture, art, philosophy, sculpture, painting, architecture, history, geography, political science, science, sociology, gemology, astrology, astronomy, poetry, literature, criticism, vernacular, local custom and dialect to be endowed as for administration.
Indian English is written English, not spoken English, grammatical English; a link language, a library-consulting one. Indian English is not an Indian variety of English, but a language learnt laboriously. It is not at all a natural expression, but a laboured one as the learners practice hard to speak in English.
When the television had not been, the mobile hand phone not, it was really difficult to be proficient in. Leave it now. Today global English has taken over and we talk about the features and aspects of different things in the glow of globlization, privatization and commercialization. English is not the lingua franca of the world merely, but global English too. French could have been, but it did not, German could have been, but it did not.
Indian English is but colonial English which but saved it India from onslaught and invasion, gave the idea of nationalism. Had they been not, we would not have. Had they not, medievalism would have finished it off whatever good it was in us. The invaders rather than reforming and correcting started demolishing, creating not, breaking in the name of religion and belief, how could it be if the majority of yours others and you yourself in a minority? Actually, the Indians had been peace-loving and unresisting so that they could sail through.
Indian English is institutional English, of colleges and schools, facilitating the British system of education not only, but offering the best of European thought and tradition. Indian English is of police stations, courts and administration.
Indian English is Indian English, dealing with Indian usage and idiom, the theme of Indianness, how much time did it take in becoming Indian, just like an English woman in sari, the process of Indianization it went through the test and ordeal of it and the Indianism it is aligned with while grappling with the word-stock of it, deriving from Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetese and Austro-Asiatic linguistic stocks.
In the world today, when the age has advanced so much and the times seem to be ahead of, call it modern, post-modern or contemporary, how to view it in the aftermath of globalization when feel we proud to talk of the global village in the glow light of glasnost and perestroika. With the mobile phone set into the hands, the world has really shrunken it and we seem to be clutching into our fist or almost as a village location taken through the GPS picture. We have started priding over our English, impeccable English, grammatical not, spoken English.
Indian English if seen from the rural point of view is a thing of ‘go as you like’, pronounce as you can. The teachers who teach them too are not conversant with the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the language. If the teachers themselves know it not then what to say of, how to clutch it along for proficiency?
In the past it was a problem to converse with the people. Hindi too had not been what it is today. Hindi in the past had been a bundle of dialects.
Indian English after having refused to accept it a variety we are accepting it now-a-days. Even in the past it had an existence of own in the form of Anglo-Sanskrit versions. At that time Sanskrit studies, Asiatic researches, Oriental studies used to do rounds. A few of the Anglo-Indians who settled here got mixed with as could not resist to have the identity of own as for various reasons, heat and dust, Indian summer scorching it all, the wide spectrum, the varying climate and geographical conditions of the nation, just like a sub-continent in its spread and dimension, landscapic and panoramic, so exotic and indigenous. Somewhere the ranges of the hills clustered and encircling, somewhere deserts, somewhere arid and barren, somewhere greenery stupendous, somewhere the highlands uphill, somewhere the lands low-lying, flood-prone areas. Somewhere the climate colder, somewhere hotter for so long, is the thing. The dialects and vernaculars so different and varied that one speaker cannot converse with another directly for an exchange of thoughts and ideas.
English in the beginning had been of the presidencies, capitals with the headquarters of administration where there were courts, police stations and colleges. The Englishmen made a tryst with Indian history, society and sociology to cope with a nation so divided and impregnable, dotted with hills, uplands, highlands, seas, rivers, forest ranges, mountainous and hilly ranges, lakes, deserts, plateaus, exotic flora and fauna, not alike, but full of dissimilarities, contraries and contradictions. A land of so many people, so many minds, faiths, beliefs and ideologies, it had never been the same.
Actually we should have begun the topic linguistically, but we are here studying it literally. The beauty of it lies in the technical description of it. Phonetically we should have distinguished it, why the variation exists? It is not for the language, but for the pronunciation faulty and natural, native and regional. English as a language is stress-based whereas many of our languages syllable-based. Our sound-system is different from. We speak loudly, but they transmute it, presenting nasally, tonally as they know the art of speaking, the manner and style of presentation, receiving and answering, interrupting and interfering not. There is something as inborn tendencies which but we cannot deny it. Let me finish is the thing, but we the Indians interrupt and intercept, letting not finish.
But what is more interesting is this that many of the little-read, copy-cat Indians, fashionable and modish, stylish and contemporary, visiting and touring will fail the English in emulating them which but Gandhi and Nehru tried to do it earlier. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the pants, boots and suit experimented he with English style and form, but failed in duplicating them. Nehru too experimented with after going to Cambridge and Harrow, but could not be. The convent-school boys and girls can give us the idea of ditto English speakers. Some just give the pose and some are impeccably up to mark.
Let us think about the first White women who would have stepped on the soil full of purdah and burqua, medievalism and superstitious thoughts and ideas, into the exotic lands of the indigenous people, the ismic ones differentiating on the lines of caste, creed, class and sect. Actually, it was not so. The cultures had been so different, local and regional with the diverse languages not, dialects and vernaculars separating them and creating misunderstanding.
Indian English, the history of it we cannot know it unless and until we know the opening of schools in India, of the hospitals, courts, offices and other institutions. We cannot if know we not about the introduction the post-office, the telegraph, the railway, the tram, the motor bus and so on. Indian English if we have to know it we should have first-hand knowledge of the routes, motorable and water ways.
Hindi, we talk about Hindi as the official language, Hindi replacing English is the thing to be felt, the voice of protest and internal displeasure as English of colonial masters representing foreign rule and administration. Officially, that is good as for, Angrezi hatao. Remove English not, the English and the elite people from politics so that the uneducated and loafers may be murkhamantris. Theoretically, we dispensed with it, but practically we hinged upon. As for fashion designers, beauticians, travelers, tourists, we could not discern it. The disco jockeys are using it in the mode of Hinglish, Benglish and so many ‘ishes’. As for the airhostesses we are unable to dismiss it, as for foreign policy and diplomacy, international relations we cannot do away with. If we say Angrezi hatao now, we may be beaten as people will definitely come out in its favour. Without English, heroes and heroines will turn into zeroes.
Actually, Angerzi hatao movement had been the gimmick of the non-English knowing Indian dehati politicians, the blunt bluff masters, the rural ruffians, goons and loafers turning into leaders, the deshi politicians. But when they come to power by sheer luck, they forget not to send their sons and daughters to convent schools for their education.
Now in the computer age, the age of science and technology, graphics and animation, the moblie phone and so-called globalization, glasnost and perestroika, commercialization and privatization, dislocation and displacement, what to do, how to dispense with English? If English is not then how shall we talk to, converse with? In this world of managerial expertise and technical virtuosity, of media barons and biz gurus, land sharks and diplomatic hawks, we are helpless without.
Indian English had been a link language linking with the south with the north during the British period, especially from the linkage point of view. At that time it was a problem to know them. Barring the wandering fakirs and sadhus, none could know them. But credit goes to Adi Shankaracharya for four dhams assimilating and assembling the things, unifying us into a whole. But when Hindi was declared the official language, there had been stiff opposition from the non-Hindi speaking states and it too had some substance to base on which but we cannot negate it. Whatever be that, even now English works as a link in between the two distant south and north regions. The linguistic barrier had been one of the lacunae frustrating us forever and English solved it clearing the misunderstanding. India cannot be India if know we not the things of the nation through English translation.
As for the colonial contact, the English took to rule and administration, development and welfare, but they chose not to dwell in here, the heat and dust beat them miserably and it too was a weakness of theirs that they could not take India as for own rather than using it for them as a colony. The other thing too is this that apart from being the White man’s burden, they had a tougher time in dealing with the thugs and dacoits.
Even now when a foreigner telephones from overseas, we mean when an American or Englishman, it becomes difficult for even the PhDs. and professors of English in India to catch them. One may be knowledgeable or conversant with the language, but it is difficult to converse with the native speaker and to be proficient in. Perhaps the call centre boys and girls, the tourists, guides and interpreters living in their company and association can enlighten upon this topic more rather than the academics who have never visited foreign countries and taught in overseas universities.
Let us see the words doing the rounds in English dictionary, word-stock or lexicography. To mention them right or wrong, let us just go on counting. First, the Sanskrit words or terms, om, atman, parmatman, maya, jiva, bhoga, karma, bhakti, gnana, ahimsa, satya, moksha, nirvana, mantra, yoga, papa, punya, etc. may be taken into consideration. The common words, such as rajah, rani, zamindari, tamasha, sepoy, chowki, chowkidar, machan, madari, durbar, ganja, hookah, nautch, shehnoi, pahalwan, goon, yogi, kakira, tantrica, ayurveda, etc. have found a way into the realms of its word-stock. Goon, gherao, thug, dacoit, loot, chor, badmash, etc. too are the words of their kind. The wallahs, paanwallahs, beediwallahs, bandarwallahs, have always eluded the Europeans. The paanwallahs with Benarasi paan, the mouth-fresher for digestion and sweetness and the typical cheap beediwallahs smoking cheaply have also figured in. The tamasha shown by the jugglers, acrobats, rope-dancers, we mean the street show engaged them definitely. The spectacle of the snake-charmers playing the wooden been instrument and the deadly cobras swaying have always found appreciations in the West. The bandarwallah’s shows a European carried it to be shown overseas as the remembrances of India seen and recollected. The red-mouthed small monkeys stupendous to view them; the white-haired hanumans but blackly-mouthed hanging by the trees with the kids into their laps, gnashing the teeth and ready to slap if teased can steal the shows from. The fortune-tellers going with the green and pink-necked parrots, picking the cards and the clients reading them to know the future as per zodiac lucky draw, is a conventional picture of our belief in fatalism, which sometimes leads us to inaction. We could have tried, but should not have believed, taking into confidence.
The history of Indian English language if somebody has to know he should first try his best to know the history of the opening of presidencies, high courts, offices, police stations, schools, colleges, bridges, roads, dams, hospitals, complexes and wards. Without knowing these or in the absence of it, one should not reason what they did and what they did not for the eradication of poverty, uneducation, illiteracy, social evil, superstition and so on. Even the histories of ours had not been written and they took the pains to write and collect materials. Our historiography had been as such that we could not take into consideration. The medievalist kings and feudal lords had been barbaric and bloody, fundamental and conservative as law and justice could not be expected from them. To loot and break had been their job rather than to rule and administer. Religious bigotry held its sway over so unreasonably.
Indian English language has not a feeder dialect of its own. Even the Anglo-Indians use it not as one to be spoken in homes or one to be called whose tongue is English. Indian English language as a language is written English, grammatical English. Many practise to be proficient, conversant with. Some take lessons in conversational English. Indian English language actually is a language of the classrooms; one of the convent schools; of cities and towns.
In the past the policemen used to carry with broken English, the lawyers used to be proficient in learning and writing drafts, the teachers and professors of English mugging and hesitant to be good speakers. The English Hons. students used to learn by rote to look like English men and women , but were dehati, rural ones trying to show off. Many of the teachers who are university professors were unable to speak in English in the classrooms when they joined, whatever may think today. Some of them are writers and are linguists of repute now.
Many take to English just to have a mileage over and English is a matter of prestige whether the Indian villagers know it or not, but they respect the English-knowing very much. Even the professors with Ph.Ds. in English will fumble to talk with the foreigners. English is English, has the charm of its own. The respect for English has not grown all of a sudden. English has definitely served us which but we can feel within. Science and technology, European thought and tradition, delicacy and good manners, lessons in nationalism, fraternity, liberty and equality, feeling of missionary zeal and service, ideas in discipline and punctuality, things related to law and justice, human rights and justice, we have got them from. The word modernity and its borrowing from will itself speak of, when did we become modern and for whom? The whiff and taste of Englishness we have not got from literature, but from what they wore, their attire and etiquette. Let us think of the women wearing the English dress for the first time in India and the opposition they would received; the people who would have gone to foreign for studies crossing over the saat samudras, facing social boycotts and shaving of heads when they would returned from overseas journey, but the ismic Indians forgot not to be treated by the European doctors. The cholera wards of yesterday will tell the story how the Indian villages reeled under it. Typhoid, malaria, plague, small pox and others used to claim many precious lives.
Indian English is but the English of the Indian masses of the sub-continent who use and apply it for different purposes, as for conversation, law, education, learning, administration, social exchange, communication, tour, travel, business, bargain, economy, polity, science, technology, modernity or any treatise to be done upon. A loud version with the faltering pitch and abnormal stress and accent, it is spoken haltingly, full of hitch and hiccup. Better known as written English, it is used for letter-writing. It is for medical purposes, engineering skills. Only fatalism and belief in God cannot cure our ailment. It is a fact that one cannot do with Hindi in all the states of India so only English appears to be indispensable for us to carry it along for communication. Only English is capable of clearing forth the linguistic hurdles and barriers. Indian English is a translator’s version. Indian English is but the official language of India whether one says it or not which is but a hidden matter. We shall not be able to exchange our thoughts and ideas if we know it not English. Talk you not about the Indians, but the foreigner curators will enlighten more on Nataraja Shiva, the golden statue of Radha and Krishna seated on a lotus and the trinity concept, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara.