(Found a two-week-old rant saved in my drafts. This, apparently, was in response to this piece in SF Chronicle, read via Sepia Mutiny. A smaller version of the rant appears in the comments there.)
This is a fairly long rant, but heck, it touches on a secret crush, linguistics, and it’s a bored Friday afternoon out here. 😀
The way I see it, I spoke in three languages during my schooldays. At home, I used to speak Telugu, that refined language of Nannayya, Molla and Thyagaraja which my family speaks, and into which I find myself reverting back when I truly want to express myself, but, for reasons I won’t go into detail, often end up feeling unaccomplished and cliched.
At school, I used to speak English, the language of Coleridge, Shakespeare, O. Henry and RK Narayan, a language I find very useful to rationalize in, and perhaps, construct fairly competent imagery, if you will, but one that is ultimately soulless. I probably read, written and generally used English more than any other language, but ultimately, like everything else to do with ex-pat culture, it will never be mine, it will never define me the way Telugu does.
And finally, in the playground, I used to speak (what I call as) Ind-glish, the language of the then über-cool, an ironic language which is, at once, funny, expressive and profound, with constructs such as “cool-eshwar” or “light-chood”, or to take commercial examples, “Hungry hai kya”. There is this problematic issue of whether it defines me (or us) into which I don’t want to step into; while it does, arguably, describe the post-colonial-Indian condition, whether it is unique in doing so is something I wouldn’t want to answer at this point. Perhaps in a generation or two, but not now; personally, I’ll stick to Telugu for the time being.
Now, you’ll note that the extract in the column was written in English and not Ind-glish; there’s nothing uniquely Indian about wooden pulp fiction, or disdain for accepted grammar. More to the point, it isn’t inherently (to use a computing metaphor) self-replicating, in that, some other Indian is not likely to read this and decide that she’ll use this turn of words in her own text. She would, at best, understand where the author is coming from, but that’s because she’s already dealt with
In short, if you replace the Indian proper nouns with, say, East European ones, the text will no longer “feel” Indian anymore. It will still feel wooden, arcane and stodgy, but not Indian. For a text to be Ind-glish, it will have to be Indian beyond its desi placeholders, and that’s something this text can’t do.
I will make another claim about Ind-glish that will offend language purists worldwide. I will argue that my generation will take Ind-glish from the playground to the local tea-shop (despite arranged marriages, many of us do date), to the workplace, and later, to the house. In 20 years, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai at the very least will become Ind-glish towns; you might have some ethnic quarters speaking in Kannada, Telugu/Urdu and Marathi respectively, but ultimately, the language on the street will be Ind-glish.
You will hear Indian expressions in a new dimension; you will hear about friends who “give hands” (Telugu, ‘to cheat’), you will hear about teachers who “hit hammers” (Telugu again, ‘to bore your audience so much that they felt as if they were seeing a nail being struck’), or, this is a stretch, of pickpockets who have nine-two-eleven-ed (Hindi, ‘nau do gyaraa; to run away with legs fashioned like the number 11’)
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real Indian dialect; a patois that would have, as physicists would put it, change state, and exist by itself in any context, while still be irreverently and irresolutely Indian. A bit like Creole is, you’d say, in Mauritius currently. Or, to take a more English example, Singlish in Singapore. Or the Quebeçois patois in Quebec. You get my drift.
Until then, please do not confuse badly written English with Ind-glish. Frankly, it is embarrassing, not just for Indians who speak English, but also for Indians who speak Ind-glish.