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Are You ‘Branded’ On The Tongue?

Posted on April 17, 2012 in Specials

By Ashutosh Singh:

Some questions, despite having easy answers are almost, always followed by embarrassing silences. One such question that often erupted during our college meetings (engineering colleges provide you plenty of time to indulge in such intellectual pursuits) was why students from the cow-belt couldn’t make it to prestigious MBA colleges despite securing high ranks in engineering and medical entrance exams. A few whispers and some murmurs later, meeting would often end up with the resolution to become proficient in this vilaayati language within a certain stipulated time. Say,one year. Six years later, these men are yet to achieve that imaginary Christopher Hitchens-like proficiency.

And it pains.

Lying underneath this inability to master the foreign language are a few trampled dreams. Dreams of making it to Indian ivy leagues, dreams of making it to a slot 1 company during placements, dreams of avoiding the incidence of seeing your lesser-abled peers turning into your boss. Dreams of (on a lighter note) impressing a girl. And there is only one culprit.

English, it seems, plays a more important role in our life than Oxygen. It runs in our veins and decides our place in the natural world order. “What an amazing command he has over English. Let’s recruit him. We want such leaders in our firm” one HR manager said with a shine in her eyes. That the guy was being recruited for a hardcore engineering job didn’t matter much. Most of the firms (especially Indian) look to promote people with better grasp over English to senior positions. Other things being equal, of course. And equality, it must be said, is as vague an idea as it can get, in this country. In fact, it’s not even an idea, it’s just a popular joke. Those in corporate sales swear by the effect English has on company’s receptionists and how it metamorphes them from a unwilling snob to a cordial partner. English is a border between two nations called rich and poor. And they are always at loggerheads.

Small wonder then, that UP has become the first state in world (or universe, for religious people) to have a temple solely devoted to goddess English. A state which was at the forefront of anti-English movement is having a taste of its own medicine. Lohia must be turning in his grave.

It is impossible to imagine a caste without having hundreds of subcastes, and social hierarchy created by English cannot be an exception. Those on top of the hierarchy use words such as “enhance” in place of “increase” which is used by those falling slightly lower in the language food chain. One more thing which differentiates elite from latter (call them middle class) is their use of body and hands while speaking. This class tends to speak slowly; sentences are coherent and supremely punctuated. Scions of business and political families, editors, established authors and socialites fall in this class. Category falling just below this class consists of MBAs from top notch colleges who form the major portion of top and mid level corporate world. This class, despite their repeated efforts by means of reading Ayn Rand, Salman Rushdie and Naipaul, is a tad rustic as compared to those described earlier. They mistake fluency for fast speaking which gives them a certain robotic appearance when they speak. Try listening to a consultant working in a huge firm (McKinsey, BCG types) and you will know where I am coming from.

Below them lies the ocean of Indianized English speaker. They are small time MBAs, engineers, IT workers and normal graduates. Born and brought up on Chetan Bhagat and Mills and Boons, their idea of English is very regional. So is their accent which causes them embarrassment quite frequently. “He is a typical Bihari, even IIT couldn’t polish him”, shot a colleague while listening to a newly joined making his introductory speech. A few words out of your mouth and you are branded for life.

“The English working class”, Mr Wyndham Lewis had once said,are “branded on the tongue”.

“None should be branded on the tongue, it should be impossible to determine anyone’s status from his accent”, George Orwell is said to have retaliated.

Does that really happen?