English: a tool for DeRacination: #EnglishNonUsables

Abbakka Prerana

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Try to buy an alphabet book for Indian languages and you will come across books titled something like “My bilingual baby”. Westerners feel proud to make their children bilingual because most of them know only one language.

On the other hand, most Indians know 3 languages so why are we feeling proud to make the next generation “bilingual”?

There are people making their children monolingual in English and the issue is that it does matter (very very much) if the mother tongue is replaced by a foreign language.

Here are some examples of how it leads to deracination esp. of Indians.

Sorry, but Please don’t say Thank You

Thank You, Sorry, Please (TSP) are important words in the western world. There are articles quoting the Pope on how TSP helps to bring peace and joy to families. Considering that these words are used more often in the western world, they should have had better family relations on an average. There are also articles recommending that children be taught to thank the parents for each task e.g. helping with homework. But if this were working, children would have been more thankful to their parents in the western world ? How many adult children are caring for their old parents with all this thankfulness ? Or does it lead to the assumption that once they said thank you, they are done with their gratitude ?

From the Indian drishti, it sounds very strange when TSP is used for family or friends. As if there is an estranged relationship where you need to show formality. You will also hear people objecting to someone using TSP. Indian languages have no equivalent of TSP. There are words for forgiveness, gratefulness, etc which have a more significant meaning and are used only in important situations. 

When a child makes a mistake, western parents will ask the child to “say sorry” whereas Indian parents will ask the child to “think/introspect whether what you did was correct” which is in line with the yoga-based culture where you go inwards rather than outwards. If an Indian child happens to say sorry the parent will reply “don’t say sorry, first correct your mistake”. The advice is more like – don’t just say sorry and keep repeating your mistakes (repeating mistakes also shows dishonesty in the “sorry”) or don’t just say thank you and forget how the other person helped you (shows how you were not really thankful) and people are expected to convey the please through a friendly tone (if someone uses the word “please” but talks in an arrogant tone, it is not politeness). 

On the other hand, you are not supposed to expect TSP from someone else. If you are following the ideal of nishkaama karma (निष्काम कर्म), you should not be expecting a ThankYou in return for helping someone. And it is considered that people are mature enough to not hold a grudge for small mistakes committed by another person. In Indian languages, politeness is not defined by usage of a few words. It is implied from the way a person speaks or behaves. 

Atmiyata is not Good For You

Sometimes you will talk about some good event in your life and the other person will reply “Good for you”. This might be perfect English, but it sounds quite selfish to the Indian ears. The reason being atmiyata (आत्मीयता) which is a part of Indian culture.

If something good happens to a friend, I would consider it as good for myself as well, regardless of whether I got any benefit out of it. Indians will usually express happiness as if the good event happened to themselves. But the phrase “good for you” conveys an exactly opposite meaning and sounds like “it might be good for you, but it does not matter to me”.

No Luck !

We are Macaulay’s children who obediently got rid of Indian traditions which were supposedly superstitious but frequently use phrases like “no luck”, “aint you lucky”, “feeling lucky” etc. Hence, a civilization which has been believing in कर्म फल (karma-phala) has now started believing in random luck. So rather than doing their karma, people will wait to get lucky, or will feel despondent because they were not lucky enough.

And you will also see people “touching wood” which is an apotropaic tradition (intended to turn away harm or evil influences, as in deflecting misfortune or averting the evil eye). And nowadays you will see dharmic people crossing their fingers without knowing that crossing fingers is done to wish for luck or implore the Christian God.

Perfecting English or learning Christianity?

We are these scientific people who do not say any mantra without understanding its meaning or effect, but did anyone ask why sneezing is followed by a “bless you”? We would want something for “heaven’s sake” even if we do not need any heaven.

We will talk about some “Godforsaken place” even if we find divinity in all places. And you will hear phrases like “God forbid”, “Goddamnit” from people who do not believe in the Abrahamic concept of God and do not fear damnation.

We have SOS (Save our Souls) boxes on highways, but what about the dharmic population which does not have any soul? We do have atma but it does not need to be saved as the Bhagvad Gita tells us –

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः। न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः॥

People will be grateful to “angels in disguise” or a “messiah” even if they do not believe in angels or messiahs. These days there are also people celebrating Christmas and they say they do it “for their children” which leads to the question whether they also think their children are born sinners.

Why are dharmic people wishing “RIP” for dharmic people even if we do not need to rest in peace or wait for Judgement day? And what is the “prayer meet” after someone dies? While giving personal information, some dharmic people will state religion as “atheist” or “agnostic”. One reason could be that dharma is not a religion and we do not have the Abrahamic concept of God. But most others are probably thinking that when westerners stop believing in their God, they are not considered a part of their religion so we must do the same.

Dharmic people will frequently use the words Shaitan, Qayamat, Haram (आराम हराम है), even if they do not believe in those Abrahamic concepts. We know that this is due to a lack of purvapaksha. Most people do not even google for some new word they come across. This habit is not just limited to words related to religions. If you hear news channels using the word ‘debrief’, the next day you will hear people ‘debriefing’ someone when they actually want to ‘brief’ someone. Also, these days meetings end with “we are at the top of the hour” when we are at the bottom of the hour!

Language matters

There are some phrases we cannot relate to, but just end up memorizing – Has anyone seen “a red herring”? How often do you have a “soup to nuts” meal? Some people might use “every trick in the book” but we are not People of the Book. We can think “out of the book” as well.

When we describe something as “treasure of knowledge” we are giving more importance to wealth rather than knowledge or inadvertently getting into a culture where knowledge is only used to make money. The phrase “save for a rainy day” has an underlying meaning that rains bring difficulty. Whereas in India, rains bring a relief from the hot summer and lead to plenty of food and water. Indian literature shows a reverence for rains as our life is dependent on them, but the western view makes us wish for not having rains.

There are also some advantages of using local languages. Some examples from Marathi are – The word ‘baby’ is neutral gender, so we do not need to learn gender-neutral parenting from the west. The word vyakti’ is female whereas person is male in English which makes us write ‘he/she’ every time we use the word ‘person’. English has a rigid structure for sentence construction subject-verb-object e.g. I ate bananas. Indian languages have the flexibility to use those 3 words in any order. That matches with the characteristics of Indian culture where you have a framework, but you also have the flexibility to do things your way.

But the Indian inferiority complex makes us change Indian languages to fit English conventions –

Nowadays we have notice boards with ‘kripaya’ force fit into every sentence. Call some customer care IVR and on successful verification of your PIN you will hear “बधाई हो!” and it makes one wonder whether he/she is attending a wedding or some other event. They end the call with “आपका दिन शुभ रहे” – was it going to be ashubh otherwise?


Abbakka Prerana
Abbakka Prerana

1 thought on “English: a tool for DeRacination: #EnglishNonUsables”

  1. raj kumar pandey

    please request sh rajiv malhotra to become member of koo also. many indians dont like twitter and have left it.

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