What would RTH do?

That is the question.

If I were in a highschool yearbook, they would vote me most likely to die of a lynch mob. That does not prevent me from opening my mouth and serving a warm hearty cup of STFU to people who deserve it. My dark scathing humor will leave no matter of existence untouched. My innocence will touch your soul.

Welcome to a warped world turned inside out and upside down. All sorts of discretion advised.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The embarrassment of immaculate English

I just started reading the January 2012 Hindi issue of Chandamama today. Chandamama is an Indian periodical magazine for children. It is published in English, Hindi as well as some other regional Indian languages. It has short stories for the 8-16 year old audience. Very simple, basic, rudimentary language and stories. The book is 82 pages including the advertisements, illustrations and fillers. I would usually finish an English language children's book of this caliber within an hour. Heck, I plowed through Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in a night. Now I am embarrassed and wary at how long it will take me to complete this book.

For an Indian, my Hindi sucks balls. My vocabulary is limited and my grammar is beyond appalling. I actually can converse in Hindi easily. I follow Bollywood movies easily without a problem. Even after ten plus years in the states, I have confidence of speaking Hindi with Indians back home with ease. Albeit, the Hindi I actually speak is an urban polygot that results from the melting pot of multiple Indian languages in Bombay. However, when it comes to writing and reading Hindi, my abilities are that of a child just learning a language. I cannot remember all the alphabets for the life of me. It takes me a while to grasp the words and then connect the sentence flow. It just is painful and embarrassing. When I look around and see how fluent some Arab, Russian and Asian immigrants are with their native language I feel inadequate. When I see the Spanish, the French, the Italians take such pride in their language and hold onto it, I'm embarrassed at my fluency in my nation's language.

It is the price of immaculate English. Compared to most immigrants, I'm blessed to have a great command over English. My mother read to me frequently as a child. I picked up reading young and tore through books rapidly at reading levels well above my age. My parents enrolled me in a Private Catholic English medium school. Our Principal and teachers were task masters who forced us to speak English all the time. They didn't just make us speak English, they ensured that it was clean, grammatically correct and pure English without slang and peppering of Hinglish.

My English education has been a great help in the states. While I do have my desi faux pas and mispronunciation, I have a smooth, professional and unaccented English. I love when American jaws drop in small towns and Wal-Mart stores as I speak in English so fluent that it is better than the English some native born Americans can ever dream off. I look like a Latin, so the effect is even more dramatic when they expect to mock me over my broken English and watch me helplessly flail and ask for a Spanish speaking associate. When they ask me how I learned English or are shocked that I learned English as a child, it is my turn to raise my eyebrows look down at the pathetic ignorant Americans and say "I learned it in school, bitch! Wake up and smell reality. Every kid in India speaks English and is more aware of the world than you". Of course I'm a lot more polite. Speaking fluent English has professional and academic advantages as well. I'm taken seriously, presentations go well, group work goes well, on the whole all communication is smooth. And unlike most Indians who get ridiculed for their funny accents "Thank You! Come again!" I get complimented at my voice being so good, so professional and even sexy at times. Yeah baby! I can even make desi sexy!

But the price of immaculate English is embarrassing. I'm not an American or Briton, I'm an Indian. English is actually my second language. When I see an Hispanic struggling with English, I simply can't lift my nose up and scoff like Americans. I look upon them with reverent admiration and respect. They are true to their native language and culture. They take pride in it. They have not been enamored with the west and forgotten their roots. Most importantly they have drive and effort, a quality many people lack when they travel to other countries. Moreover, after my experience in Brazil without speaking a smidgen of Portuguese has given me a deeper level of understanding and respect for them. I look at my teenage days of making fun of the vernacular students and am disappointed in myself. I still make fun of Indians and their very funny English, but mate if you speak, write and read Hindi or your mother tongue fluently, I'll salute and bow down to you. Respect! Thanks for keeping your roots alive, now let me help you with your English.

In my defense though I am multilingual. My mother tongue is Konkani. I grew up speaking Konkani and speak it at home. Since Konkani has no script I can read and write Konkani easily in Latin script. It is a dying language, and I take pride in being Konkani. My family visited a Konkani convention recently and lamented at Konkani Americans who don't speak the language, whereas I speak both the Goan and GSB dialect of Konkani. I learned English on account of English medium school. I had to learn Marathi because it was the state language and Hindi because it was the national language. They both use the Devnagiri script and for a Konkani child, learning English, learning two more languages is hard. I mixed up between them a lot and could not get the different nuances of grammar and spelling straightened out. In frustration I ignored the languages and let my knowledge of Hindi and Marathi fade.

I speak English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani fluently. I can read and write English fluently. I understand Gujarati and am learning to read small tiny bits. I can understand Urdu and Punjabi to a certain extent. I can understand very rudimentary French if it is spoken very very slowly with enunciation. I recognize several words in Russian thanks to Taty and in German thanks to Rammstein. I still feel inadequate and thirst to learn another language. I feel I ought to know more foreign tongues. I'm hoping my Hindi is good enough for the foreign service bonus points. It has to be, or else I'm a bigger disgrace than I think I am. But I hope my burning desire to communicate with the world serves the interest of the foreign services.

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