Sunday, 7 March 2010

Whose Queen is it anyway?

One tends to hear a lot of English when one moves around in Bandra, the posh suburb of Mumbai. Especially during the rare occasions when one goes to walk at Carter Road. The mind tends to wander and eavesdrop on others as one walks aimlessly in a straight line.

I would safely say that more than ninety per cent of the conversations one overhears happen in English. All sorts of 'English'. From prim and propah Queen's to Bombaiya Slumdog pidgin to LOL Twitter chirps. In accents which would make Bernard Shaw's Henry Higgins roll his shirt sleeves up in glee.

The accents floating around are fascinating. You have a very American FRIENDS twang which seems most ludicrous on young brown skins to English with heavy Indian regional accents.

The world of politics is a good example of the latter. You recently had Dada and Didi (Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee) presenting the National and Railway budgets. Both were pilloried by many, including embarrassed Bengalis, for their heavy Bengali accents. You have our professorial Prime Minister slipping into the occasional Punjabi 'aaward'. The Amar Singhs and Lalu Yadavs with their North Belt English. And even the erudite Mr Chidambaran with a slightly ponderous Tamil lilt.

Funnily there are a set of politicians who speak a fairly 'unaccented' English. They spend most of their time in the studios of English TV news channels. Far removed from running the country.

But then what is 'unaccented' English in an Indian context? For the pre independence generation it would be English as taught by the British. Think Nehru's Tryst with destiny and you will know what I mean.

For folks like me who grew up in the eighties, it would be what I like to call as 'NDTV English'. Best exemplified by Dr Prannoy Roy and his World this Week . But how 'pukka' is this accent? Won't it stick out like a sore thumb in BBC's London, CNN's Washington, Sydney and other places which claim English to be their own?

A sobering thought the next time one marvels at someones 'funny' accent.