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.


Scarlett said...

We generally say that Americans have an accent but when I first went to the US for school, my American friends thought I had a strong accent!

We tend to be so ethnocentric, we judge accents from our own perspective (anyone who doesn't speak like us has an accent). But when someone tells us that "WE", not they, have an accent, we're taken aback.

I think accents are an awesome thing. People from different parts of the world speak English in different ways and that's just so cool. Anyone who makes fun of people who speak differently from them is just someone with a sad, linear perspective in life.

Gouri Guha said...

A good read. Pranab babu and our very own Mamata didi have their own style...I think they are proud of their very heavy Bengali accent...

Yes very true about our PM too. Why our Biggest Didi (Madamji) also carries her country's accent with her when she speaks the Queen's language.

...but the Ingraze are never ashamed when they are unable to prounce our Indian words properly.
Did you mark during the commentaries of the hockey world cup matches how they pronounce the name of our player Bharat as Barat...just an instant thought...

The knife said...

As someone who did admittedly have a 'sad, linear perspective in life' I must say that the ethnocentricity argument is quite interesting Scarlett.

Gauri, I wonder if they are proud of their accents or more importantly supremely confident of what they do.

Which probably explains the latter part of what you pointed out. We want to be White. Not just 'Ingraze', as Amreeka rules the new Empire. Conversely, Caucasians don't want to be us. Hence the lack of efforts on their part?