Yeh language ne crazy kiya re

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on June 10, 2011 Published on June 10, 2011


It's the age of the hybrid, in language more than anything else. So not for nothing had the late Anthony Burgess, the British novelist and critic, said that if there was one place where English would continue to evolve and grow, it was India.

Purists, especially the Hindi-wallahs, may quibble and rant but they should give up. For the official language in India today has become chutneyfied English - the sort you hear on the streets, in offices, in colleges, in Bollywood songs, in literature, and which unconsciously we all tend to slip into. The sort of language here we go - Aaj Plan kya hai? “ I am going there Dost se Milne”. It is no use resisting the language that we speak in India today, a glorious jumble and mish-mash.

It's not just Hinglish. Reading Chutnefying English: The phenomenon of Hinglish, edited by Rita Kothari & Rupert Snell ( Penguin) brings home sharply the fact that every Indian language has got mixed up with the imported tongue or with Hindi. Tamil Romeos will ogle at girls and say ‘ sight adikkaradu' ! In Kolkata, the language of common parlance is fast becoming bindi - Bengali meets Hindi.

Seminar deliberations

This book is a fascinating look at the evolution and progression of chutneyfied English and provides as well the regional picture. It's the result of a seminar at the Mudra Institute of Communciations, Ahmedabad, where eminent personalities such as Mr Gulzar, Mr Mahesh Bhatt, Mr Gurcharan Das, Mr Cyrus Broacha, Mr Prasoon Joshi and linguistic experts like Mr Rupert Snell (a Hindi language professor at University of Texas) and Ms Rita Kothari (who heads the Communication Studies at MICA) debated whether this bastardised language should be spurned or welcomed. The majority view appears to be in favour. A lot of animated discussions took place during the event — for instance, there is one on whether Hinglish is a unifying force - and they have been collated in this volume. There's the call centre perspective provided by Ms Mathangi Krishnamurthy who argues that attempts to homogenise workers into uniform English-speaking agents are doomed to failure. Then there's the take by Mr Pramod K. Nayyar on vernacularisation of online protests exemplified by campaigns such as the pink chaddi one.

Fascinating volume

But the most interesting discussions are around literature and cinema. How a Mulk Raj Anand or a Nirad C. Chaudhari wrote in British English, but down the line Indian writers in English have been writing in Indian English. It is amusing to learn that when it comes to Hinglish, the redoubtable Mr Salman Rushdie goofs, but Ms Shobha De scores. Mr Rushdie repeatedly gets the meanings of Hindi words that he sprinkles in his books wrong. It's a fascinating volume – not just to students and lovers of language – but the lay reader. The tone is set by the perceptive foreword by Mr Harish Trivedi where he points out that a lot of the mixing happens because the speaker, who is bilingual, as most of India is, is not competent in both languages – “Those who can speak two languages independently without mixing them are truly competent,: he says. I would say it is the other way round, Sir.

The only fault with the book is the feeling that it is a bit of a hustle job — just turning seminar transcripts into a book. It's especially jarring in the discussion section.

Published on June 10, 2011
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