What’s on your tongue?

“This massage I had gotten was so good! That masseuse was just incredible!”

“What did you just say? Masssuuuse? Ahahahahahaha”

All of them laughed. Laughing at me. Laughing at how I talked. Laughing at who I was. I wanted to hide, to melt and disappear, hoping the earth would gobble me up.

 

I am a small town girl. I grew up in the laid back but fiery town of Raipur. I have heard it’s not that small anymore. Once it was chosen as the capital of the newly formed state Chattisgarh in 2000, as expected, it has shown rapid growth and development. I haven’t been there in 10 years now and I think it’s time to visit some old friends and old haunts.

So back to the topic. Like most small towns, the main language of communication was the local language. In my case, Hindi. English was a language you learnt at school, you had textbooks, you wrote essays and hated the poems. Even your English teacher spoke in Hindi in the classroom. A few lucky people like me were introduced to the joys of reading by their families and had access to The famous five, The hardy boys and the likes. This isn’t specific to just small towns, even bigger urban cities use, and rightly so, their local language. Hindi in Delhi, Marathi in Mumbai etc. But, unlike small towns, the residents of a metro have more access to English, whether it’s through media, travelers, education and all.

I didn’t use English as a medium for verbal communication (except for classrooms or meeting random strangers in trains and such. Yes, Strangers. I am a chatterbox and I would talk to everyone) till I moved to Hyderabad for my graduation.

I didn’t know Telugu. Everyone didn’t know Hindi. So, it was English. I can imagine how I must have sounded, with my heavy Hindi accent. But like any language, you get better with practice and so did I. But, you know what? I never felt or was made to feel that my English was horrible. So, I didn’t even realize that I needed to or was getting better. Well, until I met people who thought my English was the fodder for some great jokes at social gatherings.

Four of us sitting and talking post a night out at a friend’s birthday party.  Last few silly conversations before we wrap up and call it a night. 

I don’t remember what the conversation exactly was, but I am telling them about my last spa experience. 

“This massage I had gotten was so good! That masseuse was just incredible!” 

“What did you just say? Masssuuuse? Ahahahahahaha”

All of them laughed. Laughing at me. Laughing at how I talked. Laughing at who I was. I wanted to hide, to melt and disappear, hoping the earth would gobble me up. 

Just a few minutes back, I was high and I was happy. I wasn’t anymore. I hated this. I hated that the people I call my closest friends would make me the butt of a joke in front of others. I had tears stinging my eyes. I froze and didn’t know how to react. One of them noticed my plight and grabbed my arm to reassure me, but he still couldn’t stop laughing. 

I still can’t say the word “Masseuse”.  I have looked up the pronunciation a hundred times, but I can never get myself to utter these words. I completely freeze and this word refuses to come out of my mouth. I would change my sentence to convey what I wanted to, while still avoiding saying “masseuse”. This is just one example out of such innumerable similar experiences. The innumerable times when I was made to feel “not good enough”.

When the Kangana Ranaut’s Koffee with Karan episode came out, where she spoke about being a joke in the industry for her lack of English knowledge and pronunciation, one of the above friend’s got in touch with me regretting what had happened, wishing they had reacted and handled it differently. I really appreciated that.

I am at a place now where these comments don’t matter to me anymore. I am aware that when such a scenario comes up, it isn’t my deficiency which comes into light, it is theirs. People like them, people who have a great laugh judging others. This is not about  being treated unfairly or the mental trauma I went through. This is about why we have made speaking in English such a big deal?!

I agree  that knowledge of the English language has become important. Most of the businesses are globally connected, people travel and immigrate a lot, to different countries or even different states. In a country like India, where there is so much diversity, it is impossible to know all the languages and hence, in this day and age when each city has an amalgam of people from various backgrounds, English becomes the medium which helps us communicate and stay connected. But, why has it become the benchmark to evaluate someone? Why is someone considered smarter or cool based on the language they speak?

Why is an Indian accent hilarious, while a french one sexy? During my trips through Europe, like anyone would, I came across locals who could just about manage to speak English. They weren’t ashamed of it. Well, they lived in Germany and German was there language, (Or Czech Republic or Slovakia) why should they be ashamed of not knowing a foreign language?

That’s what it is, isn’t it? A foreign language. My six year old son speaks this foreign language fluently while he struggles to understand his parents’ languages. (We are a mixed family) It irritates me and I blame myself for it, for giving in every time he speaks in English and not pushing him to speak his mother tongue. I am proud that he knows his “V”s and “W”s and even corrects me (Proud cause my child already knows about something more than I do. I am still that Hindi girl trying to speak English) but I am not proud of the fact that that’s the only language he knows.

I wish my friends had corrected me and told me what the right pronunciation was instead of having a good laugh about it. You see, nothing positive came out of their “superior” knowledge in this scenario. Maybe a great joke for them. Nothing for me though.

Let’s look at English as we should. A language which is an important part of this global culture but still is a foreign language in our land. Let’s pass on the knowledge to people who need it or ask for it, like a good teacher would. Without the pride, without the arrogance. Let’s not be the annoying remnants of the British colonial rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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