You speak of a need for Indians to be educated first in their mother tongues, in the book. But even countries that have never been ruled by England are trying to speak the language, simply because it’s the one universal language we have, and so many developed countries with employment opportunities speak it as a first language. So wouldn’t making English a second language deter the advantage of speaking it as a first?
But, you see, this is the point which, again, it comes back to what I was saying earlier – this absolute right, absolute wrong, either you do this or you don’t type thing.
My argument is absolutely clear to me – it is that people should master and preserve their mother tongue. They should have a basic education in their mother tongue at their young age. But it does not mean that they cannot learn English as a second language, even at that young age. It certainly does not mean that they should not learn English. It doesn’t mean that when they get a little bit older, they shouldn’t be educated in the English.
But the point is, to learn to love and respect and use properly their mother tongue as well as the English they are going to learn. What is happening is that people are showing disrespect for their mother tongues, and that they’re not bothering to learn them properly, and they’re sliding towards English from about pre-nursery school, which is absurd, really.
I’m not saying you should be stupidly chauvinistic about language – one of the worst things that happened to Hindi in this country is when chauvinistic Hindi speakers tried to impose it on the rest of the country, and then there were language riots in places like Tamil Nadu. And now, if you look around, apne aap as they would say, Hindi is spreading in this country all the time, actually, and I’m delighted to see it. If only more people would speak to me in Hindi, I’d be more confident in speaking it myself! (Laughs)
So yes, I’m not in any sense approving of linguistic chauvinism at all. Also, you know, as an English speaker myself, I feel we’re at a huge disadvantage because there’s not enough emphasis in our schools on learning other languages. When I was in school, I only learned dead languages like Latin and Greek, and I’m no linguist – I’ve been struggling with Hindi for donkey’s years!
Maybe one of the problems is that class is tied to language so deeply, and most people of the educated elite, prefer to express themselves in English.
That is exactly the whole point! That’s the point my very good friend Ramakrishnan makes in the book. You see, people who take that attitude, of a bias towards English, are denying their own language the opportunity to grow, to develop, to maintain its status as a language in which you can gain knowledge, a language in which you can write about society.
Image: A policeman tries to read a 1920's ceramic display board with messages written in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and English language.