Monday, March 24, 2008

Vote for Frankenstein

An Indian politician, yesterday.

Hello everyone. I am no longer in ASIA I am in IRELAND. One day soon I will actually go HOME. Until that moment, here's another essayistic riff provoked by my recent subcontinental travels.

Vote for Frankenstein!

India, it is often said, is a land of a thousand languages. But as recent visitors to the subcontinent can attest, one of those languages is heading for supremacy, and it isn't Hindi. It's English.

English is everywhere in India. On television and roadsigns, in newspapers and advertising. English is also in the mouths of the people, and for good reason. In a country so diverse, English is a unifier. If a traveller from Calcutta or New Delhi wants to be understood in Kerala he is arguably better off speaking the old colonial tongue. Because the official national language of Hindi is a mystery to many southerners.

So pervasive is Indian English, some experts think the native language is in danger of dying out: at least as a serious means of communication. Hindi is certainly struggling as a language of the elite. Mumbai University is reporting a collapse in Hindi studies: ten years ago there were 400 students taking a master's in Hindi every year; that figure has now halved. Many Bollywood stars, like Soha Ali Khan, admit they only talk Hindi to their "drivers and liftmen".

Moreover, when people do speak Hindi, it is often peppered with Anglophone idioms and phrases. Supposedly Hindi newspapers are full of this hybrid "Hindlish": "Tumko aana compulsory hai. Mere dinner ka time ho gaya hai".

All this is rather melancholy for Hindi patriots. But there is a comical aspect - for outsiders at least. Such is the prestige of western culture in India, many locals are giving their children names which are culled indiscriminately from English literature, and European history. Often to bizarre effect.

The upcoming elections, for instance, will see a battle between Romeo Rhani of the BJP, and Zenith Sangma, Admiral Sangma, and Adolf Hitler R Marak of the NCP. And the
honourable candidate for Mendipathar? A mister Frankenstein Momin.

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