English and Sanskrit

Don’t read this blog if you are very sensitive to grammatical mistakes because in almost every sentence you will find some or other mistakes.

Today a friend who is very proud of her communication skills and her excellent command over English language said that she is very proud of her this …“what is proper word here”… gun, skill, capability, attribute… whatever…., the thing over here is that good command over English language. Interestingly I have many such friends. In fact almost all my really good friends speak excellent English.

As it always happens with me, people point out mistakes in my pronunciation, grammatical structure and the way I speak. I am used to of it.  And I totally accept their contribution in improving my language because of such toka toki but I don’t like it when someone, especially when I am trying to convey an idea, points out these mistakes, and I don’t think anyone likes being corrected especially when they are forwarding an idea.

I appreciate it if someone is not getting what I am trying to say because of my vulgar language but most of the time this is not the case. Like today this conversation began with my wrong pronunciation of the word genre. I pronounced it like the way I have heard most of the people speaking it but I learnt today that proper pronunciation requires r to sound like soft re.

Now this sort of toka toki, I don’t like. In fact I find such toka toki very repulsive and most of the time I see it as character assassination which is basically done to downplay my idea.  (I read somewhere Aristotle approved of this strategy in arguments). This sort of thing sounds to me like if I tell my students “listen to what I am saying because I am your teacher… claiming superiority on the basis of position which should not be allowed in intellectual conversation.

Still it happens. But all of you who know me personally know that you can’t put me down like this. I am too vulgar to be put down by display of cultural sophistication. Therefore, I asked her why she is so proud of this thing.

Is it so because she has mastered a foreign language? Obviously no English speakers like her like hearing that English is a (colonial) foreign language, they want to claim English as their own language. Like I read in an interview of Vidhu Vindod Chopra that he learnt English only after he joined FTII and now he is making a movie in English language and he is proud of this fact. This was also not her claim that she comes from Hindi medium and now she speaks such good English. This was different. Her answer was that a good command over English language is indicator of good education.

Obviously it is not. Hindi Medium movie just tried showing that. But in peculiar Indian context, at the same time, you can’t totally rebuff her. Over here if you have such good English that you can correct me, then that means that you went to a good school. But nobody wants to claim (or in fact can claim) superiority only on the ground of good school; neither was she intending to claim that on that ground.

Actually it goes little deep from here.

You can divide good school people (excellent command waale) in two broad categories. One is of those who made into an equally good (reputed) college and others who could not get admission in good colleges. Those who could not, and I have met many of them, they don’t do such toka toki, usually they don’t and mostly, never if they are men, girls sometimes do that but then those girls are like … I will talk about them later…

My point over here is that usually those people who could not make into a good college usually don’t do such toka toki. Nazis are constituted of people of first category. Those who had good school and then they also made into good colleges.

They are the Brahmans[1]  who are holding English in India in their hand using old practice of Sanskrit, the way Brahmans in India are trying to hold their title of Brahman in the name of caste, You can still see a trace of this sort of pride in almost all Brahman caste people, this pride of being a Brahman simply because they were born in Brahman caste. Now in this struggle whatever that little respect was associated with being caste Brahman is also gone

But still people claim such and regardless of whether they get it or not, so far my lived experience goes, many of them live with this pride of being Brahman simply because they were born in Brahman caste. We can’t deny that still such pride exists and the root source of that English pride comes from here.

This is what I asked her. Why are you so proud of your command over English? Her final answer came in the form of a theory that basically meant that you must speak a language the way it should be spoken. Basically in a grammatically correct way!! This friend comes from the first category. She went to a really good college too.

But why should one be proud of this skill, of this ability to speak English in a grammatically correct way that literally means speaking it like the way they speak, but then why would you be proud of such mastery. And here I proposed my idea. I said this practice (display of pride) comes from Brahmin-Sanskrit tradition. Let me further explain….

So what is the meaning of Sanskrit? I will quote as it is from Wikipedia… you are free to not to trust it but I think this is the popularly understood meaning of the word Sanskrit.

The Sanskrit verbal adjective skta- may be translated as “refined, elaborated”.[13]

As a term for refined or elaborated speech, the adjective appears only in Epic and Classical Sanskrit in the Manusmṛti and the Mahabharata.[citation needed] The language referred to as saskta, was the cultured language used for religious and learned discourse in ancient India, in contrast to the language spoken by the people, prākṛta “original, natural, normal, artless.”[13]

It was also referred as Dev Bhasha. A language that devta speaks. So far I understand once upon a time Shudras were prohibited from speaking or even hearing Sanskrit. Anyway it is impossible to read Sanskrit if you don’t know how is it spoken. It’s a language where most of the materials were handed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. I don’t know how many of you guys have tried reading any original text in Sanskrit but I am sure those of you guys who have tried reading them will appreciate that it is more or less impossible to read them properly even if you know little bit of Sanskrit, unless someone reads them over to you hinting where to break the sentences. Try one here… https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/srimad?language=dv&field_chapter_value=6&field_nsutra_value=6

So it was a language that was cultured. It was not a human language. It was to be spoken like the way it was to be spoken, handed down in oral tradition from generation to generation…. Unlike prakrit, It was not people’s language. And this is where I trace the root source of this pride that I was asking about.

I always had problem with this understanding that people can claim Brahmin status by birth. But at the same time I could not deny that people do. Most of the people claim Brahman status by caste.

Here I am jumping the gun. English language like English education was first received by Brahmin caste and they already had a practice of Sanskrit so they practiced English language like the way they practiced Sanskrit language. But regardless of what all our sociologists say India always resisted against this caste-siation  of Brahmins. Birth right or birth duty whatever way you want to take it… vulgarization of varna vyawastha into jaati vyawastha….

If you notice almost everywhere those sorts of claims are being challenged and the resistance to this challenges is crumbling down like house of cards. And the results are interesting…. Like see in Cricket. When Indian cricket team was dominated by some presidency town elitism and now with Dhoni and kohli at the helm of affair…

See English literature… Chetan Bhagat… this is Chetan Bhagat who opened the market of English novels.  Almost everyone coming from my first categories hates him. Still they can’t ignore him. So one of commendation they give to him is that chalo he at least brought people into reading. This is obviously very condescending… There already was a market for such novels in India. I am sure some of you guys will remember those hugely popular Hindi novels written by Surendra Mohan Pathak, Gulshan Nanda…

Who were reading those books?? They were those people who had school education but not necessarily a very good college education.  Now post 90s many of these people went to English medium school. They became more familiar to reading English alphabets and now this crowd has started reading Bhagat. They are the new learners of English. English is defiled. Now it is no more Sanskrit, it becoming people’s language. Like Hanumaan jee was revived by Tulsidas…

As always I have gone too far and too random and now it has become almost impossible for me to conclude it. I will conclude abruptly.

The new Indian English is like Hindustani. How much Hindustani owes it to Sanskrit. A lot but…!! Same way this new Indian English owes it to British English a lot but….

[1] here I am using Brahmin to mean jaati wala Brahmin, caste and not Varna way, jaati comes from root word birth and Varna from choice)

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