Monday, August 01, 2005

A letter from Pakistan

I mean that literally. A listserv I'm on received this letter, which is reproduced below. Another brilliant example of 'Indian' (I hope Pakistanis will forgive my shameless appropriation of that which is theirs) English gone amok. Enjoy.
Dear all
First of all I like to congratulate for the fellow of this group.
I am Professor of Urdu in Pakistan. I, with my other Professor fellows planed to visit india, Bangladesh, Sri lanka and Bhutan. Where we like to visit Universities and colleges to see the education and like to learn, We like to see these countries and visits shrines also.
Is there anybody who guide me and send me the information about the address and contact, reponsible person name of the universities and colleges who will arrange the visits of their institution???
waiting for your reply
[[Name Here]]

There's actually something strangely affecting about the usage and sentence construction, which I can't quite put a finger on. It reminds me a little of some bits ni A Suitable Boy, as also a poem by Nissim Ezekiel. Let me see if I can locate it (ah, Google).

Found it, I think.

The Professor

Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God's grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house's backside.

-- Nissim Ezekiel

Here's another of his 'Indian English' poems.

The Patriot

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day I'm reading newspaper
(Every day I'm reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

-- Nissim Ezekiel

I'm a little conflicted about whether I like these or not. A note on the site I found these poems says that Ezekiel was trying to capture the rythms of Indian English as spoken, and not to 'make fun' of it or its speakers (though he is honest enough to admit that before it someone encouraged him to listen carefully to the flow of 'Indian English', he did dismiss it as essentially the spoken English of those who didn't speak the language well or 'correctly'. My issue is that I'm not entirely sure his appreciation, if that is the right word, of the 'dialect' he is writing in comes through entirely, but also whether 'appreciation' is the right response (and thus, whether Ezekiel is not being slightly disingenuous). It could be that my own instinct when hearing the common features of Indian English he emphasizes in his poetry - the overuse of the present continuous, the omission of articles - is indeed to dismiss them as wrong/bad/funny. While I appreciate the diversity of influences that have seeped into the language from other Indian languages and modes of speech, my tendency is to be appreciative and supportive of particular modes of usage, particularly additions to the vocabulary of the English language, but to dismiss grammatical innovations as being, somehow, wrong. So I love how we invent words - arbit, for example, or 'black money' or 'prepone' or 'lathi-charge' - I think these are marvellous additions to English and are wholly legitimate. On the other hand, I don't actually know many people who speak in the present continuous all the time, and when I hear someone who does, I tend to be dismissive of them, because to me that just sounds wrong. So I'm all for innovations in vocabulary, but against too much license with grammar. It may also be that I feel that the people doing the grammatical innovating are doing so without an adequate grasp of the rules, and to me rule-breaking has intrinsic value, but not if you do it unawares. Reminds me a little of the quote, attributed I think to Shaw (who else), that 'A gentleman is rude only on purpose. :-)

Anyway, here's my version of the letter above, a la Ezekiel. And I'm actually taking the piss.... :-)

First of all I like to congratulate
For the fellow of this group.
I am Professor of Urdu in Pakistan. I
with my other Professor fellows planed

To visit india, Bangladesh, Sri lanka and Bhutan. Where we like to visit
Universities and colleges
To see the education and like to learn
We like to see these countries and visits shrines also.

Is there anybody who guide me and send
The information about the address and contact
Reponsible person name
Who will arrange the visits of their institution???

Waiting for your reply


Blogger Gati said...

Wow - liked this post. Interesting, that there is quite a heated debate on the same topic going on here:
You may want to go through the first two posts, and the comments there.

Caveat : Obviously, of the 45 comments to the most recent post there, 35 are junk. But that means 10 (10!) decent points.

9:58 PM  
Blogger the still dancer said...

And this is the aforementioned Kaashyapeya. Loved this post, and Ezekiel is one of my favourite poets- I've been particularly interested in the apparent dichotomy of his "Indian" English poems vis-a-vis his more "classical" poems, eg. "Communication." The point you raise, i.e. whether he was being appreciative or covertly derisive, has engaged me as well. On a different note, I think I'd agree with your separation of lexical innovation as opposed to grammatical libertarianism.

10:33 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Hello there! I have to thank Gati and Kaashyapeya's blog for finding my way to your blog, and I'm so glad I did. Really liked this post of yours, and reminded me of all the Ezekiel I'd read many years ago.

Your Delhi references are so evocative, although of a part of Delhi that was only familiar to me by its proximity to Dilli Haat (however, I did think Adchini was a quaintly endearing name). I grew up in Delhi, and live in the US now, and am surprised by the toughness of the goat meat here as well.

10:26 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:36 AM  

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