67 years of Independence

I thought for a while about what I should blog about for Independence Day. I considered many topics, but I wasn’t feeling any of them. Finally, I decided to give up and not make a special post for Independence Day. After I made some regular posts for the next two days, I was watching some videos on youtube. Then, I got an idea. I found a topic I wanted to write about on the occasion of India’s 67th year of freedom celebration. I know it is late, but better late than never. The topic is “language and self image”. This is a complex subject, and I will try my best to simplify so my readers can easily navigate through this post.

Language has a very special importance in our world today. It is the most important tool for human communication. English has gained the status of global language for several decades now. It unifies us. I cannot imagine another Tower of Babel event happening. A world without English would be a disaster for business, economy, travel, peace, medicine, education, etc. We should be so happy that we have English, a language that is so forgiving. Even if our English is broken, the other person will still understand the gist of what we are trying to say.

India is a nation of languages. According to the 2001 national census, there were 122 languages spoken, of which 22 languages are recognized as national languages by the constitution. The truth is there are many more languages. The real count may be somewhere around 1,000. As always, exact numbers are not important for my discussion.

English, (like I said before,) is the global language, and Hindi is the national language of India. Whatever I say in this post should not imply that I am anti-English/Hindi or any other language. All I want to do is encourage self-confidence and deal with image issues. Before I go any further, I want to also tell you that I was one of those people who had image issues and lacked self confidence when my English was not so good. I was one of those people who subscribed to the “westernization craze”. I am also proud to say that I am not that person anymore. My experiences have changed me and I feel more confident now than I ever have.

I want to share a story to help you understand better.

In 2009, my mother visited me in USA. As I said before, my mother is a very confident Indian woman. She is highly intelligent and a great doctor. She had good practice but sacrificed a lot of her career for us. She is a great mom, and she is best whatever she does. She is my fortress and my best friend. I can never imagine a life without her. I call her a tiger sometimes. She accomplishes every job that is given to her. In other words, she is a go-getter. Confidence oozes out of her, but this was not the case when she visited me in 2009. She was taken back and looked scared. It was not my mother. I was not able to understand why she was like that. I did not know what to do to cheer her up. My mother is always there for me when I need her, but I failed miserably to be there for her. I thought about several possible reasons like:

  • Maybe it’s because she did not have her own money. She put all her money in my account, and I had the debit card. It appeared as if she was dependent on me. (Though it was not true).
  • Maybe it’s because I am the one who is showing her the new world instead of her being in charge. As a mother, she was always in charge.
  • Maybe she has a problem living in a house where I know where the spices are and she doesn’t.

There were several other reasons I was considering. Though they might be true to a certain extent, I was never able to figure out the real reason till recently. Instead, I was repeatedly telling her she is not acting like my mom, (the confident one,) and I need my mom back. It did not work, and she went into her shell more and more. The disaster with my X happened at the same time, so that did not help either.

In retrospect, I think the reasons she was so out of her character are:

  • I told her before she came here that I wanted her to wear pants or at least salwar. My mom, even though she went to medical school, never wore salwar. She is very comfortable in her saree. I knew that, but our town does not have an Indian community. There were times when I went out in salwar, and people gave me weird looks. I did not want that to happen with my mom. She got herself some salwar before the trip.
  •  Even though my mom is a doctor, she does not use a lot of English in her everyday practice. Most of her patients are Telugu speaking, so her English speaking skills are rusty. The fact she studied in a Telugu medium school till 12th grade did not add to her confidence. I did not realize that because she did well in her visa interview. She did her visa interview in English and not Telugu.
  • Also maybe unfamiliar circumstances added to her overall anxiety.

This makes me feel so stupid because my mother went through all that for me. I could have totally avoided that, had I placed her comfort before my image. She is the most important person in my life, but my inferiority complex took over. I think I was ashamed to have my mother in a saree. How could I do that? I pushed her so much out of her comfort zone that she lost her identity. I forgot who I am and where I come from. The need to fit in my new jeans made me rip off my perfect pair of salwar. I was supporting my argument by saying, “when in Rome, do as Romans do”. That is right, but what about letting your mother be who she is? This is the woman who gave me unconditional love all her life. She was with me to support me through the worst and cheer me through the best. I repaid her by making her feel she was not good enough if she does not change herself. It is the same mother that gave me the dream of living in USA, and I told her she needs to change herself to live with me in USA.  I learned my lesson. Never again will I tell my mother what she should do when she visits me. Her comfort is my first priority. I am blessed to have her as my mother, and I will proudly show her off. She is the greatest gift God has blessed me with.

All this is because I was one of those several Indians that considered western culture to be superior to Indian culture, English superior to Hindi, white skin superior to dark skin, modernization is superior to old world ethics. The reason for so many invasions, and especially British rule in India, is because we think we are inferior. We have been intoxicated by foreign goods and culture even when the British ruled us. As a result, we have been under a foreign rule for two centuries. Haven’t we learned our lesson yet? In the 67th year of independence, why do we still think westernization is hip? Why do we mock a person whose English is bad? Why wouldn’t we mock a foreigner whose Hindi is bad instead? It is not wrong to learn good from another culture, but to have an attitude that our culture is inferior is bad.

Our culture and language are our identity. If we think any less of these, then we think less of ourselves. This will create self-hate and we will lose our identity.

There are two aspects I want to really talk about in regards of language. They are accent and image.

ACCENT:

Speaking centers in our brain develop when we’re young. Whatever language we hear, at home or school, at this time is the language we will be fluent in. Whatever language we learn after that will have an accent. Sometimes, we might improve and lose the accent, but it would never be similar to a native language speaker. After all, the language centers develop very early in life. When Indians speak English, they have an accent. It is not a good idea to fake a native English speakers accent because then we will sound fake. If we live in an English speaking country, it is a good idea to improve our English. (D had no idea what the difference is between faking an accent and improving your English, but Indians know what I’m talking about.)

The problem is many NRI’s anglicize their mother tongue. It is disrespectful. As I said before, our language centers develop early on. Our language centers do not regress just because we live a few years in a foreign land.  We can still talk in our mother tongue fluently. Then why the act of anglicizing our mother tongue? That is because we think English is posh and anglicizing our mother tongue is a status symbol. That is not the case.  The truth is no matter how fluent we are in English our brain still thinks in our mother tongue. Faking to have forgotten our mother tongue is not right.

Just like speaking in English with a heavy accent is not acceptable, the same applies for others languages also. None of them are inferior to English. We fail as a person if we say we are not able to speak our mother tongue without accent. While we are trying to improve English speaking skills, let’s also try and preserve our mother tongue speaking skills. I believe to strive to speak a language fluently is the only form of respect we show to the language.

By that I mean if you are talking in English talk like a native English speaker, if you are speaking in Hindi, speak like native Hindi speaker, etc. I know sometimes it is not possible, especially with a foreign language, but effort is important.

IMAGE:

I am talking about self image and self confidence. A lot of Indians feel inferior because they cannot speak English properly. I think that is wrong because we are not born into English speaking families. We should be disappointed at ourselves if we cannot speak our mother tongue fluently. Every child in America learns only one language:  English (Learning other languages like French is optional.) In India, every child learns at least two or more languages, and that is compulsory. Therefore, there is nothing to feel inferior about. Yes, it is beneficial to know English well, but it is nothing to feel ashamed of if you don’t. We should be proud that we have decent English skills compared to most westerners’ Hindi skills.

Accepting who we are is the most important milestone in everyone’s life. Language is a huge part of who we are.

Who would you rather be?

  • Proud Indian who can speak several languages
  • Fake one who lost their identity and language

Comment down below.

I would be a proud Indian who can speak several languages and never ever speak my mother tongue with an anglicized accent. The period of King Sri Krishna Devaraya was considered a golden period in the history of Andhra, (Telugu people). In honor of my mother tongue, I want to quote from one of his poems, “desha basha landhu Telugu lessa”- of all the languages Telugu is the best.

-Jai Hind.

You might also be interested in:

Every coin has a flip side- Part 1 find it here

Every coin has a flip side- Part 2 find it here

Every coin has a flip side- Part 3 find it here

Athidhi Devobhava find it here

Rakhi Sting Part-1 find it here

Rakhi Sting Part-2 find it here

-R.

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10 Comments

  1. Great Post.appreciate your share… looking forward to more.

    Reply
  2. Indeed it was a good article. Why so? You have dealt with a subject which is so often misconceptualized by WE INDIANS- We always feel inferior if we could not able to express our thoughts in English fluently. You have politely reminded our people how bad it is to disrespect our culture and Language. For that I appreciate you.
    Next, moving on to most important Part. What I liked the most in your draft?
    1) In starting you have thanked English – The language for being so forgiving for the mistakes that we do- It brought out instant smile on my face.
    2) Subscribed to Westernization craze – Simple sentence yet had an in-depth meaning.
    3) Mother’s story was so touching- Will arouse emotions among readers for sure.
    4) After your realisation you would have mentioned – Your Moms comfort is your first priority- Amazing sentence – Short and Vivid.

    Overall it was great pleasure in reading your article. Expecting a lot more from this passionate writer. Drop an email me at once you post your new article and so will I do. Good Luck.

    Reply
    • Raina

       /  August 22, 2013

      Thank you Barani. I really appreciate the feedback. I was overflowing with emotions when I wrote this post. I have just seen the movie English Vinglish when I wrote this post. I was worried the post would not be well narrated. I actually have another post called, “What am I obsessing about?” which is my interpretation of English Vinglish movie. I felt it very close to my heart. If you are interested go ahead and read that too.

      Reply
  3. Sometimes it just naturally happens, when you’re living away for so long, you pick up certain things from that place. My husband has lost his Indian accent (except when he’s really angry lol) and I really miss it 😦 It doesn’t mean he’s any less Indian at all. He still went to the flag-hoisting ceremony yesterday. My accent is more Indian than him!
    My MIL is a Telugu lady from Guntur and she had similar problems when she visited and then moved abroad. She stopped wearing the saree out daily because of the security checks at airports, and also because she is deathly afraid of escalators! She still wears it but now she wears Salwars 50% of the time because it’s easier to get around in. But when it’s winter she wears a saree and layers on pants underneath it. Her English was the same as your mothers but it has improved so much just by talking to me every day, because that is the language we communicate in. When I first met her I thought she was being uptight because she wouldn’t really talk, and the same with the rest of our Guntur family, but also because they couldn’t understand my English (I slur my words a lot – from living in the Southern US for so many years) and also the British way of speaking is different than N.American.
    Your mum will come around, it is just culture shock for her, she is out of her element. I think its a good idea to just let her discover it on her own…many Westerners stare but we love sarees 🙂 It is the most beautiful outfit on Earth…

    Reply
    • Raina

       /  August 17, 2013

      I do not think there is anything wrong with improving English. As I said before we have to improve our English if we want to live in a English speaking country. I personally have the same experience like your husband. My English improved a lot because I had to speak with D.
      I do not know if you understand what I meant, because D had problem understanding this point too. Let me give a clarification. There is genuine improvement and there is faking it. When people fake it some words have heavy accent and some sound normal to native English speaker. This Amalgam makes it sound really odd and fake. They do this because they feel inferior. Even when we take English test like TOEFL they tell us not to fake our accent. Because there is a better chance that the other person will understand us better if we do not fake it. When I took the medical board exam in which I have to talk to the patient directly. The tip they give International Medical Graduates is not to fake the accent. So, this problem clearly exist in Indian society. I am not sure if you are aware of that because D did not understand it either. I had to explain him all this too. I do not mean that if you have better English you are less patriotic.

      I hope my mother will feel better the next time she is hear. I think me having a better job will add to her confidence. Last time she was here I was only a student so, she was worried about the expenses too.

      I will not tell her what she can and can not do. I feel bad that I put restrictions on her. If it is her choice I think I would not have a problem.

      Reply
    • Raina

       /  August 18, 2013

      Sorry for the late reply. I have been running around a lot this weekend.

      Reply
  1. “Let the 21st century be a century of tolerance and dialogue” | Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
  2. Rakhi Sting-Part 1 | Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
  3. Rakhi Sting-Part 2 | Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
  4. What am I obsessing about? | Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

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