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Assimilating English into the wave of Hindutva

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

Cognizant as I am of the unpalatable essence of the very lexeme, “Hindutva”, to the minds of many, I must elucidate at the very outset that I shall nonetheless not elaborate on my preference for it. While I view it as synonymous with India’s civilizational truth — evident to the founding fathers of the modern republic themselves — many shall by prerogative disagree, and I do not intend to proselytize. I must therefore not get into its specifics. The central theme of this essay is the skepticism and occasional animus against the English language that the coeval resurgence of cultural nationalism in India is often redolent of, and it is most apt to so proceed.

We regard English rather flippantly as the ultimate secret which a shrewd Thomas Babington Macaulay must have discovered — a secret to governing the impossibly diverse land that would eventually be the crown jewel of the British Empire. Fortunately for the proponents of English such as me, the British during their reign did not adequately invest in educating the Indian masses in the colonial language. As Dr. Shashi Tharoor noted in a lecture in 2017, the eminent historian Will Durant wrote that the national education budget of India in the 1930s, needless to say under British misrule, was a paltry less than 10% of the budget of merely New York City in the same era. Evidently, the colonial government was not keen on imparting the education of English to the benighted masses.

The reticence to teach English is to my mind quite understandable. Exposure to English could have introduced to the minds of the people an assortment of thoughts, in particular those pertinent to the ideas of liberty, equality and so forth. The British truly did not want to teach the English language. Instead, they sought to impart such education to a select few as to cultivate a class of Indians who were Indian in appearance but anglophile in their thoughts. The very education assiduously tailored to foster Anglophilia amongst Indians appeared to backfire, given that the Congress adopted the English language and employed it for nationalist purposes.

A significant number of stalwarts of that era wrote in English. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the epochal Glimpses of World History and The Discovery of India in English. An appreciable portion if not all of Mahatma Gandhi’s Collected Works consists of works he wrote in English. Savarkar wrote his seminal disquisition Hindutva in English. Dr. Ambedkar wrote nearly all of his thirty plus books in English. Given that the history of India is replete with instances of cultural assimilation, including synthesis of languages with one another, there is no reason to trust that Indians could not do the same with the English language, which has assumed greater significance in this era of globalization. To transform the platitudinous view of English as a colonial language into the view that it could be utilitarian in the Indian national endeavour must be the paramount province of Indians themselves.

The contemporary era in India is no longer characterized with opportunities inordinately exclusive for STEM graduates. Conceding that STEM is engaged capaciously in value-addition, the view that hopeless people alone opt for arts and humanities is no longer true. One could graduate in B.A. English (Hons.) and find lucrative jobs in content writing, journalism and so forth. As has long been evident, English is the supereminent language of the academic and professional world, and is therefore the language of opportunity and self-advancement.

English shall be very felicitous to this resurgence of cultural nationalism in India. Dr. Tharoor in the aforesaid lecture cites professor Diana Eck, in whose analysis the very genesis of English literature as an academic discipline eventuated in India, and thus the nation’s very providence is inexorably entwined with the English language. Why then, for instance, does the Indian government never incentivize the creation of Indian English literature? Indeed, Indian authors and authors of Indian origin in foreign nations have significantly contributed to English literature, such as through the extremely phenomenal Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie which is the quintessence of postcolonial literature. Vikram Seth has written the voluminous novel A Suitable Boy, a few others such as An Equal Music and The Golden Gate, and numerous delightsome poems. Her overly eccentric views notwithstanding, Arundhati Roy has made her presence felt, too, through her novel The God of Small Things which is replete with imaginative and luscious prose. Indeed, excerpts of them all must be taught to school students.

But the foregoing examples use the post-colonial nation-state of India as its milieu, whereas India has been a civilization going back millennia. India also has in its vault of history a cornucopia of philosophical and metaphysical truths that must also be translated into lyrical English and integrated into the national curriculum as fine examples of Indian English literature. The key words are “lyrical English”; they must employ imaginative language, similar if not identical to that in English translations of the Bible. But these must refer to the eminent professor Rajiv Malhotra’s book Sanskrit Non-Translatables, so as to not mistakenly translate such Sanskrit words as have no actual equivalents in English. The best example of this is Dharma, which is erroneously translated to religion. Dharma, therefore, need not be translated. Such words must be incorporated into English literatim. The significance of such an endeavour cannot be trivialized. Dr. Richard Dawkins, quite famous for adhering to neo-atheism, has often opined that it was impossible to be rooted in British, and indeed western culture, without studying Bible as an indispensable part of literature. How is it, then, that we in India do not study our own philosophies and scriptures as integral components of Indian literature?

While we may justly hold the government accountable, nothing exonerates students from their own lackadaisical approach towards the English language. Schoolchildren devote their time, not entirely sans reason, to more vital subjects such as Science, mathematics and social sciences, relegating English to the periphery. While devoting relatively less time to English is natural, the manner in which they learn it is asinine if not abominable. They memorize the syllabus so as to earn a good grade and not imbibe the quality of language. Schools are in part to blame, for they do not as a convention introduce students to formal presentations early on. They do not conduct periodic group discussions on topics taught in school in the range of subjects children are exposed to. Thus, they do not incentivize English communication amongst students. Given that the brain of a child quickly learns several pivotal skills, formal allocution could well be an added skill for their benefit.

In the highly intellectual sphere of political science, the creation of a paradigm grounded in India’s civilizational truth — a core aim of cultural resurgence — would be greatly felicitous so as to provide a theoretical framework for India’s special genius. It would serve as a defence against the often attractive but protractedly perilous worldviews of Marxism. But prior to thus reinventing political science, we would do well to correct our parlance, in order to prevent confusion with regard to academic discourse concerning India’s identity.

Our understanding of communalism in particular is rather contorted. The highly erudite authors Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri lucidly explain in their book, “A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilizational State”:

The fundamental flaw of modern India’s secularism as practiced today is that it embodies a confusion between the State and the Society. Nowhere is this confusion more evident than in the way secularism and communalism are routinely hailed as antonyms. The opposite of secularism is not communalism but theocracy, for secularism is a feature of the State; nation-states can be secular or theocratic. Communalism is a feature of all societies. In a free, democratic and liberal country, when people who share the same ideas build coalitions and alliances, it is not only acceptable but sometimes even welcome. It is precisely through the creation of non-birth based, idea-driven networks and communities that ideational synthesis happens and social mobility accelerates.

They note that communalism is a lovely ‘ism’ with a neutral meaning in the rest of the world but with connotations of ‘bigotry’ in India. This is a most significant corrective Indians must implement. So soon as we fundamentally alter what communalism means, the foundation for the preaching of faux secularism in the garb of true secularism shall also be lost, thereby paving the way for a civilizational narrative to build itself. To lend impetus to such a paradigm, it is vital to articulate in English, for it is the creole of academia.

English must not be viewed as antonymous to regional languages. To be acculturated to two or three languages is quite common in India, and English is invariably one of them. It is for the market, if not the government, to incentivize learning regional languages and build industries around them. That would be an innovation in light of the heightened significance English shall assume.

If we are to popularize a culture-rooted narrative, English shall be of great import. It is possible to not adopt the anglophile elitism and yet stay relevant in academia espousing such a narrative. Whether Indians succeed in such a unique endeavour remains to be seen.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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