Slavish Mentality of the Public Servants…

My father’s official communication, written in June, 1947, opened up the visage of an era that we have long forgotten. People of my generation who were born in the early years of independent India had the privilege receiving information about many anecdotes from the first-hand experiences of our parents’ generation. Sadly the younger generation, having taken freedom for granted, have not been exposed to what it felt like growing up in a slave nation. Luckily I grew up listening to stories about the Raj as well as the Gulami of our nation.Looking back, I can see, for sure, the reason and the factors making me the person that I am today. If you look at the official communication of my father intently and read the last closing line of the letter you’ll find that he closes it with the expression:

“I have the honour to be your most obedient servant”

Now this expression, “your most obedient servant” always generated a debate in our home. Though I had never seen this letter earlier but there were a number of English Grammar books and also Essays and letter writing books, belonging to my father, that I would read with great interest. All the official letters, in the Essay and Letter writing books,  had in the signature line the same very odd expression, “your most obedient servant”! As I grew up, in an independent India, inhaling the fresh and clean air of Simla, I would be very angry to see that government officials would resort to use such a language in their official communications. I would question my father, “Do you also write expressions like these while writing to your officer?” And when he would say Yes to it, my little heart would bleed with agony. My Bauji was epitome of dignity for me and the fact that he used such expression of obedience would just be difficult for me to swallow!  “But we were servants of the Angrez Sahibs” he would say laughing aloud in his open style laughter and would add wistfully, “we are servants of the public”. “Why have our books the same expression in all the official letters?” I would retort back, “Are we  not living in a free country?” People of my generation would recall that all our English Grammar books had this kind of concluding line. My father had no answer to it except saying, “Old habits die hard”. and would add. “gradually with the passage of time people will learn to use more dignified language in their official communication.

My father’s dream of  free people living in a free country has, unfortunately, not been realized despite being the fact that we have been free of the slavery of the British rule  for more than sixty four years now. But, sadly, the mental slavery to the master still pervades all walks of life.

I cannot say much about the corporate work-life but in the corridors of Government work-life it still remains, “your most obedient servant” though the style has innovated a little. People address the Director, invariably, in their official communication as “Worthy Director” or sometimes even “the  most worthy Director” and use so many “your kind attention please” in one single letter that would have sufficed my father an entire year of official communication.

Nothing has changed. “Public servants”, in the name of Government, make blatant misuse of power vested in them for public good and sadly no one, I repeat NO ONE, seems to mind. The chalta hai attitude has rotted the fabric of good governance. And under such circumstances persons like me who have grown up dreaming of living and working in a country where there would be no need to write, “your most obedient servant” are worst hit by the powers-that-be!

Bauji, I ask you today, why didn’t you teach me the tricks of the world? Why did you bring me up to be an upright citizen? Why did you fill my little heart with the feeling that all will be well in Free India?

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Adding pep to my Life…

30 April, 2007

If I tell you what was I doing the moment you called me up…you would laugh yourself till your belly ached or perhaps you would feel serious concern for me! I had cleaned up the home, early in the morning, as I don’t sweep the home after someone leaves—and your papa had to go today. As  I had packed lunch for him so had breakfast and a working lunch almost ready for me as well but surprisingly it was only seven AM, too early to go to the Institute! I still had time to do something. With nothing else to do and having sufficient time to kill, it is the mailbox that comes to your help at such a moment. I opened my mail account, checked a few mails and then logged on to my Orkut account and surfed through some other Orkut users’ accounts—trying to peep in their life. I think the good old days when the neighborhood aunty kept a strict watch over what was happening in some others’ home are gone with the wind. These days the modern aunties keep a strict watch over others by just logging on to the Orkut account. I am planning to hold summer classes for all those gullible women of my age group who have no idea about having an Orkut account. How grateful they would be to me for having made them aware of the choicest and easiest way of keeping a vigil over others and that too without ever having been caught! I am really seriously planning to execute this idea and better still to have it in my name as who knows someone might steal this great idea of mine. I am sure that if all those women, who get a vicarious pep watching Ekta Kapoors family soaps, are once hooked to Orkut then god alone can save poor Ekta Kapoor. No one, no one I repeat, would ever be watching her serials. I am seriously following a very interesting happening in the life of a recently married couple and believe me it is worth all the time that I spend on the net. Some scraps that were exchanged were really collectors’ items. I am using “were” because the next day all of them were deleted as they spoke of more that the poor newly married bride was supposed to speak about! Pathetic, you will say it to be. Ever since the poor bride and her sister exchange nothing more than “take care” kind of scraps! And the “recently married boy” would never reveal more than what he can hide on his scraps—never even writes his contact number as if some kind of mafia is running after his life—so secretive is he that it gives me creeps to think of him as sane at the least! Some interesting story in the making! Now who would waste time watching Ekta Kapoor’s serials when there is so much happening around in the real life of people you know!Thank God you called the moment I was thinking of peeping in the life of some other family and I saved myself a bout of headache that follows all such peeps!

This is something else I have to thank Google for! 

Letter to My Little One–44

Where has the good Old English Disappeared?January 14, 2007

Dear Little One,

As this weekend I had nothing much to do and as you, too, seemed to be busy so I had to find something to keep me occupied. What I did these two days was nothing less than a revelation to me. I went through my Orkut scrap book and refreshed my mind about all those young boys and girls who are in my friends list. As almost all of them have been or at present are my students so just for the sake of fun started evaluating their English. Now don’t criticize me for being a killjoy when it comes to such small pleasures of life as writing a scrap!

A very interesting finding came about. Perhaps serendipity is what it could be called:           

 My friends list has 105 members.           

All of them are in the age group of 18—24.           

 All of them are/being professionally qualified.           

 There are 217 scraps in all.

 Only seven scraps can be put under, relatively, correct English. 

I was shocked beyond doubt that out of the total 217 scraps in my Orkut scrap book only seven of my friends had used grammatically correct English and had not used any slang though there were errors like multiple exclamatory signs etc. This trend becomes criminal when you think that all these scraps were written by present/erstwhile students who knew well my commitment for grammatically correct English even when they had to indulge in informal conversation. What had gone wrong? Something was not going well so far the teaching and usage of English was concerned. I could have overlooked this problem had I not taught them all in my class.

So many reasons of this grammatically incorrect communication came to my mind. I thought of you and your little brother. Suddenly I was panicky as I knew you, too, to be on Orkut and I wanted to check your scrapbook. Somewhere inside me was a feeling of premonition that you may also not be doing the same thing. Sorry dear, but I did check almost all the scraps on your scrapbook and checked the ones written by you on your friends’ scrapbooks. My worst fears came true. You, too, had been using the same kind of English that I dreaded the present generation youth to be using. Next I wanted to check all our Gtalk communication. As you know it well that I chat only to you or to your brother or occasionally to some of my students on Gtalk. I checked all my communications and again found all of you to be using slang and grammatically incorrect English at times. And I had never stopped you though occasionally I had corrected your wrong spellings but never grammar and use of shortcuts or slang. Why had I been so criminally negligent? Perhaps it was to get more information out of the interaction that these errors were never pointed out. But this alone was not enough.The worst was when today chatting to you even I felt like using “abt” instead of “about” or “thnx” for “thanks”. I admit that that the problem is very serious. Its enormity increases when you say that very few persons write correct English these days and in your kind of job writing correct English is so very essential. Though for me writing correct English for all kind of jobs is a must.

This is a problem that needs corrective measure and as a teacher of English I have to find them real soon otherwise the time is no far off when I, too, may not start using it. This problem is kind of contagious.The topmost culprit is the culture of communication via chatting and the culprits are, no doubt, Gtalk, Orkut, Yahoo messenger, MSN etc. It is ironic that something that is introduced for the convenience of the mankind becomes a burden at times. This chatting culture, though increasing social connectivity, has acted as a death knell for writing grammatically correct English. A content analysis of the Orkut scraps written by educated men and women would substantiate what my worst fears are. In order to communicate to a large number of friends and to do it in the shortest possible time the use of slang is making its way in the writing style of the average youths. When they use the same writing style to write to their English teacher it shows how deep rooted the problem is.So the root cause for this is a culture developed by chat engines to facilitate connectivity. Why should anyone bother for the grammar rules and correct spellings when there is no one to stop them it from?

I am really feeling that this problem is going to be a very big one in the coming times when finding people using correct English would be a Herculean task. Please don’t tag me as a pessimist as my observations are based on experience. As I have already mentioned in many of my posts to you that what we start as a fad initially becomes a habit and gradually becomes a part of  our very being—such a part that the difference between the right and almost right seems delicate enough to be forgotten, albeit conveniently. Now convenient to what—to your vocabulary, spellings, grammatical structures and also, above all, to the trendy picture that you present. All these factors are playing havoc with the usage of good language especially English and that too for those who use English as a second language.The most interesting revelation came while reading scraps of people I knew written on the scrapbook of their own friends, obviously friends in their own age group. The kind of language that they write speaks about the same identity crisis that persons working in call centers must be having. And thinking about the impact of this identity crisis on their language proficiency really makes me worried.

I came to a very interesting generalization—the persons who were basically good in English Language had also adopted a new way to express themselves as per the latest trends and the people who were not good in English and would shy away even from uttering one single sentence in the public, were now doing the same, albeit behind a different anonymity that Net provides. Is it not a blessing for learning English as we, the teachers of English, believe that fluency should come before accuracy! So once they become fluent, they would have to take care of their accurate usage of language. Orkut is doing a great job to bring the non-users of English Language to the fold! But it humors me to read “wanna to” and “finda out” kind of English where neither the conventional way nor the trendy way of expression is used and the result is a kind of hybrid! But then I may be too old for using Orkut! By the way I wondered, “Are old people like me allowed to have an account on Orkut?” But a really democratic ground, a melting ground for persons with different language levels, different cultures, is what Orkut is.

On a second thought, may be In spite of my initial feelings of spoiling the English Language, it is doing wonders for spreading a different kind of English as well. This is a great service to the spread of English. Hope that one day people start using grammatically correct English even when writing a very informal comment. Amen!

I thought of you and the way you may be reading, day in and day out, atrociously incorrect English written by others and am worried about what impact it might have on you as well. I hope my worst fears about its negative impact just remain invalid fears! But to be on the safer side, try reading good English books so that you retain all that you have learnt in use of good language. Love

Ma