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English-Vinglish!                        #english#englishvinglish#sirsayyedahmedkhan#education#subhashbose#macaulay
Sunday August 17, 2014 11:59 PM, Asma Anjum Khan

Ladies and gentlemen, have you got over your Mid May crisis? I did. Holidays, books and mangoes, helped. So now? Ready to take the new flight?


We must. And as Malcolm X has said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. We should begin now. For, the next five years are going to be crucial in the life of our nation and our people. Our nation or nations, Hindostan, India or Bharat. You can choose your pick, but whatever you choose, make sure that you are doing something constructive for it. Enough of that analyzing, lamenting, mourning and chest beating, irrespective of your size, 56 or otherwise.

Talking about constructive things in these times of anguish, the first thing that comes to my mind is English. That most beautiful language which opens the avenues of my mind like nothing else does. The kind of expression English can afford, simply remains unmatched or so I feel. Coming to my point, have you seen how our fellow Christians and Parsis have made wonderful progress all these years? Their huge advancement in academic, social and economical spheres is amazing. One of the key success factors is adopting of English, as their main medium of communication. I am not here talking about their opening of or sending their kids to English medium /convent schools but adopting English in their day today lives. English comes naturally to them. The Bengalis took to English like ducks to water, when Thomas Babington Macaulay replaced Persian with the Queen’s language around 1937. In the same way, these two communities have adapted to English so well and this shows!.

And what about us? Are we, the Muslims serious about learning English or have we just become accustomed to the way we have been? Or happy sniffing some Angrezi, here and here? Historically speaking, while Jawaharlal Nehru was said to be anglicized, and Mahatma Gandhi wanted, Hindustani, as the national language, it was Subhash Chandra Bose, who put paid to the talk of a ,’national language’ when he said, Language? But I thought a majority of Indians were poor and illiterate. Why not learn English?

Wise and Profound! Ain’t it?

Do I even need to articulate the need and importance of English, it being the principal language of science, technology and international communication etc? Several job avenues are open for our young Turks if they have English in their kitties and several will shut down, if they don’t. It is as simple as that.

I strongly believe in the Power of English. For my people (and others too) it is and could be the main key for success in their careers and their lives.

Plagiarizing from Martin Luther King Junior, I wish to say,

I (too) have a Dream.

I have a dream where I see my people reading writing and more importantly conversing in English. Fluent, effortless English. Not just our students, but our folks, our traders and our work force too! This is neither an idyllic, idealistic dream nor a naïve thought. It is quite in our hands; to pull it off! Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan was futurist enough to dream this first. He wanted his people to be well furnished with English, in return got derided, was censured, but remained undeterred. Since 1937 and Macaulay, our community has got it rather too late to understand this simple and plain mathematics. But they had their own apprehensions. In those days, learning English was akin to converting to Christianity! Prominent people of the time, some teachers of Dilli College had gone that way and this was hugely disconcerting for the people of the time. They feared learning of English would also entail learning of what is called, Maghribi Tehzeeb! While their fears were not entirely unfounded, their reactions were extreme.

The famous poet Akbar Ilahbadi laments beautifully, at this dilemma:
Darmiyan qaar dariyaa takhtaa bandum kardaa ee
Baazmi goyi ke daaman tarr makan hoshiyaar baash

[You have drowned me into the water, tied to a log
And now you ask me, not to get my robes sodden?]

He was warning people, of the danger of getting influenced by the Western ways of living, if they decided to learn English.

But today the state of affairs is different:
Ham huwe, tum huwe ki Meer huwe
Uss ki zulfon ke sab aseer huwe

[We all have become captives of her beautiful tresses]

Today the world has gone crazy for English. Old folksy’s look proud when grand kids blabber in English. Everybody wants to send his and his neighbor’s child to a convent / English medium school, whose admission lists are always dripping at the brim. Bill boards advertising Spoken English classes, have become the new McDonalds, everyone wants to have a pie. In fact they are an industry!

But this mushrooming of non-aided English Medium Schools, where Modern Day Slaves called school teachers work long hours, has failed to bring about the kind of change that was/is needed. They have not been able to improve the quality of verbal communication because the quality of teaching is very poor. These Angrezi ke teachers, themselves need to be trained in English. Leave alone speaking, many of them read or write bad language but are supposed to be teaching it! Horrific to imagine what situation, their students can be/are in. Our youngsters find speaking English, ‘cool’ and they do want to, but our wrong strategies create more confusion, which further leads to fear. And when you fear something, consider yourself finished. Khallaas!

The one thing I ask my students, before I begin my Spoken English Sessions with them is, Have they watched Sholay? Some half raised hands, confused looks and sheepish laughter after, I remind them of that ringing zinger,

Jo darr gayaa so mar gayaa!

Same is true for English. Once you fear it, you always fear it.

So just go for it!

Fear kills you from within. After this I talk about the myriad nuances of imbibing the language, a language which is thought to be foreign but actually belongs to the same Indo-European family our Urdu comes from. Can a language which is present in our lands since last 200 years be called foreign? Let’s take English to be our very own, should I dare say, Ghar ki laundi! (the famous usage goes something like this, Urdu toh hamare ghar ki laundi hai) English is as easier or as difficult to learn as any other language.


Motivating and instilling confidence in the learners should be the first step. I remember the editor of a famous Urdu Daily, comparing the Queen’s English to Sherni ka doodh. I felt a sad outrage. I asked him if he makes it out to be that difficult, then who among us but only foolishly brave would dare go near this mother lioness; forget having her milk! Such an insinuation creates fear. Already our vernacular kids dread English for their life! The failing percentage in English is always high. Majority of the cheating cases are found during English tests. This fear of English must go. And, in this regard, No one can help us but our own selves. We must decide. We must have the will to do so. There is no need to establish separate institutions for the learning and teaching of English. Do you remember what Mark Twain, that father of witticism had said?

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education!

Let our traditional and stale teaching methods not kill our endeavors to learn and grasp the language. Learning should be fun.

The thing I am talking about is not just educating my people in English but enhancing the standards of spoken and written language skills and taking them to a level, at par with international standards. How wonderful it would be if each one of my people speak/speaks good fluent English? How easier their tasks would be!

Some Solutions
A little group of determined English teachers [who themselves read, write and speak correct English] can be dispatched to various schools and conduct a day workshop for the English teachers there. This workshop should first gauge their disadvantages and then employ various techniques and strategies to improve their grammar, vocabulary and of course speech! This can be done twice a year serving as a steady check on the standards of teaching and learning. Our teachers must understand the importance of how big a role they are/would be playing in the building of the minds and personas of their young nation. The work is hard but to borrow a cliché, Yes, we can.

Another strategy could be forming teams of fresh English graduates and dispatching them to different local neighborhoods, preferably our kachi bastis. There they can gather the children around, once in a week and get them to read and learn some English.

If understood and decided upon firmly, this could be the first foundational step towards building our young nation, or Qaum as Sir Sayyed called it. And by this he meant not just Muslims but everyone who craves for, English-Vinglish

2] The movie, English-Vinglish is about a middle class woman, Shashi doesn't know English; and hence is ridiculed by her family and society at large. One day, she decides to learn English and prove herself to everyone. The film follows Shashi's transformation from a sober housewife to a confident woman.

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