Saturday, January 31, 2009

Change of Guard

Read this article by Anand Girdhardas on the change of guard in India and the breaking of traditional class barriers, in which he says :

In the Indian offices of, say, Goldman Sachs or McKinsey, the paychecks are fat and the intellects razor-sharp. But they seldom speak English in the old, affected British way. They are coarser and yet more confident. They feel the world is theirs, but are less obsessed than the earlier elites with emulating the West. They are proudly indigenous, often preferring Indian food, music and movies to the alternatives.

While the observation is not off the mark, the analysis may not be entirely right. The faux-British accent has lapsed over the years simply because the vast majority of school teachers in India have not been taught English by the British. Having learned the language from desis, they naturally speak like desis do. To make up for that, there is now a rash of accent trained young people who can speak like Americans. The neutral English accent is the in thing and is something both the old elite and new meritocracy are learning equally.

British colonization has long ended in India so emulation of their way of life is no longer relevant or important. The parents and grandparents who had the faux-British upbringing have likely passed on some of their learned traits to their children and grandchildren. However, in the world outside, these young people need to fit in with their mainstream peers and any old school British mannerisms would be considered quite odd in that social mileu. The world has moved on a great deal since the days of the Raj and everyone recognizes that.

While effete Western-style refinement has given way to the more wholesome, down-home coarseness at home, when desis comes to live and work abroad (which they continue to do in large numbers), they find the transition to be easiest if they are able to blend in. The neutral English accent helps a great deal as does some familiarity with the culture of their domicile country.

While it being proudly indigenous in India is more possible and acceptable now than ever before, the rules change quite a bit once they step outside the country. The thick desi accent along with involuntary lapses into vernacular continues to be a source of embarrassment and the cause of many a social faux-pas. Non-English speaking Europeans for instance are hardly bothered by their lack of facility with English. Such is unfortunately not quite the case with desis even today - we still have some distance to travel before we grow that comfortable in our skin.

Instead of celebrating the demise of the old elite in India as the Hinglish speaking, small town high-achievers take over the reins, it might be useful to consider how each may help the other to become more assertive and productive citizens of the world. In the end, in all cultures there will be those who are considered the elite and those who are not. The parameters for both classifications can and will change over time but intellect and achievement alone cannot confer class.

1 comment:

Destination Infinity said...

Intellect and achievement alone cannot confer class - Well said. In fact, you could have added 'being rich' also there.

Though it is true that we depend on other's value judgment on these things, there is one more point that we some times miss: Our own assessment of ourselves and our class. I think this is also equally important which is sometimes neglected grossly.

Destination Infinity