Of Languages, Luxury and Change

The AP education ministry thinks a Telugu song addressing Telugu Talli (mother) should be made mandatory at the morning Assembly in all English-medium schools, as opposed to Vande Mataram and the National Anthem, which are currently the norm. This sudden ‘order’ comes as a reactionary move to some students in an English-medium school being punished for speaking in Telugu. That such a hasty, thoughtless decree has been passed under the name of respect for the ‘mother-tongue’ and its Classical status is in itself a reflection of the lack of responsibility and application. Politics reigns. Who cares about the language? I can never understand the hostile attitude many officials adopt towards English. Instead of looking at it as a language that can contribute to growth alongwith the local language, they view it as an enemy, a hindrance to the development of local languages. In complete contrast is the attitude in China, which is rapidly trying to make its people acquainted with English for the very jobs that we vie for with them. Narrow-mindedness doesn’t really help progress.

Hindol Sengupta writes in the Hindu Sunday Magazine about what we should patronise and what we shouldn’t, in our renewed attempts to buy ‘luxury’, as the worst of the recession is behind us now and interest in designer brands and labels returns. During the most torrid period of the economic crisis, I was in Singapore, and to all of us who travelled there last September, it meant a considerable increase in salary and purchasing power. We lived on our own, we didn’t have any families to support, we were like kids in a candy store, and most of us were fresh out of college. We blatantly ignored the recession. Inflation, the glut of out-of-work professionals in the market, the fall in profits and the difficulty in procuring necessities, forget luxury, all went unknown or ignored. Coming from Vizag, we didn’t know what life in a major city was like- and transported to a global city-country like Singapore, a shopping haven, we had our first glimpses of genuine malls and huge blow-ups featuring products from Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Models in outlandish make-up pouted and seduced from billboards that screamed money. It didn’t matter if we couldn’t afford them. We spent within our means, bought presents, fulfilled dreams. We were the new, albeit temporary, bunnies of retail chains and malls. Coming back here and seeing how things have changed, though, makes the guilt kick in. Everything costs twice as much as it used to, and we’ve had sense knocked back into us faster than we imagined. Maybe it was just an accident we lived out our dreams in the period that saw the most economic suffering since the Great Depression. Or irony. Sengupta is right, luxury never does go away. It just picks up new admirers, or loses them. The revelry is over, we are back home, sated and blissful, living where we belong, and thoroughly comfortable with it. Not that it’s wrong to be happy, satisfied and to have fun, but I tend to look askance at happiness bought by plying yourself with things you want and probably don’t need.

Life in Singapore has been mostly materialistic. And comfortable. The high quality of life is a result of proper planning and, more importantly, action. There was so much to see, so much to enjoy, so much to indulge the senses with, so little to complain about, that I was carried away by the grandeur of it all and began to imagine that life was almost perfect. I was quite like a Page 3 writer during my stay there, touching little of substance. Because life was on an upswing, we were Cinderellas counting out the hours in an enchanted palace, and now that the spell has broken, we’re living in reality again.

Writing comes easily when something disturbs or inspires. Or annoys. In that sense, India gives you a lot to write about. When you see people soil pavements or spray worthless graffiti on walls, throw lit cigarette stubs in the middle of the road, stubbornly refuse to obey traffic rules, let the sight and the sound of money bring out the worst in them, you are left with the sinking feeling that nothing, really, has changed. One year hasn’t brought about any improvement, people are poorer in their wallets and morals. Society isn’t any kinder to women, people are as corrupt as they used to be, politicians continue to go on verbal rampages of no consequence, and all the fervent hoping and praying that you did has gone waste. We gave vent to the customary murmurs of dissent, the ‘I-don’t-want-to-go-back-to-India’ line, knowing full well that we had to, after all. Singaporeans complain that they need to impose rules and penalties to have people behave courteously or do things they’re supposed to- maybe we could begin with following rules. It isn’t difficult, and it would be logistically easier if we could act on our own instead of having to push and prod one another. Or perhaps we could just have a reality show to start with.

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