Tag Archives: Indian writing in English

Why English

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‘Beti’, daughter in Hindi

I live every day inside a tower of Babel. That’s what it feels like as I stroll about the Indian cities I have lived in, acclimating to a new language with every move, being an outsider, the alien in the crowd. Around me I hear only babble. If I murmur, they tell me, sometimes reasonably and sometimes with hostility, why don’t you learn our language? I am privy to only so much of anyone’s culture that the few kind people are willing to translate, explain to me. I chose English as a raft to guide me along, through this many-tongued sea.

As a teenager, I once confessed my choice to a teacher and regretted my moment of candour immediately, as she said if you choose English you will never belong, anywhere. Maybe a few months afterwards, I would come across a poem in the library. A verse from this poem by Indian author Kamala Das went up on a wall in my bedroom. It was my answer to everyone. The part that interested me talked of why the poet was determined to write in English, no matter what other people thought of her decision. What follows is the relevant verse from the poem ‘An Introduction’,

by Kamala Das:
….“I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write inIMG_2057
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions,….” Continue reading Why English

Why write

We are all made of legacies. In the genes we get, the cultures we are doctrinated into, and at the most obscure level of the jumping, vanishing electrons bequeathed to us by the stardust that begot us. We seem compelled to leave behind an imprint in the dust of time, however we can manage it. While striving to be something more than animal, we crafted civilisations, societies, rituals and religions, thereafter calling ourselves human.

But as time passed these institutions callused over killing thought and creativity, killing the very thing we sought to become—human. We could go back to that cave wall where we felt the first sparks, to that early song in which we discerned a pleasing pattern. Perchance then, by tapping into that spark, we could communicate with sentient beings elsewhere who call themselves something else, but who feel the same yearning to leave behind an imprint.

And this book is mine. I leave it behind in the binary code of an ebook, in the dust of the virtual world. As a reclusive author you learn to live with paradox. Which is that if you have wares to vend you cannot afford to be retiring. I find it difficult to upsell self, speak up and be heard, to ask people to read my book, let alone buy it. But that is what I do here with these words. Please pardon my retreat from grace into mercantilism, if you can excuse it, dear reader.

Continue reading Why write