Recently, when I was returning from home via train, I found some pleasant company in a few tourists from England. It is funny that we don't need names for a conversation. Another one from their bevy had found company in a newly wed couple from Jaipur (which, funnily, the guy pronounced as Jaipar and said that the pronunciation is so). Somewhere on the railway station, a gentleman from amongst the group asked me a question. I think his name was Dave, or John maybe. He asked me this question, as to how come I had better English while some others did not. Is it that I was taught English in school and they weren't?

Now I see that by giving me a priming, a seed of an answer, he did not get the total answer that I would have given. (The priming concept was fresh in my mind for I have been reading a book about such biases.) It is highly probable though that I might not have given such an answer back then at all, for this one is meditated, that one would have been extempore.

Lest I may forget, the answer would have been thus:

“I love languages, so much to the effect that I want to as precise in meaning as the language can allow me in its current state of being (and my current state of learning). As a result, I have more or less remained in contact with the language on leisure basis (though not with its grammar and semantics, I only read what pleases me, when it pleases me), due to which I read, and write for the fun of it and extracting mirth out of doing it. Others, most of us, have not yet discovered this love for languages, in as much that they don't read beyond necessity, nor write out of their own volition. As a result, most of us do not grow the language much farther than what we learnt in our senior secondary school, or perhaps, what gets us through our daily conversations in the corporate world, or our specific technical areas. When we encounter tourists, some of us exploit the fact that we are not supposed to be perfect, and that the person we're talking to is not a dummy robot who will fail to understand if we are slightly incoherent. Thus, even a broken English would suffice. Top it up with a little confidence and articulate hand gestures, and the person's lack of good command on language is easily mitigated.”

I once read, in a book on body language by Allan Pease, that people up in social order or sophistication tend to use less of their hands and exercise more of their words in imparting precision to what they speak. They decrease their reliance on body constructs and use verbal language to their fullest. It was about the same time that some news channel had found a little boy from some place in India who spoke 'archaic' English and claimed to be a reincarnation of some scientist. I had observed him, how he styled his English, moved his hands, covered his mouth like our beloved Rajesh Khanna used to sometimes, and gave a twitch of lips when starting sentences. The news readers were convinced that he was indeed the incarnation for they did not understand what he spoke (for his English was ironically archaic, belonging to the early 1900s). Later, his cover was blown and it was found that the kid had locked himself in his room for about 3 months and watched English movies and had learnt all his english from there. The same news readers were then claiming how they had uncovered a fraud. Ma and Papa had sympathized with the boy, for he was incredibly talented, and needed a mentor, not chastisement.

Anyhow, this anecdote was in a rebuttal against using too much gesticulation lest you may give away your act (though it is absolutely essential in certain measures, how enough is enough?). It is partially our failure to do more than circumstantial requirements which inhibits the expansion of our social horizons.

Different colored head images superimposed.


Now, this is the answer which I actually gave (not verbatim of course).

I think I was lucky. I got a good English teacher. Even though our schools are switching to 'English medium', they don't get too far with that, for the languages of our day to day discourses are largely dialectical. The English we're taught is just functional enough so that we may understand the textbooks of science, or other relevant subjects, but it doesn't deal much in infusing in us an understanding of language, its appreciation or value. We learn English so that it helps us understand other subject textbooks which are largely written in English. So, we never really practice speaking English.

I suggested that they might observe people faring better in major cities, because they are an agglomeration of cultures, and have no specific culture. In such a case, there has to be a common transactional language, and that becomes English, for it is the language of the Private sector. Now, while I compare the two answers, I find that both of them contain the same idea in their core. So, pretty satisfactory, yes? Also, it is interesting that what we see in one 'box', we blindly miss to see the same wisdom in another 'box', until lightning strikes and all is light. Nothing much fruitful would be expected if we don't have any kind of interest in anything, life included.

On the topic of dialects, Dave revealed that dialects are indeed quite varied in England too. He himself was from Oxford, and sometimes has immense difficulty in understanding the dialect of people from Yorkshire (and Southampton). And here I was thinking that English of all Britishers is the same and that these people were not all from England for each one had a different way of speaking and none resembled the 'British' English (stereotype version). I also told him, and the lady he was accompanying (its hard to say that she was accompanying him, for she was a travel guide, while he was a first timer) that in Himachal, there's a saying that water and language changes every 10 kilometers. The lady did not hear 10 right, she heard 'n' and while she apologized for her bad ear, I conceded that it could very well be a problem of my accent. We laughed about it.

Dave is now retired 7 years, after being a welder and a motor mechanic. He has a son who is an electrical engineer with Schneider Electric in Manchester. I asked from my feeble memory that Manchester is supposedly the industrial area in England, to which he said yes. Manchester and one other, I think Liverpool for it too has a football club (thats how I remember that the other one was a city whose name I know, I haven't validated the names though), they have quite a lot of heavy industry. His son makes heavy electrical switchboxes, only recently switched from a small job to this one. Dave is currently living on the coast of Spain.

On a parting note, I mustn't be too lethargic about travel. It leads to interesting insights. As a quick advice, travel when you're down :-)

While I was telling them this, I had this particular quote at the back of my head:

“Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, to give birth out of love for life to successors who would do it in her place.”

~ Boris Pasternak