‘English Vinglish’: Aren’t we permanently colonialised?


A script freshly out of the oven, albeit peppered with its own set of stereotypes. A beautiful cast spearheaded by an actor with gigantic acting prowess. The coming-together of a debutant director and a comeback superstar…

English Vinglish was set for an all-out success when Gauri Shinde’s keen observation of her mother’s predicament of being a non-English speaking woman began to verbalise itself. It seems the rest was all bound to happen: Gauri’s meeting with Sridevi, the latter falling in love with the script and the resounding success that should shame half-baked, dim-witted multi-crore and multi-starred melodramas into submission.

It’s not about Sridevi or Gauri…

Any film that traces the self-discovery of its protagonist ultimately leading to self-elevation lets you feel good about yourself. Vicarious thrills float freely in the cinema hall when the protagonist begins to overcome her own ‘shortcomings’ one by one.

But it’s not about Sridevi or Gauri or the script here. It’s about something else. It’s about what would have happened to Shashi Godbole if she had failed to raise a toast in English. It’s about millions of other Shashi Godboles whose self-discovery will never worm its way through the New York Subway and end up at New York Language Center for a crash course in spoken English.

If the ‘weakness’ in question is about not knowing “the third most common native language in the world”, you are invariably doomed to sub-human status in a country that has spawned hundreds of mother tongues, scores of officials languages and numerous dialects over millennia. India is perhaps the only nation where it took just one foreign language to divide families and societies where countless languages and dialects, cultures and sub-cultures weaved its social fabric that looked more like a beautifully patch-worked quilt than a multi-coloured aberration.

But that’s almost past, ain’t it? Now it’s all about denying roots because somehow they fail to cling once you have walked your way up to Times Square. It’s about going ‘global’ with just one currency. It’s about mastering that accent to elevate oneself to another level even among other English-speaking people. So this ‘self-elevation’ knows no end.

Aren’t we permanently colonialised?

Self-elevation, or is it?

What kind of self-elevation is this if all your finest of human qualities (not just laddoo-making) get relegated to the background until you raise yourself to your critics’ level? Are your own ability to raise a family and be a self-driven entrepreneur mere secondary life-skills meant to serve the English-speaking people around you and are a means to a meaningless end? What culture are we proud of if that doesn’t teach a teenage daughter—who constantly abuses her ‘dumb’ mother just because she cannot speak English—to behave? Because most often, it’s not the weakness itself that hurts the most; it’s what the others think of it.

If people fail to see your self-worth the way you would like them to see it, then perhaps the shortcomings lie in them, not in you. Can’t this be a realisation in itself?

I am saying this because my mother is also a Shashi Godbole only so far as her ‘unschooled’ status goes. But if you ask her to join a crash course, she will tell you to “go to hell” in Kannada laced with Hyderabad-Karnataka accent and return to her life all at once.

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