Tag Archives: USA

Custodians of the English Language? You, Me, Everybody, Nobody.

I was sitting in a coffee shop chatting with someone I had met on one of my travels. We were discussing about how does one understand India. I replied saying, one must immerse in the Indian culture, learn the language and observe. Easier said than done, I say. Especially the bit about language.

We Indians learn British English in school. Most of us remember our English language literature journey starting from Enid Blyton books and graduating over to over to British Classics and modern British literature. So, we learnt that people live in ‘flats’ in a building which may have ‘lifts’ and schedule is not pronounced as ‘skedule’. We put a ‘u’ in colour and labour.

Source: Macmillan

Somewhere along the way, came along Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham and the rest. Suddenly our television channels were flooded with American TV shows and soap operas. And then just about everyone started peppering their sentences with words like – whatever, yeah, really, like. And the British English went for a toss. Suddenly we were buying ‘apartments’ in ‘high rises’ which have ‘elevators’. We have ‘cell phones’ not ‘mobile phones’ and we go for ‘vacations’ not ‘holidays’. We are not the only ones who have this problem (which is a natural progression of a globalized, connected world). Apparently the Americans and British who live in each other’s country speak a mish-mash of both forms of the language.

As we Indians continue to bumble along the language highway, along the way, we were made to realize that we spoke something called the Indian English. We end sentences with ‘only’ or ‘na’ and use ‘basically’ everywhere in a sentence! We have singlehandedly invented the word prepone (ladies and gentlemen, it wasn’t in the dictionary before!). We love translating Hindi to English in our heads and thus we construct sentences in the present continuous tense.

While talking to our friends, unconsciously we slip in and out of Hindi and English, using a better word which conveys the meaning to construct the sentence. Most of our songs, ad slogans and film titles are in Hinglish.

So, who has the monopoly over English language? Apparently, no one and everyone. The English language evolves as it travel. It grows, it shrinks, it makes words obsolete and adds new words every year.

As a result our language is a mix of British, American and Indian English along with a smattering of Hindi (in Hindi speaking areas) and other local Indian languages. So if I were to advice someone to learn our language, I wonder what mongrel form of English and Hindi would they have to learn to understand the new globalized India! Interestingly, a news report in a British newspaper says that British staff in high commissions to India will be encouraged to learn our khichdi language. I say, good luck with that, dude!

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The Race for Africa

Africa is a continent of both  despair and hope. The cradle of the human civilization has seen numerous calamities like famines, struggled with political instability and low social indicators. However, some African countries, rich in human and natural resources are looking at economic growth and the prosperity that comes with it, some growing at 4-5% per year.

And India and China are in a mad scramble to tap into the African reservoir of resources. Both Asian giants, developing rapidly with healthy growth rates and businesses are looking at the continent with a strategic game plan. Governments of both countries are engaging the region diplomatically, giving billions of dollars worth of credit lines, bilateral treaties and generating trade.

China entered the market much before India, focusing on businesses like oil and mining of natural resources and infrastructure development. China has had to face much criticism for poor treatment of African workers and being in the region for only selfish gains. But then which country engages another if there are no returns? The growing whispers about the Chinese have come from western media, with some saying, the media is playing into the region’s insecurity about the growing Chinese influence.

India, which is playing catch-up with China realized that a stronger foreign policy was required, has gone all out to woo its African counterparts. Indian businesses span telecom, agriculture, goods and services, along with natural resources. The Indians have lauded themselves for building capacity of local workers, employing them in decision making positions along with developing infrastructure. However, India has another important reason for focusing onAfrica – a seat at the UN Security Council. The crucially important support of the African Union can tilt the balance in India’s favour.

However, the old imperialist powers along with USA have expressed their unhappiness over the apparent Asian scramble for African resources. Both countries, and China, more so, are been touted as the neo colonizers. I would tend to agree with experts that these old powers have no right to say this when they themselves have “taken resources from the continent without giving anything back”. And India, which shares the burden of colonialism and a complex post colonial identity, cannot do the same to the continent. India’s colonial legacy ensures that it will be sensitive to Africa. It’s political will shows it, along with examples of conducting business.

Whatever may be the reasons for both countries to look for opportunities in the cradle of civilization, it is clear that as Africa becomes more integrated in the global economy and overcomes political instability, a new future beckons it. It should grab this opportunity with both hands, see its people progress. The next thirty years will see a new world order and Africa could play a crucial role in securing an important position there. The present may belong to India and China, the future could very well belong to Africa.

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India’s Growing Clout

With economic growth, political stability and prosperity comes confidence. Look at the big brother, the land of dreams, USA and the arrogance with which the country formulates its foreign policy and pokes its head in other’s business.

To be a world power it it important to show your clout. Take history, the Romans, the Ottoman empire, the British Empire and others. They expanded as they continued to annex one country/region at a time, till they had spread across continents. At times it was religious dominance, at others it was political and economic. A by-product was cultural dominance and assimilation of local culture in the macro culture.

In the modern world, where albeit wars are fought differently, all the above forms of dominance still continue. America decides the agenda – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. It’s allies (or cronies), other western super powers, support these decisions. UN helps decide where atrocities are taking place, bodies like NATO give a seal of approval. A seat in the UN Security Council, the power to vote, lies with the big daddies. Except China. Which managed to sneak in this group and upset the party. When China growls, the world listens. And it listens even more now as the country’s economic growth gallops ahead.

Now why would India want to be left behind?

A solid year-on-year growth, the visit of all G5 countries’ heads in 2010 to India, and an ambitious bid for a seat on the UNSC. India’s knows that the world is knocking on its door, it wants a pie of the economic growth. India needs them, but they need it too.

For India, to be taken seriously, it needs a multi-pronged strategy. To get there won’t be easy. But, in this new, almost assertive India, impossible is not a word. So, in a simultaneous process, India has developed a stronger look east policy, an African policy and stronger diplomatic ties with the West. Its reluctance to form a strong policy in the MENA region was a thorn in the side, given India’s struggle with Muslim populated Kashmir,  the biggest outstanding issue with the ‘enemy’ state of Pakistan.

And as India becomes the new global destination, it’s even got a seal of approval from USA. The countries  signed a civil nuclear deal, US has extended support in helping with the 2008 Mumbai terror attack investigation, President Obama has visited the country, and a slew of agreements have been signed in the past five years.

Worryingly,  the USA has decided to hand-hold India and help develop its foreign policy. Or rather, steer India towards the  world architecture which US sees as right.

This latest trip of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is shouldn’t be viewed as a routine visit to discuss issues pertaining to the two countries. It has, in a subtle way decided to set an agenda for India’s foreign policy. I admire the beautifully worded American propaganda and diplomacy which no one seems to take offense to or try and read between the lines.

Mrs. Clinton has mentioned the ‘need’ of India to assert the human rights situation in Burma, a country which we are negotiating for gas, securing the Indian future. We have been told indirectly that at the UN we will have to make decisions in the larger interest. We have been patted on our back for tough talks with Pakistan,  reassuring talks with Afghanistan, and pledging no support to Iran for nuclear technology. India’s look east policy has been appreciated but we have been criticized for not ‘acting east, engaging east’, meaning, not poking in the neighbour’s business (i.e. China, Thailand) like they would have wanted us to.

Interestingly and alarmingly, India now seems to be developing a MENA policy, which might mirror the American policy. India will ‘take reports’ from the USA in the progress for peace in the region, it will launch a West Asia dialouge, it has been told to do more in the region. India should remember, it needs the oil from the region, unlike the USA, which will keeping getting its (by force and launching a war, if they have to). India is seen as a country tolerant to diverse religions with an anti-war and a non-confrontational attitude. India should ensure that USA does not dictate the terms. Indian policy needs to come from India, from its foreign ministry and its bureaucrats, for the advantage of India and aligned with India’s broader principles of peace and mutual cooperation. Also, as America has said, India will share its ‘gold standard’ election conducting know-how to countries transitioning into democracy in the region. With American ‘help’, we are also going to ‘expand strategic consultations’ to the Latin America and Caribbean.

I only hope that, to show that India has truly arrived at a world stage, in a bid to get a coveted seat at the UNSC, to aim for a double digit growth rate until it becomes a developed nation, the country doesn’t end up losing its way. And it takes a strong view of arm-twisting by other nations. The gentle elephant should be self assured that it doesn’t need to be a hare to win this race, that the race isn’t against any other country, but itself.

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