Of local words and adaptations of British English
by R Hariharan on 28 Aug 2018 0 Comment

Indians, despite their stodginess in sticking to age-old practices, are quite innovative in their use of the English language. Vote bank, desi, paratha, thali, child lifter (rather than kidnapper) and prepone are such innovations that have found space in the Oxford English dictionary, the holy grail of the language. Here is Colonel R Hariharan’s rather humorous take.


Though we see words such as vote bank, desi, paratha, thali and child lifter in our newspapers, we never notice them because we have become accustomed to them; familiarity breeding content…


During the 1971 war on the eastern front, I shepherded a bunch of foreign media persons who wanted to see some of the captured areas. After trudging through a couple of miles, looking at a few bodies, a shot up tank and a bullet ridden train, the nightfall was gloomy. I appreciated when one of the resourceful military men with me took out a bottle of whiskey and passed it round, literally rousing our spirits. An American correspondent based in Delhi chatted with me about life in India and the Indian media.


I came to realise our quaint Victorian usages only when he asked me, “Captain, why does the Indian media always “takes out a procession”, when back home we “parade”? Our leaders when they die are not cremated according to our media, but are always “consigned to the flames” just as our army jawans are not killed but martyred. That’s not all.


In the 1960s we had the irrepressible Gubil Sundaresan from Kumbakonam or VRR Mani from Chromepet “craving the indulgence of the editor of The Hindu” or “seeking the hospitality of your columns” to comment on the “apropos” news item, filling up the Letters to the Editor column. But pressure of ad space, and ever reducing readers attention span have taken the shine off the letters.


However, political reporting is full of clichés in which our leaders revel. God forbid any upstart sub-editor edits out one of the media-savvy leaders’ speeches. He will be hauled over the coals by the editor, I am sure, as happened to me as a greenhorn sub in PTI in the 1970s.


It was the early days of the Swatantra Party, which Rajaji had formed. Rajaji knew how to use the press to build the Swatantra party’s political image. Every evening it was open house for journalists at his home and Rajaji would answer any question. I had also attended a few such sessions.


The following day, he would check how much of what he said was carried by the newspapers. Once I wielded red pencil rather liberally to trim the copy of Rajaji’s daily media interaction - which was full of ideas but which had become clichés by daily repetition. Next day, Rajaji called the PTI office and I happened to take the call.


The conversation went something like this: “Rajagopalachari speaking. I find you have carried only one column of my press meet, whereas I find The Hindustan Times has carried two columns....” I just didn’t know what to say and the editor took the phone from my hand. He apologised to the octogenarian leader and promised to carry his speeches in full.


After putting down the phone, the editor gave me a dirty look and a dressing down in his heavy Palghat-accented English. “Hariharan, what you think you are? A methavi (all knowing fellow) to edit Rajaji’s copy? Is this what they taught you in journalism course? Never touch his copy. We exist, because of leaders like him. You respect them, they respect you. Get that in your thick head,” he finished in one breath.


It was like telling me a home truth. I understood the press had a symbiotic relationship with politicians, and needed to respect each other’s space with its own invisible lakshman rekha (limit). Today, does the electronic media in its multiple avatars see any such rekha in its competitive quest for instant gratification? Your guess is as good as mine.


The writer is a retired colonel of the Intelligence Corps. 


Courtesy: Vidura, July-September 2018, http://www.pressinstitute.in/category/vidura/

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