Paradox of language choices in a global culture – in India

Removing English-language signage

A decade ago, the world hurtled toward a calendrical crisis, and India seized an opportunity. An affliction called the Y2K bug impended. Thousands of Indian techies were marshaled to repair the software glitch. The rest is outsourcing history.

The outsourcing boom craved English speakers. Hole-in-the-wall “academies” from Kerala to Punjab began to sell English classes for a few dollars a week. A colonizer’s language was recast in the minds of many young lower-income Indians as a language of liberation, independence and mobility.

A decade hence, Indians who have achieved that mobility may struggle to understand the newspaper headlines in Mumbai in recent days. They tell of brigades of young men shattering the windows of shops and restaurants whose signs declare their names only in English, not in the regional language Marathi.

The men are cadres of a political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that has electrified a section of lower middle-class youth in this city. Many of them view English as a language of exclusion: a secret code that, having become success’s prerequisite, traps millions of non-English speakers in failure.

How can the same language refract so differently through different eyes? The answer here, as on school playgrounds everywhere, depends on who got there first.

Societies are not monolithic blocks that go global all at once. Social change has early and late adopters, and the choices of the timely alter the options among which the tardy must subsequently choose. And so a defining fact about globalization may be that it has freed untold millions from inherited destinies, even as it makes others feel as though their control over fate is slipping away.

Very interesting article. Worth reading and reflecting upon with worldly friends.

I don’t think there has to be a solid, single answer to questions like this. Above all, individuals must be flexible enough to follow their dreams and desires through the avenues they choose – and be unafraid to return from whence they came whenever they choose to do so. Madding crowds have nothing to do with it.

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