Why English?

Summer 2018 was a blast indeed. I left Davis as soon as Finals got over and came back to Eid festivities and holidays at Dubai. I had missed my family, the weather, the culture and the feeling of togetherness that exists amongst the people who reside in the United Arab Emirates from every nook and corner of the world. Growing up as an Indian in this country, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by Indian schools, restaurants, cultural centers, and people, wherever I went in the country. So when summer came, I was back at these spots with my friends in the evenings, while interning at some of the best healthcare research facilities in the country.

Computer Programming with Primary School Teachers

Soon enough, I flew back home (India). After staying with my grandparents in the capital city, New Delhi for a little bit, I made my way down south for the first time ever. In my last year at Davis, I had joined Project Rural India Social and Health Improvement (RISHI), and our chapter works in a village, Andimadam, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. When I left for the village, I knew that the language barrier was going to be a massive issue for me. I spoke 5 languages – Hindi, Punjabi, English, Urdu, and basic Arabic along with two words of Tamil. I knew that none of these was going to prove useful when I had to interact with Grade 1 children at a primary school I was working in or with aged members of an HIV+ self-help group. Hence, I was prepared to use actions and speak as slowly as possible because I knew that I was there to share what I knew with them and learn as much as I could, from them. Showing them that I was from the capital city, that I had grown up in Dubai or that I was studying in the United States, figured nowhere on my agenda.

Menstruation Education Activities with grade 5 girls

With tremendous effort, I was able to communicate with the people I met. My Indian accent came in so handy, and I was glad that the teachers at the schools I was working in had no problem in understanding me when I discussed activities with them that needed to be piloted and so on. However one day, someone made a statement that left me with a hundred thoughts. The conversation started out simple – “Is English your first language?” Of course, it wasn’t. At the same time that I learned to spell Apple as A-p-p-l-e, I would converse with my family members in Hindi and hear them fight and joke in Punjabi. To me, English was far away from my first language, and I instinctively said NO. Then the girl I was talking to said, “Oh! That’s why we understand what you say. After all, you too have to translate your thoughts and then speak in English.” And that’s when I was surrounded by a sea of thoughts in three different languages.

To begin with, I was offended. I knew English as well as my American counterparts in Project RISHI. I was confident to speak this language, that wasn’t even my own. Next, came a phase of patriotism, that took me back to the two hundred years of British Rule in India and how our education system and mentality was still enslaved to their language. Yes, if an Indian can’t speak English, he is still not civilized in Indian society. This was enough to get my blood pressure rising as I thought about the beauty and historical intricacy of Indian languages that would soon be lost if this trend continued. Finally, my brain began to think logically. In a nation, where every 40 kilometers, you run into a different community which speaks an entirely different language or a different dialect of the same language, you do need a common language. But why English? Why not give a language like Sanskrit or the oldest language Tamil or the national language Hindi that unifying role? I hope my 1.3 billion brothers and sisters and I can understand the risk of letting a foreign language rule the motherland.