Tuesday, November 8, 2011



God! Another wedding tonight! After returning home from an unnerving day at the office this is my expression when I glance at the heap of invitation cards on my table. When one would love to sit cozily with a mug of tea and newspaper and, talk with the kids about their day at school, one has to haggle with wife on the clothes to wear at the wedding party. “Not that one dear, you have already worn it twice last week”, she says. I don’t understand if I myself don’t remember what clothes I wore to some place, how others can remember them. The almost the same set of people you meet in every party is a testimony to the belief that the world is a small place. And, almost the same menu in each of them only strengthens it. It all begins with a cup of ¾ foam filled coffee or soup (invariably tomato!) which everybody takes with a prayer that the feast begins soon. The clarion sounds with the lightening of the spirit lamps below the dishes and, a clamour starts for the plates and spoons. Even the DJ’s ear-splitting music gets drowned in the clangour. A small war zone gets created at the table where the ‘rotis’ are being baked. As one moves towards the veggies section, one tries to locate something exotic- other than paneer (palak, butter masala and, kadhai), potato in various hues and, daal. Even these ‘routine’ items would have been exciting if they tasted differently in different parties. But the strange thing is that throughout the country they taste the same as if all chefs were one. Through a deftness that gets acquired over a number of parties, everything eatable is piled on one plate. One’s finesse is then tested in his/her success in not letting everything mix with everything while picking up morsels and, simultaneously protecting ones clothes from getting into the neighbouring plate or, vice versa. When the still half-filled plate has been consigned to the bin, one moves towards the dessert section where again one looks for something other than the usual gulabjamun, imarti and halwa. Hot milk in kulhars has been a late addition in this section without giving a thought as to where does this milk come from when there is always a dearth of quality milk all the year round. The attention now shifts to the ‘vyavahar’ table. After ensuring that one’s name and the amount against it has been entered correctly, one moves towards the exit for an encore at the next venue, not forgetting the paan, of course, on the way out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beep, beep

Publication: The Times Of India Delhi;
Date: Oct 11, 2011;
Section: Editorial; link- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/edit-page/Beep-beep/articleshow/10306893.cms
Page: 14
Beep, beepFamiliarity breeds contempt, goes the adage. This also holds true about the words connoting contempt. My fear is that epithets once considered the choicest are getting devalued due to their overuse. Profanities cannot be treated lightly. They have their own significance, an ‘estranging’ effect as the formalists in literary criticism would perhaps say. They jar, intensify, condense, turn ordinary language on its head and render the meaning more perceptible.

Ask a policeman its worth and he would sing encomiums. A common man regulates his blood pressure by chanting the swear-mantra when the current goes off, discusses the price of petrol, vegetables, milk, describes the systemic frailties of the country or refers to a politician. The ‘SMS’ industry is raking in the moolah as most of the messages exchanged do not deal with lofty thoughts.

There were times when even the innocuous ‘abe’ in addressing a person was frowned upon by elders. No sooner did he hear the words ‘I swear’ that one of our English teachers would send the boy reeling with a rap across the face, though the poor boy would only be referring to vowing while explaining his conduct. The comic books of yore would denote a character’s venting anger by the universally understood symbols of percentage, spiral, star grid etc (% # * $). The adjectives uttered were left to the reader’s imagination and experience. Cuss words were so sparingly used in society that during the initiation rituals, fresh entrants in engineering and medical colleges had to undergo special training to attain knowledge of the meaning, usage and appropriate pronunciations of these words in chaste vernacular. The seniors were obviously concerned as they knew that the newcomers had been only bookworms until then and had to be initiated in the practical world.

Swear words have had their place in our culture as well. The singing of ‘gari’ – raunchy songs – holds an important place in the wedding ceremonies. The festival of Holi is another example. They perhaps are instances of society’s mechanism of venting against established social mores in favour of the dominant. It might be Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalisation’ at work where there is a momentary disruption of hierarchies of a social structure.

Invectives shock because of their uncommonness. Imagine the jolt if even the most sacrilegious of us hears a respectable elderly man or a lady mouthing foul adjectives. Times, however, are a-changing. Words considered offensive earlier are being ‘automatised’ (in the formalist terminology). Addressing one (who really was not one’s) ‘saala’, not very long ago, could lead to serious repercussions in mutual relation. But now, no more. Now, ‘saala’ is just another word for exclamation, just like another ‘S’ word – ‘shit’. Sentences in the western part of UP and Punjab seem incomplete without a fair sprinkling of the ‘B’ word. Social sites have sanctified the ‘F’ word and it is used with aplomb by teenagers as the elders cringe with embarrassment.

Bollywood has had a vital role to play in taking our vocabulary to new heights. When kids start lisping ‘saala’ and ‘kaminaa’ – grand adjectives to what was once considered the sublime emotion of love, and the art of dance – the words become part of everyday speech. It seems that it won’t be long before Dada Kondke’s puns will be taken as the figurative language of our film industry; after all, the language in some of today’s films is being dubbed as that of realism. As Shelly would have said – if ‘saala’ comes, can ‘D K Bose’ be far behind? My only fear is: How shall we express our disgust when all words for it become part of the routine!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Radio ga ga (published as 3rd editorial on Times Of India 6/6/2011)

(Link- https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/edit-page/Radio-ga-ga/articleshow/8740008.cms )

Aha! So that’s why they are called Radio ‘Jockeys’- they race their tongues on the FM turf , like the horse- jockeys do on the race course, as if there is no tomorrow. They seem to be participants in a perpetual ‘Just a Minute’ ( JAM) competition interspersed with songs. Only, that the participants in JAMs get rapped for being erroneous in the language! Some years back they were called announcers. Radio in those days was a constant companion in our study. It filled the room and dispelled loneliness but never obtruded. The languorous, friendly voices of the anchors not only played songs but also informed about the lyricists, composers and, singers. Speaking the names of those requesting for songs was also a part of the ritual. Request for a song could be from places as diverse as the Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and, Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, small and obscure places like Jhumaritalaiyan came to be known all over the country through the umpteen requests received from there for playing of the film songs. The non-inclusion of names in these request programmes was one constant complaint in the programme devoted exclusively to the replying to the letters of the radio-listeners. The way the letters were read out, the complainants’ displeasures assuaged, the suggestions accepted and, future plans explained, was a treat to the ears ; and, also to the feelings, as the listeners were impressed upon the fact that they were active participants in the planning of the programmes. Apart from the film-songs, which of course was the staple portion of the programme list, classical non- film music, folk songs, skits etc. were also played.
If the Vividh Bharti gave us entertainment, the Akashvani provided infotainment. A friend confided that they were the programmes on light classical music that taught him the basics of music. ‘Bal Sangh’ on Sundays was one programme that the parents agreed happily to our tuning to. For many, this programme not only gave a training and impetus to public speaking, but also gave the first ever earnings. One could visualize the ‘news’ as it was rendered in the perfect pronunciation of the language. Those ‘beeps’, on the dot at 9.00 PM, exactly at the end of Hindi news and just before the beginning of the English, made us wonder about its significance. The radio news not only embedded the facts of an issue deep in our mind, they also improved our listening skills. Is this skill redundant in today’s world of receding span of attention? These days we only hear, not listen. And, therefore, jabbering can easily be masqueraded as speaking.
I wonder if it is only the audience that is responsible for this state of things. Perhaps the Vividh Bharti and Akashvani have also failed to keep apace with the changing times. If the Vividh Bharti has stopped being creative in producing new entertainment programmes, AIR has been rendered comatose for new listeners because the airwaves it is broadcast on – the short and medium wave- are not found in the new gadgets like the cell phones which double up as transistors of yore.
In spite of the swarm of FM radio channels, Vividh Bharti and Akashvani have their admirers still. Even today, as I lay down to sleep after a tired day, it is the magic of ‘ Chhaya Geet’ that acts as the relaxant and, in the morning ‘Vandanvaar’, same as ever, the stimulant for the day ahead.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Open Letter to SMCites (Through the Rev. Principal)

This was published in the SMC Magazine
As a josephite, St. Mary’s has always held a special place in my mind. The memory of those primary school days are vivid when we waited for our trolley-mates outside the school spending the time throwing pebbles at bunches of ‘imli’ on the tamarind trees and also of those adolescent years trying all tricks to win a glance from the navy-blue skirted fairies. What lay behind those high walls was always intriguing! “Calm and free…quiet as a Nun” wrote Wordsworth about “the beauteous evening” but the phrases were perhaps as apt to express our feelings for those in the convent-school. Whenever we were naughty, SMC was invoked before us by our teachers as an example of good manners .I’ll be candid to accept that an SMC girl filled us with a complex with her manners, grace and quiet confidence.
The association with the institution (not mere school!) began anew, about a year back, when my wife joined it as a teacher. But my renewed association felt something amiss. The first time I felt it, was, when at a market place, my wife told me that the group of girls that had passed by was her students. I thought it awkward that not one had stopped to wish her. It has not been a solitary episode. Has the ill of indifference of the students towards their teachers has infected even this institution? Are its students only acquiring knowledge and not imbibing culture? Have the students forgotten that the relation of the teacher and the student is not impersonal like that between a businessman and a customer but, lively and filled with warmth of that between a guardian and a ward?
I only hope that the present generation of students realizes the glory of their institution and retains it, so that ,they too can feel proud many- many years hence that they are SMCites as their predecessors of the last more than 100 years can.All the best and a very happy new year.

Friday, March 25, 2011

book review- A Passage Across Europe by Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma

(published in HT Lucknow 23-3-11)

Partha Sarthi Sen Sharma’s – A Passage Across Europe’(published by Sahitya Bhandar, Allahabad- Year 2010) is no ‘Lonely Planet’ prototype. It does not tell the reader where, when and, how to visit the tourist spots on Europe; it records the experiences and feelings of the writer when he chanced to visit the continent. This subjectivity imparts the literariness to the 160 page book which, in a flowing prose, expresses the writer’s sense of excitement, wonderment and at times disappointment on seeing things he had till then read, heard or, seen only in pictures. He himself tells this in the ‘ Explanation’, that the book is not a product of writings during his stay in Europe but “record(ed) them later, as the intervening months made my thoughts and views clearer and sharper”- a` la Wordsworthian ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’ .
The narrative abounds in poetic prose- “the castle of Ljubljana…appears like a benevolent patriarch, sitting atop the hill, looking after and blessing the lives of the citizens below”; “it all appeared too beautiful to bear”; “views not only of the city but also the views into the city”; “the river banks are overflowing with green weeping willows, drooping on to even greener river below”- (all from chapter 1). But then, such a language is natural to express the “soaking in the atmosphere…a feel of the things” rather than the ‘things’ themselves. This is not to say that the book lacks in describing ‘things’ either. The description, however, is accompanied by the author’s views and digressions that go on to only enrich the narrative. A remembrance of Amrita Shergill on seeing paintings in Hungary, the comments on the colonial past of India ( pg 134) or, the shabby way in which we preserve the places and things associated with our litterateurs(pg 154), are some of the instances. In fact the narrative is rooted in the Indian connection throughout. We learn, for instance, that unlike in India where most of our cities grew on either of the banks of a river, the European cities are sprawled on both sides of rivers with a number of bridges connecting them. Many of these bridges being tourist hot-spots. The noise and crowd at the Budapest station seems similar to any Indian Railway Station.
The writer doesn’t find everything hunky dory in Europe – his wife’s wallet gets pilfered in Italy; he finds the traffic in Rome ‘chaotic’, the Dam at Amsterdam dirty and, the Royal Palace there unkempt. But he refers such incidents jocularly. He for instance, in referring to the Italian waiters, says- “Italian waiters are, as a matter of rule, cheeky to the extent of appearing to be discourteous …but I can’t blame them for discrimination. They are supremely and uniformly irreverent towards everybody and anybody”. Regarding the Trevi Fountain he writes- “…it is so crowded that one feels that one has seen more human heads than the fountain itself”.
The writer, we learn, loves to explore the surroundings on foot and thus gets to see many places which are not in a routine tourist’s itinerary. He sees, observes, describes the sights and, explains the context (historical, scientific- as in the description of the Pantheon, political etc.) in the most simple manner. We also get to know various tid-bits- the ‘French fries’ were invented in Belgium; England, Britain, UK are not one and the same and, so is the case with Netherlands and Holland; Louis XIV built a hotel for invalid soldiers; the gypsies and Slavs also suffered along with the Jews at the hands of the Nazis; so on and so forth.
There are a few spelling mistakes which could have been avoided by a better proof-reading. I, as a reader, would also have liked to know more about the daily lives of the westerners, the lives in the poor quarters (if any) and, details of the local food, clothing and festivities. The readers would also have been richer had the writer been to any of the Scandinavian countries – particularly regarding their reputation in being corruption and pollution free- or perhaps not , because the writer has kept himself away from commenting on the contemporary political, economic and administrative issues related to the countries he travelled. It is a good read for all who love traveling and literature.

Skand Shukla.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paper presented at Symbiosis Pune, 12th Feb. 2011

Title of the Presentation
Linguistic and Cultural Interference in Language Learning.

Author- Skand Shukla
Principal ELTI, UP, Allahabad.

e-mail- skandshukla@yahoo.com

phone no.- 09415254692


It goes without saying that language is embedded in culture. English language is a native of the West which has a culture different in many ways from that of India. Even in India, there are various nuances of that one cultural bed rock which imparts it one hue. One of them is the linguistic variety in this country. Teaching of English therefore involves overcoming these differences of cultures which hamper the acquisition of the second language by a young mind.
India has a different climate, geography and philosophy of looking at things vis-a- vis the West. For instance, it can be difficult for a child to understand as to how can one enjoy outdoors a season like summer, while reading a rhyme (created in the West) celebrating the outdoor frolics during this season. The teachers need to be aware of the cultural differences of our country and that of the West and, also of the extent the cultural background influences learning and teaching.
This paper purports to present some of the differences in the culture of India and the West, the linguistic varieties in our country and, how these differences affect the learning- teaching process. It also purports to explore some approaches in text book writing and employment of teaching methodologies in the classroom conducive to overcoming the hurdles in teaching- learning English in an environment different from where it is native to.

Key Words - cultural and linguistic differences, second language acquisition, implication for the English teacher, classroom methodologies.

Profile of the writer- An officer of the Educational Services of Uttar Pradesh, presently posted as Assistant Dy. Director at the Directorate of Education Allahabad and also holding the charge of Principal ELTI, UP, Allahabad . Articles related to academics have found place in newspapers like The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times and, The Economic Times.
The Paper
  • Linguistic and Cultural Interference in Language Learning
    The evolution of a language is related to its cultural environment. Even in a unilingual country the singular language has multiple nuances depending on the immediate cultural circumstances. Again, the standard forms of a language also change with the change in ambience. The inclusion of newer words in every new edition of the authoritative English Dictionaries is a testimony to this. India not only is a multilingual country, but also, every prominent language has multiple dialects- for example, Hindi language has two prominent dialects- Bhojpuri and Awadhi, quite different in a number of respects from each other. The pronunciation of English by a Bhojpuri speaking person is generally different from an Awadhi speaking one. Besides linguistic, other cultural differences between various regions also exist that influence the teaching and learning of a language. The world – view of the teacher, the taught and the society also have a major role to play in the teaching-learning. This world view and culture not only differ in various parts of the world but also keep on changing in any one part of it.
    This paper purports to examine some such issues that influence the teaching – learning of English in the Hindi regions of India.
    "Culture and communication are inseparable because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about what, and how the communication proceeds, it also helps to determine how people encode messages, the meanings they have for messages, and the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent, noticed, or interpreted . Culture is the foundation of communication." (Samovar, Porter and Jain, 1981:24) quoted by ZHANG Xue-wei, YAN ying-jun in the article ‘Cultural Influences are English Language Teaching’ (US- CHINA Education Review, ISSN 1548-6613-USA, Aug. 2006, Vol. 3 No. -8)
    Some instances of the cultural and linguistic differences between the west and India -
    - There is a difference between a westerner and an Indian in the way the world is viewed. In The Geography of Thought (Nisbett 2003) has shown that Asians think in terms of ‘relationships' while westerners think in terms of 'objects'. A sense of reverence towards living or even non-living objects permeates the world view of the Indians. A teacher or elder is not addressed by his name/surname. Family friends are identified through some relationship – 'Uncle', 'Aunty', 'Chacha', 'Mama' etc. There are two different ways of addressing an elder and the younger – 'Aap' (for former) and 'Tum' (for younger) in Hindi.
    - The structure of an English sentence is different from that of a Hindi one. In Hindi syntax, the subject is followed by the object and the verb is placed at the end (ex. Mohan ghar gaya). In English, the subject is followed by the verb and the object is placed at the end ( ex.- Mohan went home)
    - There is no concept of ‘Articles’ in Hindi.
    - The seasons in India are different from those in the West. Shakespearean Sonnet, 'Shall I compare thee to a Summers day’ or, Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn' are a tad difficult to be understood by one who is not familiar with the western summer or autumn.
    The teachers often have difficulty in explaining 'autumn' to an Indian primary student because even they have no idea of such a season.
    - Associative contexts in which a word is used in a place might evoke a different understanding of that word. I remember that the word 'darling' raised shy smiles among us when a teacher addressed a student lovingly by this term. As 10 years old we had heard it being used in the Hindi films in only one connotation.
    - Is there an English equivalent of the word 'Pranam' or even 'Namaste'? Eliot did not attempt to translate ‘Shantih’ in The Wasteland because, as he himself explained, no English word could have conveyed the sense that ‘Shantih’ does. These words are unique to a country’s culture and world-view.
    - The class 6 book of English in the Government schools in U.P. refers to 'Santa Claus' which teachers find difficult to explain and, so does happen in explaining 'basketball' as 'our favorite game’ in the chapter on 'team work' in the book of class 8.
    - The references in our texts to 'fireplace', 'mantelpiece' in the homes and, the hobbies such as 'camping', 'hiking', 'fishing' evoke questioning glances not only by the pupil but also by the teachers.
    - The synonyms such as- great, big, large, huge- confuse the teacher and the taught.
    - The cultural differences are not only between the West and India, but also between the urban and rural settings in the Hindi belt of the country.
    A nursery level student from the urban area is not unfamiliar with certain English words like 'Good morning', 'sit down', 'hospital', vis-à-vis a student in the remote areas of the Hindi belt. Again, references like- 'zebra crossing', 'traffic signals', 'going out for a picnic', taking a flight'- are remote from the experiences of a student belonging to a rural area.
    - The technical revolution has created another divide between the rural and urban settings. American slangs on cable TV, Computer-language and, short messages on cell phones have affected the language of the urban kids. The structured language has gone hay-wire.
    Dealing with the issue:
    Keeping the issue of cultural interference in mind, changes are required at various steps to improve EL acquisition. It is also a moot point that, should English language, with its permeation of all Indian languages during its long (over 2 centuries) stay in our country, be treated as native. Perhaps the British with the coining of words such as 'pathrao', 'lathi charge' had begun this movement towards making it native. The point is pertinent because the teaching – learning of a native language vis-à-vis a foreign language evokes different psychological responses from the teacher, taught and, the society. In any case, some changes are a must for an effective ELT in the areas of test-book writing, teacher training and, teaching practice, particularly at the primary education level.
    While developing text-books at the primary and upper primary level those references can be avoided that are outside the cultural orbit of the pupil. This does not mean keeping the young minds away from new knowledge but means that those references can be avoided that may strain their understanding and imagination. It will be better if the references are related to their familiar world and objects.
    Teacher Training:
    The teacher – trainees should be made aware of the cultural – linguistic interference issue. This will make them understand that in a motley class a varied teaching practice would be required. Also, that the old method of teaching English by rote is not proper.
    For instance, a student from the 'Bhojpuri' speaking area in the Hindi belt has problems in distinguishing between 'Sh' and 'S' sounds. A student from the western part of U.P. has problems in speaking words like 'minute' (pronounced by them as 'mint'). Incidentally my name 'Skand' is pronounced as ‘Sikand’ by many from the North-Western part of the country. It was even published as 'Sikand' by such a luminary as Khushwant Singh recently in a column of his. The training courses should emphasize on this aspect so that the teacher can effectively teach English to students from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
    Teaching methodology:
    For a student studying English in India, his classroom (and in that too the English period) is the only atmosphere that he gets of the language. In fact this stands true for the teacher also. Some ideas regarding the teaching of English are as follows-
    - The teacher should master the English language as much as possible. Since in most of the schools one teacher teaches all the subjects at the Primary level, the teacher can use some English terms also while teaching other subjects. Thus the span of the atmosphere of the English language can be expanded.
    - References to terms beyond the student’s cultural domain would require explaining the related contexts by the teacher.
    - The teacher should be aware of the concept of interference of the local dialect/language of the pupil so that he may plan his lessons to tackle those points in the teaching of the structure and pronunciation in which he notices an adverse affect of this interference on the learning of English. For this he has to be a patient listener.
    - In large classrooms groups of students can be formed to carry out various exercises like loud-reading and role plays.
    - Graded Reading Materials can be developed to give the students an increased exposure of the language.
    - Films with understandable pronunciation on prescribed texts can be shown to the students.
    Rote method cannot be successful in teaching English to the students who have another language as their mother tongue. The teacher-trainers, text-book writers and, the teachers must be made aware of the differences in the culture of our country and that of the native place of English i.e. the West. Only then they can form strategies to overcome the barriers created by the linguistic and cultural interference in the learning of English.

    Skand Shukla.

    1) Wilga M. Rivers- Teaching Foreign Language Skills, The University of Chicago Press (1968)
    2) Allen & Campbell -Teaching English as Second Language, Tata MaGraw Hill (1972)
    3) M L Tickoo- Teaching and Learning English, Orient Longman (2003)
    4) ZHANG Xue-wei, YAN Ying-jun- Culture Influences on English Language Teaching- US- China Review, ISSN 1548-6613,USA, Aug 2006, Vol 3 , No.8
    5) Tod Vercoe – Taking Advantage of Cognitive Difference of Asians and Westerners in the Teaching of English- Asian EFL Journal, Sep. 2006, Vol. 8, Issue 3 Article 14.