Thursday, March 21, 2013

Appa tie, Amma gown

This post was spurred by some grammar related conversations in the CBC

I  went through college with the tag “Peter” or the longer “Appa tie, amma gown” . If you have not got it yet, my English was flawless and for those who could not follow what I said they thought that this was payback.

It was not a fluke, my parents did not have a convent education but they ensure that my brother & I got one. It was an Anglo Indian school where speaking any other language but English meant you ran rounds around the decent sized play ground. My neighbours were Anglo Indians too, a wonderful couple who also taught for a living in my school, did i forget to mention they had two daughters who were similar in age to my brother and me ensuring that we played & grew up together for a few years. As it was English near home and in school my fluency increased.

But even this upbringing may not have been enough were it not for one unforgettable instance when I noticed that the washed clothes of the neighbour left out to dry overnight were damp from the dew. My limited vocabulary at that time did not include dew, frost etc and since the Tamizh equivalent for these and snow was the same I announced to the teachers that the clothes were damp from the snow. I was laughed out of their home before their daughters, I know it was not intended to mock me but that day I resolved that my English will not make anyone laugh and I took it up with a mission.

Enid Blyton initially and then the syndicated works of the boy & girl detectives along with the daily dose of the Hindu ensured that my vocabulary and my grammar was a little above the ordinary. In high school I had the privilege to study under one Mr. George Francis (RIP) who terrorized every one with his fanaticism for proper English. I still remember the challenge it was to get some in the class to pronounce ‘reservoir’ the way it is meant to pronounced instead of “parrier dog style” as he called it. Mr. George had no qualms in failing class XI & XII students in English and under his regimen I enjoyed myself and usually scored the highest.

I met my first road block in college, one of the finest Arts & Science college in the country and ended up in the self financing stream as Computer Science was not offered under the regular streams. This college was an inclusive college and students from many rural locations studied here. My course had a greater percentage of management staff again from semi urban towns. I realized very soon that many classmates and staff members had trouble following me and whenever I used uncommon words I had to repeat or rephrase sentences usually after the Peter bit.

I realized that after some time I was failing to communicate because my English was no longer an asset and it did not matter to study Computer Science. One day after I realized that it was more important to communicate with my classmates and my friends I started unlearning what I had learnt over the years. Slowly sentences became shorter, vocabulary got reduced but I was accepted because they realized that I was no different from the others.

Things were no better during my MBA days when I discovered that many in my class were engineers and many others were from outside the state. So in a multicultural environment where heavy accents were common I was again a misfit. This time I realized my folly a little faster and again the process of deconstruction resumed. Till date my classmates cannot resist pulling my leg on the way I spoke.

Work ensured that the deconstruction was complete. I had no need for the English of my schooling, the language of the common man was sufficient and finally there was no need to change my words or look at confused faces when I spoke.

Today I struggle with my vocabulary because I do not use much, I have to recheck my spellings for I do not write much and my conversations are in Tanglish because I have unlearned too much and the damage cannot be undone quickly. But some things never change, grammar is still above average and I still frown at bad English when I come across the written word somewhere.  After a moment I sigh and move on.

There may be a day when grammar will be thrown out of the window and this will be spear headed by the Americans who have done everything possible to destroy the language but till then I do my best to be grammatically correct, it is the least I can do to my upbringing.

To finish a small bit of good manners or good grammar, call it what you will from Mr. George Francis.

It is not I (or myself) Raj & Arun went to the beach. It is Raj, Arun & I went to the beach. Put the donkey last always. : )


Anonymous said...

Ah! Only now I get that "put the donkey last" phrase. Thanks for the post about this Clement :-)..

Susan Deborah said...

Wow. Loved this post. You are a man after my own heart. I feel good and wonderful to interact with people with flawless and smooth-flowing language skills. It pays to speak and write correctly.

Hats off.

Joy always,

Minu Marie Mathew said...

Loved the post :)

Harikrishna said...

Loved every piece of this post. eally excellent Clement :) Appa tie, amma gown eh? There are really very few who speak proper, error free English today in the state. Sadly, I am not one. Yet with people like you around us, we will soon become flawless ones. And I really could see your innate talent of writing (or speaking) grammatically correct sentences because those were all new for me. I reread your post again for understanding a few sentences here and there. "Donkey always comes at the comes at the last :D My Vice Principal used to tell this always at school! Cheers Clement :)

Anonymous said...

I remember the school days, my principal was strict and we had to talk in English, we use hide our faces so that we are not picked up for conversations.

Until 8th - I stammered a lot. Then my cousin sister helped me, she was in Kerala, I was here, we started writing letters and then started watching MTV, V channel etc main use to listed to those VJ's. picked up things as on the go.

I could related to certain portions of your post.

Thanks, a wonder read.

Clement Williams said...

@ annasarp: My pleasure Bragadeesh, cannot forget those classes in school

@ Susan Deborah: Thank you Susan, you played a big part in me rediscovering my writing again

@ Minu Marie Mathew: Thanks for stopping by

@ Harikrishna: It is practice and extensive reading helps, the Hindu editorial has helped many like me

@ VinodVV: Thank you, it was easy for me because I liked it and I used it more

Sowmya Swaminathan said...

Now I get your donkey joke. :)

English is not just a language, but is something more than that. A beautifully written article or any piece of work becomes beautifully ONLY when it respects the rules of the language.

Unlearning things is really difficult and I wonder how you even managed it!

But after reading your post, I can definitely say that your writing is impeccable and flawless.

Loved this post and do keep blogging! Cheers! :)

Deepa Iyer said...

Brilliant post. Having come from a CBSE background where English was taught in all seriousness and a punishment that entailed being an "outstanding" student / a nick with the scale, I've enjoyed the language largely due to my teachers, not to mention the plethora of books I read!

Love this post! Cheers!

Clement Williams said...

@ Sowmya Swaminathan: Thank you for dropping by and the thumbs up!

@ Deepa Iyer: Thank you : )

Lakshmi said...

Lovely post!

It is so true, I have been mocked at for my lack of fluency and vocabulary back in school, when I took up English so seriously and made progress.

In college, I'm currently facing such a situation, however organizing various events woke me up from the trance, nudged me back to reality because a god English language was a necessity.

Keep Smiling,