Something pure is rare and great and something hybrid is versatile and fascinating. With all its bizarreness and oddities English is a fascinating language. Its attractive parts are perhaps the beauty of its rhythm, power of its words, flexibility, generosity and vast vocabulary. English has more vitality and depth because of its democratic nature. The way it evolved has been democratic and it has successfully survived the royalty and colonization with great elasticity and democratic quality. Perhaps it is the later which helped English to be versatile and accommodative in all circumstances, European, African and Asian. It is equally a language of a beggar and a minister, a layman and a scholar and a scientist and a poet. No rule can rule English because it is spoken in different ways even in different parts of England, of course like some other languages. Of late it has got the other varieties like American English and African English, at least the first having distinct spelling and way of pronunciation.
English was brought to India by the East India Company and established as the official language by colonization as in Africa and Australia. Since then for the last 300 years English has been a part and parcel of Indian life at first living only with the upper class and then very much with the middle class and lower middle class also. Now with 300 years of living with English and English’s 300 years of being with the Indian life, should Indians still follow the Queen’s English, waiting for every changes happening to English in Britain, switching on BBC news everyday to know the new words and cultural changes happening in the English life? Don’t Indians have their own English? Do they still just use the English of the British as an international language just for business communication and higher education?
Language and literature are inseparable. From the start of British colonization a separate literature in the medium of English has started to flourish in India. Slowly it has undergone some changes. First the British lived in India produced a literature in English with much of the memory of their mother land. Slowly they turned towards their life in India with their own observations on the geography of India and life of the colonized people. This literature – produced by the British living in India – is rightly called as the Indian Anglean writings.
Slowly the Indians educated in Britain or by the British started recording their thinking – mainly about freedom of their mother land and superstitious practices of the Indian communities – in English and it is branched as Indian writing in English. But when will we write in Indian English which has already become a part and parcel of Indian middle class life and dream, an English through which millions of Indians communicate everyday, face to face, through phones and emails, an English which changes and grows not according to the changes in the life and culture of the British only but also according to the cultural changes in India?
The first generation Indian writers in English comprising of the great R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and Mulkraj Anand knowingly or unknowingly used Indian English. They were closely followed by the enthralling Anita Desai and naughty Kushiant Singh with Anita Desai having a little bit Western cultural background. Eventhough R. K. Narayan and Kushwant Singh were equally well received like Anita Desai with their Indian English by the Western readers.
But of late a new generation of Indian writers has mushroomed. They are well projected by the publishers International and Indian. Here the strange factor is that unlike R. K. Narayan and Mulkraj Anand most of these writers are living in an English speaking country or at least had their Education in a Western country. Again while R. K. Narayan and Mulkraj dealt with the life of the contemporary ordinary people the new generation is mainly dealing with the problems of Indian expatriates living outside and of course in India. They try to use international English, a little bit smeared in Indian culture.
India is a multi-cultural country having an underlying Indianness and unity. We have our own great literatures like Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali and a handful of other languages. But do we have an Indian literature like American literature or Carrebean literature? Do we have a literature which unites all Indians and link them together? A literature which not only reflects the life of expatriates or the upper class but reflects all regions, cultures, classes of Indian life? Which is not only understandable to Indian readers but also to the international readers? The above said is possible only by Indian English which was used by R. K. Narayan, Mulkraj Anand and others and that which is still growing as Indian English.
Now if the existence of Indian English is a reality not only in the everyday life of Indians but in the Indian literature itself then there is a need of identifying it and knowing its qualities and exact boundaries. And perhaps there will be a need of dictionaries and other reference materials once they are identified. First there are some important questions need to be asked such as what is Indian English? In which areas Indian English differ from the British English or International English? I am not a great scholar to give clear cut answers to these questions. But in my limited knowledge Indian English in fact is British English taught in Indian schools, colleges and other institutions and practiced by the educated Indians in their day to day life – personal, business, professional and literary- absolutely smeared in Indian culture. This cultural influence and influence of the regional languages make the practical use of Indian English a separate variety.
In Indian English the grammatical rules of its mother form (British English) is followed. In spelling also British English has been closely followed and there is a slight lean towards the spelling of American English of late – because of the influence of computer packages like Ms-word in which American English spelling is followed. Mainly the Indianness is found in (i) the transliteration of many words from Indian languages into English (ii) translation of Indian idioms into English and of course (iii) the Indian way of arranging words in some sentences, asking questions and so on in everyday conversation (this may be mainly reflected in novels).
Merely anything made out of using English words cannot be Indian English. Grammatical rules must be closely followed. Authors must not take freedom beyond the limit where it is not understandable to the international readers. Indian English must be easily understandable to the international readers because it has the dual duty of linking various cultural backgrounds of India and of course taking the Indian culture to the world. So whenever a book is written in Indian English proper explanations must be given especially to the transliterated Indian words and translated Indian idioms in order to enhance the understanding of international readers.
In a recently published article in the Hindu, Anita Nair hi-lighted another aspect of Indian writing in English or Indian English. Having millions of educated, people – most of them youth and bilingual how on earth even the new generation Indian writers in English are so adamant in getting their debut book published in an English speaking country faithfully following their predecessors. Are there no publishing houses in India with enough confidence to take up the task of introducing novice or debut writers in English? In the second most populous country in the world with many of them bilingual by birth itself don’t Indians prefer to read English books or are they not good readers? Or does not Indian writings Indian English literature deserve reading?
Of course the last question must not be worth asking not because Indian books are published and well received abroad but because Indian writers and Indian English have already reached the level of producing great literature. The second question also gets nullified because of the fact that when Harrypotter, and the translations of old Russian writers are being sold off in India like hot cakes why not the books of Indian writers. Hence there must be adventurous publishers in the arena of Indian English writing to promote this national literature of India. It must be coupled with inculcating reading habit among the younger generation –reading of the regional language books, reading of English (Indian) books of Indian authors and of course reading of the books of international authors. Let us hope the time comes sooner than later.