Sunday, May 4, 2008

Desi English scores over pseudo angrez accent

Tashan has Anil Kapoor desperate to speak English. Call centres pay their employees to get the diction right; the Mumbai municipal corporation even tried to teach corporators English. In the farthest reaches of the world, chances still stand that you will bump into an Indian trying out his cool (!) clipped British accent, or even cooler Amreeki drawl.

Now, all’s well with a natural accent; we understand and accept. But must one put on fake accents to show how un-Indian they are? Don’t they realise how gawd-help-us funny it sounds? What is it about the Ind-english accent anyway that everyone wants to change?

Says actress Kashmera Shah, “I stayed in America for five years and never picked up an accent. But it happens so often, especially when Indians abroad are speaking to other Indians. The vowels sound different in American and British English; they don’t pick that up and just speak with a pseudo accent. It’s like slapstick. I had a friend who picked up this weird accent after just two weeks in Egypt.” Sure there are genuine reasons and then again not-so-genuine ones — actors are required to change their accent for a role; doctors need to pick one up to be understood by their patients, as Kashmera points out.

It is the hypocritical reasons that we question. Remarks celebrity chef and TV host Sanjeev Kapoor, whose work takes him all over the world, “I’ve noticed people changing everything from accents to names, but I don’t know if it’s funny or not. I came across a Sam Cooper in New Zealand who was originally a Sameer Kapoor. Indians are very versatile and want to speak the way local people find comfortable. There was this small shop in New Zealand run by a Gujrati. He asked me in this strong Kiwi accent “Have you come here tod-aiy?” I said, “No I’ve come here to live!”

If Indians are so very accommodating with foreign inflections, it stands to reason that foreigners must be equally adaptable when in India. Do they change their speech as well? Nope, can’t say they do. Says Deanne Panday, fitness guru to the stars, “A lot of foreigners go back shaking their head. They go crazy figuring out whether we are nodding a yes or a no, and then pick up the habit themselves. They are nice people basically and laugh at themselves in a good-natured way.” Yes, their namastes and aap kaise hains are really sweet and can bring a smile to the crustiest of them all. But to learn to take pride in one’s mother tongue, one needs to turn to the French.

“They are very proud of their country and language and they just won’t answer in English. It’s only when they realise with horror what you are doing to their language do they answer in this heavy French-accented English,” says Kashmera. Now why can’t we take a leaf from their book? “Foreigners who stay here for years don’t lose their accents,” avers etiquette consultant Nina John. “But when we pick up our passport we pick up the airport accent too,” she adds. “The BPO culture trains people to just speak slowly and clearly and Indian accent is just as acceptable.” So if you are headed for foreign shores and unsure of the correct way to speak, Nina suggests being yourself is just fine. “Stop laughing at others’ accents. Remember that if you are not familiar with the other person’s language, you could as well be asking for a cow instead of milk, but that’s okay. Just laugh at yourself and carry on.”