Tuesday, 8 November 2011

All About An Accent

Before we relocated to Nairobi,I had discussed the issue of accents with the children.I had helpfully explained to them how most of their new friends would have an 'American Accent',since the school is an American international school.I was reasonably confident that while my son's style of speaking might change soon,my daughter being older, would continue to speak the way she had always done.
Imagine my surprise when one day, after the first few days of school, the minute my son came home,he blurted out that his friends said that he had a British accent!My daughter chimed in to repeat that her friends had been saying the very same thing!
Excuse me?We had an accent?That too a British one?As far as I knew the only people who had an accent in India were usually people who had studied in vernacular schools!And who should know that better than me as I earn my livelihood in India coaching just such people and polishing up their accents!In fact I have set up my own academy for mainly this purpose!
I agree we have studied in the best schools across India which,of course,were set up by the British during the Kolonial raj to educate us poor natives so that we could become efficient clerks for them.We were taught by excellent Anglo Indian teachers who could barely pronounce our very Indian names!My children come from the best school in Pune which,till 1977,was run by Irish nuns.But does all this boil down to a propah British accent?No way!
The minute one lands at Heathrow airport in London one sees 'Indians' everywhere,right from the person mopping the floor to the person suspiciously scrutinizing your visa at the immigration desk.But as soon as they open their mouths,you know they are not Indian at all,but British,as the way they speak is not even remotely the way we Indians,born and brought up in India,do!So why was the children's accent(yes,by this time I had accepted that we had an accent)being mistaken for a British one?
Finally I came to the conclusion that try as we might,we cannot distance ourselves from our Kolonial past!It is inextricably woven in our speech,our system of education,our desserts(bread pudding,caramel custard!)and being an army brat,I have to mention,into the customs and traditions of the Indian army!It took little American kids who had not met too many Indians to date,to point this out.Somewhere,in the way we spoke,lay the ghost of the legacy of the Raj!
Then,when our debate about who has what kind of accent had gone on long enough,I reminded the children about an old Chinese proverb.It says you can crush a person with the weight of your tongue.So I told them that what matters in the final analysis is what you say and how you say it,not which accent you use!I hope they got the message!

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