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IT is disappointing to observe how all those who talk of, or deal with, science in India sideline and marginalize Indian universities. Seminar 547, March 2005, is no exception.

None of the authors is currently or even recently from an Indian university. At the same time many of them have mentioned in their articles the need to strengthen science teaching and research in universities. Most of them have recognized the need for research and teaching to go side by side and for associating young, inquisitive minds with the older professors and other faculty. One would have liked to get the point of view of a current professor from a university on their problems and solutions.

Seminar 547 is not alone in ignoring universities. The Scientific Advisory Committee to the PM does not have any representation worth mentioning from the universities. The plan to grant Rs 100 crore to the Indian Institute of Science as a first instalment to upgrade it to the level of world-class universities like Oxford and Harvard demonstrates the woeful ignorance of the authorities about the differences in the nature of these universities and that of IISc, Bangalore.

Even the proposal to set up two new science universities instead of strengthening science departments in the existing Indian universities is a sad reflection on the thinking at the policy-making levels. With many universities running on deficit budgets, few of them have any means left for research, upgrading laboratories and libraries after paying salaries and pensions and looking after basic maintenance. Even Osmania University in Hyderabad has been running on deficit budgets for the last three years and suffers from lack of funds for research, although it is considered one of the richer universities in the country.

Considering that almost the entire educated manpower of the country comes from universities, it is a pity that no one seems to be interested in strengthening and upgrading them. Here one is not talking of science only. One is as much concerned about the state of teaching and research in humanities, liberal arts and other disciplines which fall within the purview of universities. The general policy of the government seems to be to create institutions for research outside the universities whereas everyone realizes that teaching and research must go together at the postgraduate level.

M. Krishnamurthi

Former Chief Controller

Defence R &D Organisation


ONE can’t help the impression that Peggy Mohan, in the article, ‘Is English the Language of India’s Future?’ (Seminar 545, January 2005) is too sweeping in her argumentation to be careful about serious psycho-linguistic factors involved in the project she so enthusiastically advocates, i.e., learning of English by Indian students. She prescribes ‘dislocation’ and ‘leapfrogging’ for transition to a state where English will be a natural language in India. Perhaps it is all due to frustration arising out of her wasted effort of ‘a quarter of a century agitating for India to do like Japan, China and Korea … and restoring to Indian languages the top end of their functional range, now occupied by English.’ Mohan is concerned about the lack of proper level of English among the non-elites of our country. Although she has not specified, one can safely assume that among the non-elites she would include students residing and trying to acquire English in rural and small town India.

There can be no disagreement over the fact that good knowledge of English distinctly occupies a prominent place in today’s career calculation and job market. The condition of security and success in this calculation and market is good English, which simply means an ability to understand English texts (written or spoken) of a reasonable standard and express this understanding, and one’s response to it, in writing and orally. Mohan thinks that this ability can be acquired just by going on the venture ‘to first pick up English words and slot them into a Hindi sentence, then slot in larger English chunks, and then take out the Hindi structure altogether. ‘Here one finds a recommendation of something like violence in the process of trying to learn a foreign language that has to be acquired in an ambience dominated by mother tongue. Violence never pays; and here it only can disrupt and dislocate without producing the effect so dear to Mohan. This violence is the product of a pedagogical mind-set which believes in the idea of avoidance of what some call ‘mother tongue interference’ in the process of learning a foreign language. The issue needs examination.

The students of small towns and the rural hinterland suffer from multiple disadvantages caused by the hegemonic standards of leaning English as the second language. These standards originate in England and America, are lapped up by the elite metropolitan Indians (who are very comfortable with the idea of avoiding ‘mother tongue interference’ because, in their case, the hiatus between the school and the home is fast decreasing) and accepted, nolens volens, by the vast majority of village and small town level students who need a sound knowledge of English for their real empowerment vis-à-vis their metro brethren.

Let us have a glance over the metro effect of teaching and learning English as a second language on small town graduates and postgraduates, many with an English medium background up to the + 10 or +2 level. By way of institutional certification, they have passed, in some cases with high marks, in English, but practically their English is, of course with a few happy exceptions, simply pathetic. Their condition may be described as theoretical superiority nullified by functional mediocrity. Having failed to land employment which is secured at a competitive bidding of merit, they have become grossly ill-paid teachers in schools with signboards displaying nomenclatural obsession with English, have started computer ‘centres’ with ‘awe-inspiring’ abbreviated names, or have opened coaching ‘institutions’ with a highly self-conscious advertisement of pedagogical perfection. A tendentiously self-conscious advertisement is the common thread which binds all these professions joined by default. And the central belief of this self-consciousness is an obstinate self-perception that their knowledge of English is good, very good. This situation is doubly dangerous. A false self-perception is a tiresome state of mind, and it breeds a feeling of false self-sufficiency and obstructs the effort to reach out to knowledgeable persons and other sources of amelioration and advancement.

Why is this situation so common in rural and small town India? One can answer that this is so because in teaching and learning English there is unthinking emphasis on a uniformity of pedagogical methods and materials in all the schools and colleges of the country or in a state. The operative environment engendered by parents, peers and the neighbourhood playground is not taken into account. And when this mingles with the performance of incompetent teachers, the result is just intolerable.

How to ameliorate this situation? What should be the best approach to teaching and learning English in a rural and small town setting whose hallmark is, undeniably and with no regret, the unbreakable ambience of mother tongue, the resultant context being inescapably bilingual. Naturally, an approach which insists on the clinical avoidance of ‘mother tongue interference’ would be unnatural, and so, bound to miserably trip behind the real target of achieving a satisfying level of linguistic competence in English. This tripping behind takes the form of ‘targetitis’ – an obsession with passing in the subject of English with the help of classroom spoon-feeding coupled with market-supplied help books of substandard quality.

How to achieve the real target? By evolving a well-thought out technique in which the resources of mother tongue act as a vehicle of power which propels the process of learning English. Why a vernacular-based technique of learning a foreign language? Because both history and nature back it up. Our context is a replica of the situation in which the Europeans found themselves in India in the later years of the 18th century vis-à-vis the Indian languages. Their sense mingled with the pressing need to learn modern Indian languages, and they ventured upon learning these languages through their mother tongues. Out of this emerged the curious but salutary fact of Indian linguistic history that the first grammars of modern Indian languages were written by European scholars in their native languages for the benefit of their compatriots who worked in India either as Christian missionaries or administrative officials. Manoel Da Assupcam, a Portuguese missionary, wrote the first grammar of Bengali in Portuguese for the Christian missionaries in Bengal. The book, Vocabulario em Idioma Bengalla a Portugez, was published from Lisbon in 1743. For the British civil servants came A Grammar of the Bengal Language from the pen of the famous orientalist Nathaniel Brassey Halhed in 1778.

It will not be true to say that India lacked research efforts in the field of grammar. On the contrary, we had a rich tradition of grammatical learning before the advent of the Europeans. The traditional Indian education had grammar as an important component, and the corpus of grammatical literature here was very rich and copious. But Indian scholars, though deeply engrossed with the problems of Sanskrit grammar, and to some extent those of Arabic and Persian, did not feel the need to write grammars of the languages used by the common people around them. There was no pedagogic necessity since the modern living languages were not studied at a higher level. The scholars of language and literature did not consider these languages worthy of scholarly attention and investigation. The list of writers of the first grammars of modern Indian languages is interesting in not being very short, which shows that scholars almost all over India were on the same wavelength. Father Beschi, an Italian Jesuit, wrote the first grammar of modern Tamil in Latin in the first decade of the 18th century. The credit for writing the first grammar of Malayalam goes to Angelos Francis, a Portuguese, who wrote it in Latin. John Gilchrist is remembered for the first grammar and dictionary of Urdu. Sindhi and Punjabi owe their first grammars to Ernest Trumpp and William Carey respectively.

The replica arches over the aspect of motivation also. The missionaries learnt Indian languages for translating the Bible and propagating it among the masses. The British administrators learnt them for the immediate practical necessity of running the administrative machinery. The overwhelming majority of Indians want and need to learn English for getting jobs. On the other hand, the possibility of going beyond the confines of immediate necessities remains alive. From among the foreigners, a prominent group of scholars and administrators with a scholarly bent of mind went beyond these confines and gave impetus to a new intellectual movement which took a concrete shape in the Asiatic Society of Bengal established in 1784. India is proud of the Indians who posses remarkable felicity in English and express native observations and experiences of nativity in a language which is not native.

Professor Sudhakar Marathe of the University of Hyderabad, looking into the situation of English in pre-1947 India, which continued well into the initial decades of our independence (when the Indian learners of English loved their mother tongues) explicitly says, ‘… despite unmodern or premodern methods of languages teaching… the rate of success of language learning was high indeed, most who entered the enterprise coming out, far more competent within the limits than the average of the millions who enter the enterprise every year today’ (‘The Un-Makers of “Indian” English’ in C.D. Narasimhaiah, ed., Makers of Indian Literature, Pencraft International, Delhi, 2003, p. 284). The ‘limits’ to which he refers to was that ‘by and large … English was used in its inscribed form, bookishly, formally, and it was limited also in the range of subjects, aspects of life it had to manage; purely personal and affective matters being omitted from the demands made on ‘students’ English’ (ibid.). One thing was certain – their English was good, with all the implications of being good. This admirable situation is alive today in small islands of motivated learners. An illustrative example can be given. Now it is common knowledge that the performance at the UPSC conducted civil services examinations has taken a ‘subaltern’ turn. It means that the number of successful candidates belonging to the middle class Hindi heartland of India (particularly UP and Bihar) is, to say the least, very considerable. Some of them write their exams in English and some in Hindi, the common thread binding informational and conceptual clarity in the chosen subjects through their readings of standard books written in standard English. These readings make their own demand on their English, which they meet admirably. Another common characteristic found in them is their preference for English as being, to recall Professor Marathe with slight alterations, inscribed, bookish and formal. Their ‘personal and affective matters’ are taken care of by their Hindi, even their Bhojpuri, Magahi and Maithili. They are confident enough to keep themselves in right shape even without joining the wow-shit-my foot-damn it … circuit.

Why is a mother tongue so important? Because it is not just a verbal pile. It is a psychology, an environment, a source of cultural and cognitive sustenance, an emotion, a bond, and many collateral things. To attempt to guard against its ‘interference’ is an act of violence with a pernicious potential to damage some vital nerves of the emotional-cultural-artistic continuum of a learner’s personality. The right pedagogical philosophy is that which believes in the possibility of osmosis of energy between the mother tongue and the second language. Most second language learners want and expect to operate as bilinguals, rather than monolinguals. It is the natural state of participation in the learning process. What is more, insistence on the monolingual approach to leaning English as a second language leads to another insistence – the insistence on treating English as a permanently foreign language with its pristine foreignness remaining intact. The manifesto of liberation penned by our renowned Raja Rao was quoted with full endorsement by Mulk Raj Anand in his presentation (‘Changeling’) at a CIEFL Seminar on Indian English held in July 1972. The operative position of the manifesto – We cannot write like the English. We should not. We can write only as Indians – links itself seamlessly with the conviction of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari that the mother tongue is ‘vernacular, maternal and territorial.’

The vital point is that English in India is here to stay and should stay fruitfully, as an asset, not as a liability. An all-out effort should be made to enhance and widen its acceptability, which entails an attempt to ‘deforeignise’ it. The attempt at ‘deforeignisation’ of a language simply means a confident interface with the native language of a particular area. The context being inescapably bilingual and the command over English weak, a profuse dose of the vernacular is mixed with English in the process of teaching, but all by default, without conviction and with a sense of guilt. What should be done is to confidently tap the resources of the mother tongue and harness them in the pedagogical endeavour. This would entail learning the rules of English grammar well, and applying these rules in a constant practice of translation from the mother tongue into English. This practice must not be token and meagre. Reams and reams of paper should be spent on it. While fulfilling S. Pitt Corder’s condition of exposure to ‘the language data’, it would lead to the students of a bilingual context feeling their linguistic base of English getting stronger with translating complicated structures of their mother tongue into English. It would result in a liking for the target language, which would lead naturally to a love for a varied range of texts written in English.

R.P. Singh

Government College, Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh

WHILE I thank Fali Nariman for his spirited rejoinder (Seminar 546, February 2005) I need to say simply that the observations he makes concerning my alleged role in justification of the Emergency dishonours my reference to the legendary endowment of media freedom that Romesh Thapar so valiantly instituted and promoted. No record of resolute resistance to censorship in the Third World contexts, matches and measures his. And it trivialises this beacon achievement even to mention my name in the same breath!

Incidentally, Mr. Nariman errs in the sheer excess of allegations; any archival resource to Doordarshan will repel the extravagant attribution that I several times over and unabashedly extolled ‘the Internal Emergency as an act of rare statepersonship, necessary for disciplining the populace of India.’ Further, in my Supreme Court and Politics (1980) I have fully reflected on similar attributions to my public interventions during the course of the Emergency, not as Mr. Nariman now says ‘only after the Emergency was lifted.’

The Internal Emergency lasted for two years, though devastatingly destructive of many a lifetime. The entire point of my rejoinder to was to highlight the fact that the Union Carbide Corporation, and its now globalizing cohorts, have declared a more enduring, and menacing, state of emergency for the peoples of India, and of the Global South. This indeed is a conjuncture in which we all poignantly miss the robust voice of Romesh Thapar, when most needed.

Upendra Baxi, Warwick, UK