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Sunday, November 15, 2009

THE FALL OF THE WALL, I and 15 years later...

One of the many events that happened nationally and internationally in recent times that affected me severally is the 20 years celebration of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. For various reasons. Combine with it my recent re-reading and re-watching of Henry Porter's BRANDENBURG (a 2005-06 novel) and the 2006 movie THE LIVES OF OTHERS respectively. Of course, a movie such as GOODBYE, LENIN is always at the back of my mind!

Leaving aside the drama, the sentiment, the euphoria, the pyrotechnics and the laser show that sorrounded this event, the sheer monolithic monstrosity of the history behind the wall's existence leaves me breathless and disturbed... more because when I visited Germany the first time, it was hardly 5 years after the re-unification, when the old habits and memories of a land lost by a tribe of people who had set their store by a system - whether they liked it or not - through sheer habit still hung around like hangover from previous night's party!

I went back and dug into the net, dug into my shelf of German literature, German magazines and newspapers I had brought back upon that first visit. Memories come crowding. At that time, I was just a keen-eyed first time visitor to Germany. I did not comprehend the enormity of my stay. I am now trying to put all the shards of experiences and observations of my day-to-day existence over 8 months in places such as Magdeburg, Berlin, Halle, Leipzig, Wernigerode and other quaint little erstwhile East German towns - irrespective of long or short my stay or visits was/were! I even visited the Staatssicherheit's (STASI) headquarters in Leipzig, which was a very very eye-opening and cleansing visit for my soul.

To see the Nikolaikirche, visit Auerbach's Keller blessed with Goethe's feet, body, spirit and sould, walk about the Denkmal and have an esoteric experience of a Russian Orthodox Church Sunday Mass and then to spend about 2 hours on the Open Day at STASI hq in Leipzig - now to think of all these - I do not know what to do with all these accumulated experiences. This is but one day of the several days I visited Leipzig, when I was not collecting materials for my research or visiting famous and not so famous, but experimental theater houses or tourist sites in the rest of Germany or taking advantage of my several friends inhabiting all sorts of towns and cities all across Germany from Schewerin to Constance, Aachen to Frankfurt-Oder, Aurich to Dresden. This is but one of the 3 visits to Germany over a decade between 94-95 and 2004. How many, how many experiences, how many, how many memories, how many, how many memories now come flooding as a result of waking through the night of 20 years of Fall of the Wall celebrations on the Brandenburg Tor! Thank you DW-TV for bring the event live and better than BBC or CNN or anyone else outside of Deutschland.

I think I shall create a new blog exclusively dedicated to recapturing my German days. One post or even 10 posts won't be enough in the next coming days. For now, after 15 years since my first day, when my friend Thorsten picked me up at Berlin-Tegel, I realise it is a complex socio-political and artistic as well as cultural broom that I am trying to assimilate straw by straw that shall ultimately help me clear the cobwebs of my existence! It is humbling, to say the last word.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Angst and Anguish of an English-patient

We Indians know not the art of war neither information dissemination that the west has mastered through their media... nor for that matter the craft of propaganda that socialist states quite successfully undertake!

I was watching CCTV today and this thought arose in me. I thought this too would pass like a lot of thoughts that have struck me recently, gently nibbling at my sides like an acupressure foot-massage in a pond full of hordes of little fish, asking me to post a blog.

I had successfully resisted those. I had decided a while back, not to abuse the blogspace by posting frequently random thoughts about random things. I have stuck to it, with the vehemence of a leech on a skin... but no! This one would not pass! So I gave into it as it started gnawing at me like a restless rat on a tin roof over a dingy attic. Hence this post. A while back I had this post on my Facebook about why we don't need Slumdog Millionaire and how it is not a great movie and all those who praise its Oscar-worthiness are lickers of white backsides because this is the latest tool of exploitation of Mother India by the Colonials. A great many gen-xers of the school I teach at rose up in arms in a Sepoy Mutiny against this anti-British stance of mine. I stood like the steadfast tin soldier then, as I stand now. Search me! What I explain below is God's own truth as witnessed by me and heard by me.

Since yesterday, the CCTV has been televising CCTV 2009 National English Speaking Competition. It must have been already a long-drawn process typical of any National level competition, which must have started at germane levels, at Colleges where hordes of people participate at the intra-college and -University level challenges and have arrived where they are.

23 participants are being pitted against 3 challengers and judged by a 9-member Jury about the English speaking quotient of each of them. THREE of them - after a three-day ordeal (the last day being tomorrow - 14th Nov, 2009) - would go through to a Grand finals. What is the competition about? Speaking English. What is the message it holds for us? A lot actually. At the moment we pride ourselves with our BPOs and Call Centres being the cash crops of our country's foreign revenue harvesting. Soon, this would vanish if what I witnessed was true.

A quiet little revolution has taken place. A lot of Chinese are starting to speak English. With an accent that would be much much more acceptable among the Western countries who want to transact with Asia - India or China or Japan or South Korea! With an accent that the English native speakers as well as the European english speaking businessmen would be comfortable. Add to it, the Chinese spoken English grammar may turn out a zillion times better because most Chinese go to language schools where English is taught by native English speakers. The grammar as well as the accent and the command is bound to be better in comparison to ours.

We had earlier in the recent past seen or read how the Chinese were being coached in English to serve the visitors during the Beijing Olympics. Further additions to this point: by its sheer volume and numbers, we all know China is bigger in population than India; in terms of the percentage of youth population, China is equal if not higher than India, if Indian statisticians and demographers are to be believed when they say that in 2020 or whenever India would have the highest youth population in the world!

The projection is: in three to five years time, when these college and university attending youth of China pass out and graduate to the world of business, China will have more English speakers in the world than even United States, which is the single largest English speaking nation and contains the most number of English speakers in the world. What will happen to our BPOs and Call Centers? How much of Green Bills would migrate home then?

I remember the times when I was in the IT sector, working as an in-house translator first, then as in-house full-time language consultant for German, then after as a free-lance consultant, when at the best of times a translator could spin more than a lakh of rupees in a week's time. That was the height of the IT boom when Indian IT industry was preferred in the West due mainly to our ability to do transactions not just in English, but good English. Even the European market - inspite of the lingual-cultural barriers and difficulties would come to our doorstep as a preferred business partner than China - though both our labour charges were cheap equally - simply because of our English abilities. The way school education is headed these days when, leave alone the students, teachers cannot communicate properly in English shows how badly communication suffers.

Communication is not just about content, it is more. It is the art of speaking a language, the art of structuring thoughts in a language through which the thoughts are presented, the art of having command over a language and presenting it in an effective manner. The Chinese are starting to master it, we are losing it - much like Arunachal Pradesh. The Pakistanis are (according to some of my young friends who have debated at the international levels, where the Pakistanis have a longer and stronger traditional and respected presence) mastering it and we are losing it - much like Kashmir!

What do we do? We are having internal skirmishes over haves and havenots. We breed petty politics and politicians and deliberately keep the population illiterate. We cannot say China is fully literate or totally prosperous; nor that it lacks corruption or internal political hassles; but... what they do not do is shoot movies that show our badness or our slums or our past glories alone! what they do not do is sell our souls to foreigners - who once ruled us - who shoot our undesired side and pitch it at Oscars. How many films or documentaries are made about the other side of China. All of us have the other side, but do we have to project that to claim material glory?

We have this biggest joke called Prasar Bharathi - they are celebrating 50 years of existence, the first 20 years of which it never reached the masses. When it is now reaching the masses, we know its quality. Supposedly, Doordarshan is beamed in 30 different languages, but look at its digital quality. Look at the packaging of programs. As an avid watcher, I can vouch for the heterogeneity of Doordarshan's content. Its content variety far outstrips any 10 of the private cable and satellite channels put together. Sadly, though, DD lacks in quality packaging. The latter these days is very important. It is just not what you give, but how it is given!

I am unaware of the following fact. Like the BBC or DW-TV or TV5 or ABC or VOA, do we have any television network that is beamed primarly targetting the countries we should be targetting and packaging a politically correct picture of India? Please let me know. I am as Adam as before the toad did its job!

Coming back... it becomes doubly our duty to take up communication seriously. It is quadruply important that the current tweens and teens and gen-x learn communication tools properly and master the common language of the world so that we do not lose out on progress. After all, speech is the one unique ability that humans possess; having been subject to 400-odd years of English-rule, we cannot afford to squander that advantage because our northerly and Dravidian politicians do not want to make the effort to learn Angrezi. Crazy, isn't it? Of course, when we reach out to our own masses, let us speak their language, both in spirit and letter, but we have to push ourselves to extremes to polish our communication. After all, true challenge lies in going beyond the basics and mastering the aesthetics. Would we? Do we have the grit to rise above our self-excavated rubble?

A small winding up info. There is this international competition for schools called World schools Debating Championships (hereafter WSDC) that is held annually in some city of the world or other, where teams representing countries, with participant-representatives drawn from schools of the respective countries, brandishing their Debating abilities and debating in English over a range of topics that bother the world at large on areas social, political, cultural, economic and artistic. As a curtain raiser to that, they have a mini-WSDC, which is a sort of whetstone for aspirant teams, novices and debutants to the field. This year it was held recently in October-November, as a prelude to the forthcoming WSDC at Doha, Qatar in February 2010.

Know what? China would be a debutant at Qatar2010. They participated in the mini-WSDC and wound up 4th in a field of 10 teams that contained some of the strongest debating teams in English such as New Zealand, US or Chile! As a rejoinder, after what I saw on CCTV... this is a strong foreboding. If you care to, and you receive this channel I am referring to, follow the CCTV English Speaking Competition if you happen to chance upon it.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rain Rain Stay Along... Keep Coming another day!

I really am loving it! The rains. Finally, I could get back to my DVD closet and my Book bureau. Today: The Bourne Series with bowls of Haldiram's Aloo Lachcha. Yesterday - was on Bhasa trip. Finished reading Karna Bharam, Uru Bangham & Duta Vakyam. The last one especially rocked! Been on a trip of Sanskrit works (of course in English translations). Last week - Chandrapida Charitram (for the uninitiated KADAMBARI by Bana Bhatta of the Harshvardhan court fame!) The poetry is spell-binding, to say the least. And last weekend - Mudrarakshsha. Intriguing and tempting you to stage!

Well, lemme see what tomorrow brings!