Clear case of physician, heal thyself

British Prime Minister David Cameron loves Indians and left to himself, he would invite many of them to settle down in Britain. So will many other prime ministers and presidents. They love to shake hands with the Khans of Bollywood, the bright techies and stars from IITs and other management schools and tycoons who have fattened themselves on inherited wealth. Similarly, doors of the Silicon Valley and major business schools have again been kept open to the brightest and the best from India. O, how they love the crème de la crème of India — offering them scholarships, high-salaried jobs and if they so desired, green cards as well! Permanent residency may be tough to acquire for an average Indian but it comes easy to the privileged ones and their families.

UK Home Office, to prevent fraud in immigration, has introduced an English language test. It is essential that anyone who is studying in Britain should be able to read and write English, just as it is vital for anyone who wishes to become a British citizen to be able to understand the language.

Brilliance is sought all over the world and India is no exception. Not the average Indian keen to hold on to his routine job and look out for similar ones for his kith and kin. Lower categories of the trade and commerce belong to their category. The struggling middle class is perfectly happy accepting the legacy of shopkeepers, booking clerks, grocers, salesmen and others who can manage such semi-skilled jobs. Families obtain Visas; write to their close or distant relatives in different cities to arrange for accommodation and then settle down, mostly congregating in cities and towns where they find safety in numbers. Over a period of time, the families spread out, the business expands and minor ‘townships’ spring in major US cities like Chicago, New York and New Jersey. Today major and minor American cities face the uncomfortable prospect of being outnumbered in their own towns and cities

The average Indian has a high rate of ‘adjustability’. The hard working Indian labour class does not mind tough working conditions. They live eight, ten, twelve or sixteen in a room; manage in common kitchens and their rooms are always open to newcomers from home who are quick to adjust themselves to the new environment. Women are no exception. They put their own skills to use and contribute to the exchequer. Having lived for more than 20 years in Ahmedabad, I watched this transformation. The Amins (not their real names) were definitely upper middle class but definitely wanted more.

Residents of Ahmedabad, where academic standards were a joke, were not deterred to their ambition and self improvement, particularly in English. The Amins got their degrees, spoke their own brand of English yet managed to reach the US and obtain bank jobs or other white-collar jobs.

Once they settled down, the womenfolk helped their men in supplementing family income by preparing and selling tasty, popular Gujarati snacks which was a part of their normal life. Demand shot up even among their foreign friends and office colleagues who found the spicier variety of snacks going down well with liquor. Unable to cope up with demand, the Amins called for reinforcements from home thereby creating a small vibrant job market. Familiarity with English was compulsory and bright young men and women were sent to special coaching classes. Mind you, their English was neither grammatically correct nor fluent but it passed the vital communication factor. One advantage was that ‘Gujarati English’ helped in communicating with Gujaratis all over the US.

Today, with improved communication and increasing trade contacts, ‘intercontinental English’ has spread more rapidly. Even senior citizens are picking it up fast. In Punjab, second only to Gujarat in the spread of English, hundreds of English medium schools have sprung up giving jobs to those who knew their English. Indian cooking and music are learnt better with the knowledge of English. Among the more educated and Punjabi families, marriage arrangements are easier between couples who find it easier to communicate in English.  Senior citizens who were in the forefront of such deals in the past are now definitely kept in the background, confined to religious details. These changes are being adapted as part of the changing environment.

The language problem for new entrants to UK has not yet been fully resolved. A new Home Office directive on the issue that those coming to the UK on a family Visa with only basic English will become more fluent over time means that such a person can engage better in everyday conversation and integrate better in everyday activity. David Cameron’s recent speech, it was was felt, was mainly aimed at Muslim women who often faced communication gaps while conversing with others including women from the neighbourhood.

However the Home Office Memo on the issue created amusement by misspelling the word ‘language’! Clearly it was a case of ‘physician, heal thyself!’

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