Absurd Ways We Use English Phrases

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

“I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief; such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture; for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, the native culture, and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.   —  Thomas Babington Macaulay in his address to the British Parliament in 1835.

The way Indians indiscriminately use English expressions not realizing their contextual absurdities, Macaulay will be both pleased and wincing in his grave.  Consider these:

•  The Deccan Chronicle published out of Hyderabad, India, recorded the death of Lalgudi Jayaraman, the violin maestro, thus: “The mortal remains of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman were laid to rest here on Tuesday.” Jayaraman was not “laid to rest,” a nuanced expression for burying the dead. But Jayaraman was cremated. In the very next sentence, the Chronicle writes without realizing the absurdity, “His son… Krishnan lit the pyre … … at the crematorium…” (Reference:  http://www.tinyurl.com/Lalgudi-Death). It did not say how Krishnan could light the pyre after laying to rest his father’s mortal remains.

Here is another beauty: An anglicized reader comments thus on a Narendra Modi story in The Hindu: “Sardar Vallabhai Patel must be turning in his grave over the controversy roused by N.Modi… … that Pandit Nehru and Patel had differences of opinion.” It is impossible for Sardar Patel to turn in his grave because he too was cremated.

•  Here is a gem from the Hindustan Times on the declining Indian economy. (Reference: http://tinyurl.com/pdlg7pp) :

“The sharp slide in the rupee is likely to knock up prices of almost everything along the value chain from farm to fork, effectively negating gains from a potentially bountiful summer harvest…”

How many people in India use forks while eating even in India’s metros? In India people routinely and elegantly eat using their fingers. This type of writing betrays how disengaged India’s English reporters are from their background. Was the writer looking for alliterative words?  Then farms to fingers or the euphonious farms to palms is closer to the Indian reality.

•  During memorial services for deceased Hindus, we routinely hear “May his/her soul rest in peace,” a solemn expression they hear in the burial services of Christians.

However, as followers of the Dharma-based religions, what we seek while living—but rarely get, we must acknowledge—is freedom from yo-yoing from one extreme to the other, from sukham/duhkham (happiness/unhappiness), success/failure, profit/loss, pleasure/pain, etc. This is the typical way our undisciplined mind responds to outside events. And so, what we wish at the end of our sojourn on earth is that at least at our departure we transcend these pairs of opposites and merge into Brahman/Paramatman, the Primordial Source we believe we came from. There is a precise non-translatable term for this—Mukti or Moksha in Sanskrit, or veedu in Tamil, which approximately means freedom or liberation [from the pairs of opposites].

This is what happens to people when they uproot themselves from their culture even while living in India and fall head over heels to get Anglicized. You have seen similar laughable absurdities in our use of English phrases without any discernment (vivekam). Please share your observations with readers in this space. We all can laugh at ourselves.  Such laughter will help us to be careful so that we mean what we write/say.   ♦


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