Indian English has opened up a fresh new window in the country’s comedy scene. While building an entire act in English could alienate a large audience incorporating the colloquial gusto of Indian English into the set has proved surprisingly inclusive.
“And he knew, of course, that except for his English clothes there was nothing English in his life.”
Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable
That the grammatical rules and structural format of the Queen’s language aren’t reverentially followed in India is a given. ‘Indian English,’ quite like other variants of the language in former British colonies, is a valid language in its own right. It is a language of convenience, typically a mix of English with a local language. Its accessibility is evident in its easy adoption not just by urban India but across Indian films and television.
In his 2010 film Phas Gaye Re Obama, Subhash Kapoor introduced us to the ‘Mango People.’ A throwback to a catchy label flagged by Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal ‘Mango People’ is a literal, but lol worthy, translation of the Hindi expression Aam aadmi, or the common man. The language of the Mango People is a unique Mango Language, exemplified by the scene above. Distinctive from what is understood to be ‘correct’ English, this variant is resolutely a language by itself. Sure, it is a reminder of the widespread use of English in India (and the Indian Subcontinent), a colonial residue. But it is also a far cry from the colonial dream.
As the official language of the country, English is used extensively in India. Like most multilinguals English speakers in India speak in multiple languages simultaneously. As a result Indian English is entirely customizable,
every speaker has their own unique vocabularyand adds their distinct quirk to the language while using it. Sentences are regularly splattered with a variety of words and phrases from various vernacular languages. Combination words, a portmanteau of say English and Hindi, or Tamil, or Bengali, or Gujarati is common. These instances of ‘corruption’ are often hilarious but simultaneously an act of claiming a language arguably not our ‘own.’ It is this sense of ownership which results in jugaading new words.
Adaptations not only mark the inventiveness of the speaker, but also reflect their socio-cultural and regional backgrounds. Recent videos featuring comedians mimicking the antics of ‘South Delhi Girls’ for instance have left the millennial crowd in splits because of the anglicized Hindi pronunciations. Mallika Dua’s role as Tinder Aunty in the All India Bakchod videos on mobile phone apps is a case in point of how the peculiarities and rhythm of Indian English are being used by standup comedians to hilarious effect. Channel [V] viewers during the 2000s will remember Lola Kutty. Actor and TV personality, Anuradha Menon’s on-screen impersonation of a stereotypical Malayali lady, through her alter ego, Lola Kutty made most of the heavily accented Malayali English to maximize the humor in the segment.
It may be argued that Indian English has opened a fresh new window in the Indian comedy scene. While building an entire act in English could alienate a large audience incorporating the colloquial gusto of Indian English into the set has proved surprisingly inclusive. By using a language regularly employed on the streets comedians have been able to gain larger audiences in smaller cities in India. Touring stand-up comedy shows that now cover cities with predominantly vernacular speaking audiences certainly owe a part of their success to the language in which they are performed- Indian English in that sense is definitely a “people’s language.”
To appreciate Indian English, one need only be attentive to its singularities. The region it is spoken in, the socio-cultural context against which it is set defines its ever changing attributes. And then there are the various nuances of dialect and diction. By allowing speakers to adapt to these particularities Indian English has provided a thread of commonality and broken language bound barriers. It has thus emerged as a marker of contemporary Indian culture. With the spilling over of this evolution of Indian English into art and media, we witness how inventiveness in very simple form has the potential to influence culture. Comparisons between the Mango Language and ‘English’ are redundant. Where one was handed down, the other is a marker of the collective spirit to adjust, remodel, and move ahead- or simply put, a “baaju hat, jaane de!”kind of resilience.
ABout the Author
Kadamboor Neeraj Raveendran is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Visual Art (Painting) from the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU, Baroda. His interest in Art History and Aesthetics allows him to explore and express delicately layered narratives through his work. Neeraj maintains a blog where he writes about what he sees around him, and about his interactions with people. He is always up for a good conversation on culture, society, and history. If you can’t find him either in an intense critical debate about contemporary culture, or painting or typing away in the studio just follow the cats.