Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Amit Varma for English Czar

For the past week, the English language media in India has been all over the utterly bizarre controversy following External Affairs minister Shashi Tharoor's offhand remark referring to economy class air travel as cattle class (in response, mind you, to a question about whether he would be flying cattle class). Amongst the incredible amount of mind numbingly stupid things said about this incident was a remark by BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad that really stood out. Responding to remarks by Amit Varma during a TV debate, he said, "Our English may be weak, we need to take lessons from Mr. Amit about that, but that is a separate chapter altogether."



(Video of Amit Varma and Ravi Shankar Prasad debating l'affaire Tharoor on CNN-IBN)

Thinking about this, it struck me that perhaps that should not be a separate chapter at all. Perhaps what we really need is a rigorous introduction to spoken English for India's supposedly Anglophone ruling classes. Too long have we suffered our betters ignorantly (or perhaps willfully and mendaciously) misinterpreting perfectly innocuous usages in the English language and taking offense at them. There was this little tempest in a teapot at the phrases "cattle class" (which is apparently offensive to economy class travelers) and "holy cows" (which, in an incredible case of cognitive dissonance, is held to be offensive to Hindus by the same people who took offense at the previous phrase). There was the ridiculous assertion that the title of the film Slumdog Millionaire was offensive to either slum dwellers, dogs or millionaires (I forget which). Then there was the insanely idiotic brouhaha about the title of the movie Billu Barber (apparently the word "Barber" is offensive to barbers. Or something).

In any case, there is a pressing need to educate supposedly English-speaking people about the existence of metaphors in English, and that not all English words are a direct condemnation of them personally. And I can think of no man better suited to lead this effort than Amit Varma. Yes Amit Varma - he of the novel My Friend Sancho, of the blog India Uncut, creator of writer for the immortal Timex Timepass, journalist, Bastiat Prize winner and sideburn-wielder extraordinaire. (Aside: I would probably support raising Amit Varma to any executive position - God-Emperor of the Entire Known Universe even - just so that we could create an entire Kurvi-Taschist cult of personality around his magnificent sideburns. But I digress.) Aside from these impressive qualifications, Amit is also a graduate of Fergusson College, home to the finest English Department east of the Western Ghats.

To carry out his important mandate, Amit will surely need wide-ranging executive powers removed from legislative checks and interference. Happily, precedent for such positions exists among the Obamite Czars of the US. I propose that the Government of India create for Amit just such a position - that of English Czar Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary. The holder of this office would have wide ranging powers to force public figures to read the classics (and India Uncut), to summarily quash litigation based on an utter lack of understanding of English metaphors and ultimately plenary authority to punish English-language media for excessive cliche and overenthusiastic punning.

I hope, dear readers, that you will see the urgent need and the utter good sense of this proposal. It is imperative that we not let this issue rest - we must take action, and take action NOW. Write to your MP, talk to your politician uncle, organise candlelight vigils, compile petitions, sit on hunger strike, burn buses, whatever. We must do whatever it takes to get this done. Because together we can, and we will.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous amit varma said...

Thanks, Kunal. This is indeed the need of the hour. I shall also need a large staff -- for we are a large country, and in any case, I want my staff to be bigger than anyone else's. To begin with, I offer you the job of OSD. You will be staying at the Taj.

(One minor correction, though I don't think that impedes my chances -- I didn't create Timex Timepass, I merely wrote a few episodes. )

4:59 AM  
Blogger ravan said...

whatz with u n Latin, getting to b'com a Latino rwhat?

7:57 AM  
Blogger ravan said...

whatz with u n Latin, getting to b'com a Latino rwhat?

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Yasho said...

@Amit- "I want my staff to bigger than everyone elses". Um, is it just me who sees the scope for a euphemism there :)

Amaih Kurvi tasch!!

9:06 AM  
Blogger Siddharth said...

Awesome post. I wish blogger had something like a "like" button that Facebook has, which would prevent posting of such information lacking comments.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Thank you saar. This is actually cross posted on FB as a note, so you may "Like" it there if you wish :)

10:32 PM  

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