Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review: Indlish

Things that can do a world of good to you usually come cheap. Such as a kilogram of carrots: barely Rs 20. A litre of milk: hardly Rs 15. A refreshing jog: Rs 0. The Economist Style Guide: Rs 295. If you have reasonable command over the English language, then a thorough - and sincere - reading of the guide could make you bypass the expensive journalism schools and transform you into a conscientious reporter/sub-editor. It is a different matter that you might need a degree from one of these schools to get a job in the first place.

Coming back to the Economist style guide. The other day, I was browsing through its latest edition after its publisher in India, Viva Books, kindly sent me a copy. For no apparent reason, my eyes settled on an entry under 'E':

underprivileged Since a privilege is a special favour or advantage, it is by definition not something to which everyone is entitled. So 'underprivileged', by implying the right to privileges for all, is not just ugly jargon but also nonsense.

I panicked: have I ever used the word in my copy? I could not recall immediately. But I recalled having seen the word in print - several times. But then, we make such mistakes either out of ignorance or carelessness. We are, after all, not The Economist, where every word is put under the microscope.

We are the Chalta Hai (anything will do) brand of journalists, feeding entirely on compost that usually consists of ignorance, laziness and leftovers from translations of vernacular languages. Such compost is called Indlish. For example, it is perfectly okay to say in Hindi, "Yeh kitna sundar hai, na?" - This is so beautiful, isn't it? The "na" is for "isn't it". But "na", in English, primarily means "no", so you have people saying, even writing, "This is so beautiful, no?"

But there are, fortunately or unfortunately, sentinels like Jyoti Sanyal who don't want English writing in India to be overrun by 'Indlish'. Fortunately, because if these people have their way, then the standard of writing in English papers would match that of the Economist. Unfortunately, these people don't seem to have their way - for evidence you have to look at the pages of any Indian newspaper.

I will settle for the path in between fortunately and unfortunately, and that is the path of hope - that things will improve someday. Improvement, once again, comes cheap: Rs 295. You'll have to cough up only that much to buy Sanyal's Indlish (Viva Books), which caps his 30-year-old career with the once-revered Statesman, perhaps the only paper to have a comprehensive in-house style guide authored, needless to say, by Sanyal. As the dean of the Asian College of Journalism, he also moulded the younger crop of journalists who are today scattered across the country, hopefully carrying his passion for plain English.

Indlish is replete with the stupidities you come across in the papers every day, morning after morning. Such as the overdose of "he categorically stated", "he noted", "he added" and "he further added" you find in the reported speech of a minister. Sanyal presents one classic case of syntax error - which Indian journalists are highly prone to: Mr Revanasiddaiah said Mr Manjunath had expressed his willingness to contribute the amount in a letter written to him.

Another gem: Mr Chautala's statement that both parties would have a separate poll manifesto for the Assembly elections scheduled for March, too has irked the BJP leaders. How can both parties have a separate manifesto? And that's just one of the howlers in that sentence.

The problem is, such howlers are most often made by senior journalists, who are likely to have halted their learning the moment they got their first jobs. Their juniors follow suit. Sanyal's book should serve as the Bible to journalists who want to write clean, sparkling copies. But I would recommend it more to senior journalists, editorial writers included, who think they know it all.


Blogger APE 2 MAN said...

Nice, As a journalist I always felt that I really had missed many things in my college days and once I was on duty there was no option to get back to the basics. Thanks for your article and introduction to INDlish. Infact I searched it in Bangalore South, but for my bad luck could not get one. Hope it will reach the stores at the earliest.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Ram Iyer said...

Hi Bishwanath,

I really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Quite an interesting and informative blog. Looking forward to more reading!

The way you've described Mithunda, I really feel like meeting this personality.

What columns or writing do you work on in the Press?


2:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very gregraious of you to admit that professionals to can make mistakes. There are professionals of a different kind doo- Are bloggers failed writers and half-wits or for professional journalism, is this the pits?

11:14 PM  
Blogger Anubhuti said...

I wish it was so easy to be one. I would have been there somewhere.

10:27 AM  

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