Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mind Your Language

This is my response to Sunayana's Red Marker Blogathon, which has been going on since the 1st of June and has lots of indignant grammar-worshippers up in arms. As I told Sue, I kept waiting to decide which was the pettest of my pet peeves but the procrastination meant that by now, all my grievances are already taken. I could have aired my complaints abt SMS styles n hw im puzzld wid d things ppl rite al d tym, but then SMSese is not a language in my book, so I won't discuss it.

Instead, I'll talk about a few mistakes that people make:
  1. "To no end": This basically means, "without any result", or "in vain", as opposed to the phrase "no end", which means, simply, "endless". "She complained no end" means the woman would not stop complaining, whereas "she complained to no end" means her complaints made no difference.

  2. "Rest assured": When you are trying to stop someone worrying, you say "rest assured, it will be done," or "don't worry, it will happen." Unfortunately, I find a lot of people saying "You can be rest assured...", forgetting that "rest" is a verb here, and you cannot "be rest", you can straightaway "rest", in an assured manner!

  3. "Few" vs "a few": "Few" means very little. One could say "The pouring rain meant that few people were out on the streets." On the other hand, "a few" means "some". To illustrate, "I met a few of my friends." but, "in my hectic schedule, I have been able to keep in touch with few friends." When I say "the suggestion for a picnic found few takers," I mean not many people were interested and that there's no picnic on the agenda, whereas "the picnic idea found a few takers," means there were some people who were interested and so, pack your hampers.

As a professional editor I'm always spotting and laughing over mistakes people make in the language. Sometimes, I even take a photo. Unfortunately, given the power English wields in India, pointing out someone's poor Hindi or Bangla is usually laughed off, whereas correcting someone's English is a more delicate matter. But over the years I've come to realise how the power of expression is of supreme importance. Few of my colleagues at the ad agency I worked at in Dubai spoke correct English. But sometimes they said things that, though grammatically dubious, were emotionally/practically spot on. Yet, they hankered after my corrections, afraid of looking foolish. I would be requested to draft leave applications, CVs, covering letters and, even the language for a wedding invitation. It reflects poorly on our world that people are judged by their English when so few have access to good English teaching. I had a teacher in class 1 who insisted that the name of the colour-changing reptile was not pronounced as "kameleon", but as "CHameleon", as in "check".

On that note, here is a gem I got from Anando, who studied at a school with a good convent-sounding name in the heart of what is now Jharkhand.

A little boy reached school late. The teacher was in the middle of the lesson. He glowered at the boy and said "Why are you late?" The boy quaked in his shoes, and said, "Sorry Sir, I was stuck in a jam." The teacher fumed and corrected the boy: "Jam is what you put on your bread. Jaaam is what you get stuck in."

But wrong Hindi (or any other language can definitely get you into trouble). A relative, who speaks poor Hindi, lost his ring. Requesting the maid to look for it when she swept the house, he said (to her horror), "Mera angootha kho gaya hai." (Angoothi means "a ring" and angootha is "thumb").

Although this relative found his "angootha", I shudder to think what happened to the sweet Bengali gentleman who, seeing a young girl getting soaked in the rain while he stood dry under his umbrella at the bus-stop, offered, "Meri chhati mein aa jao."

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Last light

He was miserable all day, overshadowed and forgotten. He tried to be seen. To remind people he existed.

He peeked from the left, but they blocked him from view. He tried to peep from the right, but they were on to him. They stood everywhere. Strong and opaque.
Still, as the day wore on, they grew complacent. His time was up, after all. But then, just as he went out, he smiled one last time. And this time, nothing could hide the fire he had within.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

In Today's News

Two pieces in today's Business Standard. I have been trying to write as much as possible this year. The blog's getting neglected as a result - I have Suku's tag to do and Sunayana's Blogathon to write for. But both will happen.

Meanwhile, please read these. For both, there was a 500-word limit, but my thoughts run deeper (and longer) than that!

Watching Shakespeare's bloodiest play: After studying Macbeth in school and in college, I finally got to see it staged at The Globe. I was mouthing some of the dialogues along with the actors and it was a memorable experience.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I spy, with my little eye...

Ever since I moved to Bombay I keep complaining that I never spot any of the stars who are supposed to be all over the city. Not for me casually running into film stars at Joggers' Park or walking past them in the market. I've had people visit for a week and meet Dimple Kapadia at the airport. Someone else saw Hema Malini. Someone else was late boarding a flight and was put on the last small van to the aircraft with...Shahrukh Khan. And I know, that guy who dumps his father at 2nd Innings House in Lage Raho Munnabhai...and then doesn't regret it till Munna hangs him by the ankles from his office window....yeah, that guy. Sheesh!!

So many months of whining later, I feel like I totally got my due when I had, 2 tables away from me, Helen and Salim Khan. As I was leaving, I smiled at her. And she half-smiled back. The vamp Helen. The sizzling siren. The one who writhes around Amitabh in Don, and who's always Chin chin choo to me. And with her, Salim Khan, half of the Sholay magic story.

I'll stop complaining now. Besides, Karishma Kapoor walked into Costa Coffee that day and stood around for ages. And I was totally cool about it. I think I'm finally a Mumbaikar now.