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Vol. XXVIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2019

Our Readers write

Indian English of two kinds

Hariharan’s letter in (MM, 15th December) has prompted me to share some of my thoughts based on my experience.

A respected friend of mine, when I was teaching in Loyola College, was Michael Vivian Joseph, who taught English Language and Literature. Michael and I used to spend our free time discussing ‘teaching’. As a doctoral-degree holder from the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore) in the science (more than the art) of English-language teaching, Michael was different from others.

According to Michael, we have two kinds of English speakers in India: (1) those who speak ‘babu’ English, (2) those who speak ‘butler’ English. The babu-English speakers always revel in flamboyance in word choices and sentence constructions. Their conviction is that the more opulent the language is, his/her language proficiency is more amply displayed. In short, babu-English speakers preferentially choose less commonly used words and instinctively string together long, winding sentences. Many a time they liberally use archaic words to verbally ambush the listener. Their principal interest is to show-off their language command, rather than make others understand by using simple, easily understood, and formally acceptable words. Butler-English speakers stay at the other end of the spectrum. As Michael’s description goes, their sentences will mostly be structurally incomplete: a few words, mostly nouns; verbs usually absent. Although fragmented, the listener will usually get the speaker’s intended message. Michael used to tell me that if we were to compare the two genres of people, as a language scientist he will rate the latter superior far superior! Hariharan’s comment relaying the words of his American friend reminded me of these.

Once, it was a get-together arranged for and by the academic staff of Loyola College, towards the end of an academic year. The Academic-Staff Association President had invited a recently retired Vice-Chancellor (who had the extraordinary reputation of being the Vice Chancellor (VC) for different Tamil Nadu universities, in succession; a VC in high demand) as the speaker. Michael, who did not know of him, and I were there. I whispered into Michael’s ears that the speaker was famous for his quotations in his ‘eloquent’ speeches.

The speaker spoke for close to 45 minutes in a monotonous voice, offering plentiful quotations from Shakespeare and Milton on the one hand and Kamban and Tiruvalluvar on the other, embedded with several unheard-of words with Greco-Latin roots. Many of our senior colleagues sitting in the front row, of an age with the speaker, enthusiastically applauded at the end of every long-winded sentence the speaker spoke.

When Michael and I were at the dinner table after the event, I asked Michael in a discrete voice, “How did you find the ‘speech’? I saw you busy scribbling in your notepad.” A smiling Michael said, “I was counting the sentences he spoke. Overall, he spoke 24. Of the 24, two were his own. The rest were quotations! His own sentences were, ‘thank you for inviting me’ said at the start and ‘thanks for your patient listening’ said at the end.” Michael added, “I am left wondering what his (emphasis, ‘his’) message was today, given that the speech included recitation of sentences from others!”

We have been indoctrinated (by who? by our parents? teachers?? media???) with the knack of making everything complex, including English-language use.

A sidebar: I have used the term ‘genre’ earlier. Hence the following. I am unable to accept the way this word, genre (a delightful French word adopted into English, meaning ‘kind, type’) is said by many programme jockeys and others of the celluloid world, especially in Madras. They say this term sounding ‘jaan-er’, which is awkward and jarring. What worries me is that this unacceptable way of saying this word repeatedly will make it appear as the correct pronunciation for those guided by the TV and radio! The website ‘’ has a practical pronunciation demonstration of this term. I will hope that the radio and TV jockeys and other big wigs of cinema world would soon pick it up. Unfortunate it is that even some of the leading Carnatic-Music singers, who use this word in their speeches say this word as jaan-er. This word requires a subtle sound of ‘dj’ at the start, somewhat similar in sound to ” in our mother tongue and the end segment ‘nre’ nees to be said as ‘nre’ in a soft manner. Of course, if someone would tell me that we do not know how to say and confuse it with , , then better we start practising our spoken Tamizh lessons from Class 1, right earnest.

My plea is that if we are passionate about a word, and want to use it, then we need to use it correctly and say it correctly. This is not impossible, since the Google Sarasvati has all of this!!

Anantanarayanan Raman

CMDA’s re-classification of land use

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Corporation Authority [CMDA] from time to time issues re-classification notifications based on the requests from applicants, who seek re-classification of land use from primary residential to commercial, institutional to commercial, agriculture to commercial and so on and so forth.

While the CMDA claims that it follows a set of rules, like registering such requests, scrutinising the same, publishing the reclassification requests in the newspapers and seeking responses from the general public, examining such responses/objections based on their merits, officials inspecting sites personally and checking the relevant papers, such as ownership document, patta etc., and taking into account the suitability of site, accessibility, compatibility with the adjoining developments, impact on the environment in respect of the above, even those who reside close to the sites which undergo such re-classification, are unaware of the changes in the absence of wide publicity, which is a must to elicit the public opinion. As a result, the move to re-classify the land useoften goes unnoticed or draws no public comment. Only when the builder starts construction activity, does the neighbour or the public come to know and by that time, their opinion makes no meaning.

Re-classification of land use in any area, more particularly in a residential area, will draw flak because such a move causes inconveniences of all kind. Furthermore, the re-classification, from one zone to another, also has to reckon with the availability of infrastructure. For example, if a residential area is re-classified as commercial or any other land use, it cannot be done in the normal course, as in a residential area the availability of infrastructure/public utilities is very limited. Further, the impact of change on the environment will be very significant.

If the CMDA’s re-classification has not evoked any public opinion thus far, it is mainly because of poor dissemination of information. The public will definitely react if they come to know of the change in the land use. In order to ensure total transparency, the CMDA, besides inserting advertisements in the leading, well-read dailies, must put up a huge board at the site which is set to undergo re-classification, and seek the views of the neighbourhood people, because it is they who will bear the brunt once the area is re-classified. Since the CMDA charges the applicant towards the cost of charges towards the publication of the notification, it can as well put up the board and debit the cost to him. In view of the fact that putting up the board at the site will be more meaningful, as it will elicit the attention of the neighbourhood community, the CMDA should dispense with the newspaper advertisement.

Furthermore, per se, the re-classification from one zone to another, more particularly residential to any other zones, should not be entertained in view of the huge impact on the environment and non-availability of the infrastructure. The re-classification of land was thought of when development regulations were not formed. Now that the CMDA has clear-cut development regulations, there is no need for re-classification of land use, more so in residential areas.

In T’Nagar, the re-classification of land use has become such a quiet affair that no one knows how the residential area turns into commercial overnight. Moreover, it is unwise to categorise one or two houses in a street having a row of houses/residential complexes in view of the impact on the inmates.

V.S. Jayaraman

Property Tax mess

The write-up on Property Tax revision (MM, December 16th) is more exhaustive than one could expect. Kudos to the writer.

One thing is clear. The Greater Chennai Corporation is cleverly flouting the Tamil Nadu Government’s directive, right or populist, that the increase in the tax should not be more than 50 per cent for residential buildings and not more than 100 per cent for non-residential properties. The cap should be on the increase in Property Tax, but not on the parameters used in calculating the new tax, as the Corporation is doing. The government announcement has been clearly carried in newspaper reports of July 24th. Going by the numerous letters in the media, it can be seen that the directive has been followed more in the breach than in observance.

I know a case, where the property tax on a 16-year-old, 627 sq.ft., 2nd floor residential flat in West Mambalam (ward 135) has been increased from Rs.512 per half-year to a whopping Rs.4,585. In the revision notice, the flat has been quietly classified as non-residential, though in the Self-declaration Form it was correctly stated as residential, as it has always been a residential flat. An appeal has been made to the designated authority but it has not even been acknowledged. Adding fuel to the fire, Metrowater department is also jacking up its charges based on the jump in Property

I appeal to the Government to check whether the Chennai Corporation is following its directive correctly in letter and spirit or not, and announce the finding openly. Chennai Corporation may be funds-starved, but in fairness its actions should be people-friendly and not extortionist.

D. Subbaram
West Mambalam Chennai 600 033

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