‘ONE PAG MORE’, the tavern signboard screamed. I wondered whether I had got drunk before even entering the ‘ahata’. I read it again. Yes, it was indeed ‘PAG’, not ‘PEG’. How ironic they had spelt a simple three-letter word wrongly, but their spelling of a relatively tough one (tavern) were bang on target.
A couple of hours later, I came out of that intoxicating place, richer by three pegs (or were they four?) and ready with my essay, ‘Striking back at the Empire.’
There are roughly two types of Indians, provided they can read and write the colonial language. Type A have super command of English and never miss any chance to flaunt it. They prefer words such as ‘gigantic’ and ‘gargantuan’ even when ‘huge’ is good enough. Their children not only take part in Spelling Bee competitions but also spell ‘skulduggery’ and ‘gobbledegook’ as if these were as easy as ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. They aren’t really proud of their mother tongue, which they use mainly for mouthing choicest expletives.Type B’s English ranges from mediocre to atrocious, but they consider themselves the next best thing after Shakespeare. They are the ones who strike back at the British Empire, though unintentionally, for inflicting this crazy language on us. They make Queen Victoria toss and turn in her grave and force Queen Elizabeth to do the same in her royal bed. They try to out-Rushdie Rushdie in linguistic acrobatics and end up torturing us copy editors, who have to make sense of their overconfident outpourings.
The other day, a cub reporter sent a story about a cop whose pocket got picked. After describing in maddening detail what happened, the ‘writer’ wrapped it up with a free-flowing analysis. What he wrote was ruthlessly chopped, but I’m reproducing the last paragraph in its raw entirety, without omitting or changing any word: “Above a socio-economic problem which need to analised at depth. It shows the epitomizes brazenness of the law breakers. If they can pick the pockets of law makers, they can vary easily put the fair of god in the mind of the common man, who at the rule desires to live a life of peaceful existence. It is issue, which needs to feriously taken up by the powers to be at the government at the education level.”
No matter how many times you read this regurgitation (pardon the difficult word), you can’t help being amazed/ amused by the spelling slip-ups, the punctured punctuation, the gruesome grammar and the uncontrolled stream of semi-consciousness. Had the Brits been still in India and read all this, they might have started a strict licensing system for the use of English, wherein rash writing would’ve invited a hefty challan and repeat offenders sent to jail. The next step would’ve been the formation of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to English. All this didn’t happen as our colonial masters said goodbye to us in 1947, leaving behind their language, which we are totally free to abuse – unless we want to clear IELTS and go West.
On second thoughts, the tavern guy might have got it right after all. Perhaps he coined the word ‘pag’ as a short form of the ‘Patiala peg’. That’s another quality we Indians have – innovative (mis)use of the Queen’s tongue.