On the way to Pune, for the seventh Pune International Film Festival, I was reading Nandan Nilekani's Imagining India. A passage leapt out at me:
“Dalit leaders have also pushed for effective English instruction in schools. Organizations such as the Dalit Freedom Network are establishing English-medium schools to cater to the Dalit community. I think that our leaders now recognize how important English is for Dalits to access both employment and economic opportunities,’ Chandrabhan Prasad, Dalit writer and activist tells me. In his own irreverent way, he has even initiated a campaign for Engish by celebrating the birthday of Lord Macaulay. ‘It helps raise awareness about the need to learn English,’ he grins, when I ask about the event. ‘We’ve now celebrated his birthday three years in a row.”
That’s new. That’s news.
English has always been a contentious language in India. It has had its share of detractors but at this point, when we’ve begun to earn dollars on business process outsourcing and call centres, the chorus seems to have died down somewhat.
And at a screening of Huseyin Karabey's Gitmek: Benim Marlon ve Brandom (English title: My Marlon and Brando), once again, English surfaced. This startling film that tells the true-life story of the love affair between a Turkish woman, Ayça (Ayça Damgaci, playing herself) and a Kurdishman (Hama Ali Khan).
Parted by war and nationality and issues that seem to have no relevance to their love, he sends her love letters on video cassette, letters he has filmed on his handycam.
Finally, Ayça sets out to travel to Iraq from Istanbul, a journey most people were making in the opposite direction. On the bus, she begins to write him a letter in her diary.
I never stopped loving and dreaming of you. You are my Diego Rivera. You are stars and the moon in clouds. You is F-16 in the news. You is the body in my red bag. You is the left cigarettes in my wardrobe. You is the big dark green velvet jacket that I cover myself. You is the man that I want to fly just like a bird. You are Iran. You are Spain. You are the soldier in the border. You are the wild red flower. You are the wide brown belly that I lie on. You are Marlon and the Brando. You is the big fat angel lying in my bathroom, the joy, the pain, pleasure, my partner in the theatre.. You is the last letter of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I am the fat widow with burning desire in Zorba.
Later, she continues: Imagine who cut my head. But I can live without my head for I have arms and legs to reach to you and a heart which I can throw like a hand bomb to destroy all f**king borders.
Excuse me, while I mop up.
Ayça and Hama talk to each other in English, the only language they share, and the roughness of Ayça’s grammar adds to the poetry of her love letters. We listen to them in English, the only language we share.
So, perhaps we should pay a little more attention to our subtitles? In Girish Kasaravalli's Gulabi Talkies, there’s a rather exciting moment where the protagonist says that she loves modern films in which they have ‘songs n dongs’.
Singing dongs? What will they think of next?