Perhaps because I have to think thrice before pronouncing the words ‘archbishop’ and ‘photographic’ correctly, and perhaps because I go into a panic attack every time I have to frame English sentences with prepositions (‘He was sitting in/on/at the chair while she lay sprawled in/on/over the bed’), I recoiled on (?) seeing a full-page advertisement in last Sunday’s paper.
On Sundays a lot of things, including the end of the world, go unnoticed by me. So I had actually not seen the ad at all. But it was a reader of this paper, Aditi Madan of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who, on Monday, gave me a heads-up about the Genesis Global School ad by mailing me an angry e-mail she had sent to the school’s principal Pramod Sharma, a man with a wet smile and, going by his mug shot in the ad, eyes that belonged to a person who always keeps a framed picture of Queen Victoria above his head and openly craves for knighthood, failing which a darshan of Prince Charles will do.
The main photograph with the ad shows a hyperactive kid holding a red ball in one hand and a broom-pretending-to-be-a-cricket bat in the other. Crouched behind her with a joyous smile is a sari-clad, rather attractive nose-jewelled Mumbaiya maid looking up proudly at the hyper-kinetic girl while the woman swabs the floor. Right on top the tag line reads: “Is Kantabai becoming your child’s guru?”
It took me a while to get what the Pramod Sharma-approved ad was saying. Along with more horrifying scenarios that include your child “learning your maid’s language” while “someone else’s child is learning a foreign language”, there is the downright terrifying prospect of your child stuck in “40 minutes of traffic for a 1-hour dance class” while someone else’s child has completed two 45 min sessions of golf and swimming”.
Now, I’m not going to be at all shocked if Genesis Global School is, in the last seven days, already full up with chubby children all being patted on their heads by Principal Sharma Esq. But what makes me want to hurl the choicest cuss words in demotic Sanskrit (after I’ve learnt them, that is) at him is that parents will rush to send their kids to Genesis Global. And this isn’t only because the school has a 23-acre centrally air-conditioned campus, ozonised air to improve air quality, Olympic size and toddler pools, horse riding and golf classes — I have no ideological problem with luxurious education — but mainly because their kids will then be quarantined from their ‘bai’s’ lifestyle.
In last week’s Outlook magazine, educationist Mary Roy wrote about the craze for English medium schools in Kerala that not only advertise “horse riding and ballet” but also parade its “Anglo-Indian teachers” in jeeps to advertise English learning as a lifestyle choice. All this makes me somewhat understand where the RSS with their ‘Hindu culture’ and Raj Thackeray with his ‘Marathi manoos’ are about — reacting to the peculiarly Indian shame of being ‘desi’.
I am the last person who has a problem with English medium primary education. I come from a state (West Bengal) where a generation was ‘kept in its place’ by English not being allowed to be taught in government schools until Class 6. What this accomplished was to simply widen the English vs non-English class divide to the point where people like me, fluent in English, were seen as being the only ones who can make the grade.
There is a kind of Indian who is perversely proud of speaking badly in their mother tongue — if they speak it at all. Barring the old democratisers of Hindi films and religion(s), for all the ra-ra talk about ‘inclusiveness’, a new generation of bai-phobic babalogs seem to be coming round the corner.