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Who inspired Indians' love for English?

India owes its fascination with English to the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, a new book on the growth of Indian-English reveals.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2007 12:18 IST

India owes its fascination with English to the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom churned out letters, essays and books in simple, lucid English, a new book on the growth of Indian-English reveals.

"Not only did Indians learn a lot of their English from Nehru and Gandhi, they also used ... their own version of the language to join in the national discourse... The use of English by these two intellectual giants triggered an avalanche of interest in the language," author-journalist Binoo K John says in Entry Through Backside Only: Hazar Fundas of Indian-English, to be published this week by Penguin India.

"During the freedom movement and after there was a deluge of pamphlets, monographs critical theories and books in Indian-English on the same subjects that Nehru and Gandhi dealt with. Hordes of writers summoned the spirit of Gandhi and Nehru... while writing books in English," adds John.

There was this yearning among those not talented enough in English to adopt the language of communication of Nehru, India's first prime minister, and Gandhi, called the Father of the Nation, the author says, quoting from a slew of unheard of books written in what is now called Indian-English.

"How you won the brilliance of world fame, how you endured the most arduous forms of tasks, how you let not evil fortune fall upon us, how we failed to find a better stronghold or fortress. Your charming presence! How can we help but love our Mother India," is a typical Indian-English quote from a book of hymns in praise of Nehru.

In turn hilarious and scholarly, the book looks at the evolution of English in India, through journalism, starting from Hicky's Gazette, India's first newspaper published in 1780, down to pamphlets and books and classifieds on marriage Web sites.

The Indian fascination with writing letters, petitions and admonitions in English instead of in regional languages has resulted in the evolution of a new phraseology which would make little sense to a user of English in the US or the UK but easily passes muster in India.

The popular Indian admonition "Entry through backside only", which actually reads like a "come-hither line to gays", can be seen painted on shop doors and shutters and even on the offices of cabinet ministers and the prime minister in Parliament.

The seeds of English's popularity was, of course, laid by the Raj. As early as the 19th century, people were writing letters to the editor of The Times of India pleading for the establishment of a Society for Speaking English.

The Indian middle class also warmly embraced English because it has become a social marker and English has become the "Mercedes in the porch of the arriviste", the book says.

The book also quotes the well-known letter written by a Bengali gentleman in 1909 to the Railways which resulted in Indian Railways introducing toilets in trains.

"Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on platform..."