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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Whose grammar is it, anyway?

It never hurts to learn the right usage of words, and this is why.

columns Updated: Jan 27, 2019 11:07 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
A Calmer You,Sonal Kalra,Sunday Column
Whether it is English or Hindi or any other language, it never hurts to learn a new word or the right usage of something.

“Aunty, you should write on the elections, this week,” said Bansuri. I rolled my eyes so hard that I feared for a moment that my eyeballs would stay stuck up there. “The newspaper is so full of election-related stuff these days that even if I murder you for calling me aunty, it won’t get me more than three lines on page 15 of the paper,” I growled, cursing myself silently for allowing entry to Chaddha ji’s offspring in my home. Yes, if this scenario seems familiar, that’s because I have written about this episode with Bansuri in the past. It all came back to me today as I came across this interesting Twitter handle @TheLinguist5, that corrects the grammar of tweets flying all over, especially as the atmosphere on social media gets hotter. You’ll see the context a little ahead into this piece. First, let me finish recalling Bansuri’s rant.

“Then write on the India-Pakistan war,” she said.

“Which war?” I asked. “The one starring Fawad Khan,” she replied. #facepalm, I began to wonder why Bansuri Chaddha, of all the people, is taking so much interest in my column. And scared as hell that she may end up reading it someday.

“Anyways, I had come to tell you that whenever Salman Khan comes to your office for Stars in the City event, I’d try to be there. Aapko toh vaise bhi log chahiye hote honge seats bharne ke liye,” she said. “Oh, so kind of you. You can, in fact, easily fill 2-3 seats,” I replied, shaking my head at my own loss of manners.

“How mean! Chalo aap kuchh bhi likh lo. Who reads your column anyways?” she countered. “It’s anyway, not anyways,” I said, desperately trying to change the topic. “No ways. Papa always says ‘anyways’ and he’s always right,” she retorted.

“Thank you. I got the topic,” I said, and got up to show her the door. And while this was then, seeing social media handles such as The Linguist make an attempt to point out language errors gives me, too, an opportunity to repeat my point.

Bansuri and her dad are among the one billion out of 1.2 billion people in India who say ‘anyways’, when the correct usage is ‘anyway’. Now I, for one, have the least right to be uptight about grammar, because I often make mistakes owing to lack of knowledge, or carelessness. Also, I stopped judging people on their spellings, commas or pronunciation in grade four in school, when I got bullied for pronouncing ‘AC 2-tier’ as ‘AC 2-tyre’ while reading a chapter on Indian Railways. I hated the bullying then, I would hate it now. But what it didn’t do is make me unduly defensive of a mistake and not being open to correcting it. And hence the point I’m making this week.

Whether it is English or Hindi or any other language, it never hurts to learn a new word or the right usage of something. But, at times, we are so not willing to admit to an error just because we see the majority making it. I remember attending a school’s Republic Day function as a guest a couple of years ago. When it was time to sing the National Anthem, some kids made the very common mistake of singing the line ‘Gaahe ‘tav’ jaye gatha’ as ‘Gaahe ‘sab’ jaye gatha’. I pointed it to a teacher standing nearby when the anthem ended, only to hear her say, “Really? We’ll have to check it out. ‘Sab’ jaye gaatha makes more means ‘everyone should sing together.” I was so alarmed at this defence that I left a possible debate with her to Rabindranath Tagore’s soul, which must have been jolted in heaven.

READ | A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: No, your parents’ house is NOT your house

I feel like talking about a few other very common, but incorrect, usage of terms that a majority of us indulge in. I do know, however, that some grandson or granddaughter of Wren & Martin will get down to finding grammar mistakes in this write-up itself. Anyway, nikaal lo galti. Hum Indian hain, humko kis ka darr hai. Yeh lo examples...

1. Off late: There seems to be a mysterious quota of extra letters (not alphabets, please!!) that God of English seems to have reserved for Indians, and we liberally download from it. So, an extra ‘f’, when the correct usage is ‘Of late’ comes from the same place the extra ‘s’ in anyways comes from. Usage: Kejriwal has not been wearing a muffler of late (not off late), because he couldn’t hear whether people want him to contest or protest. See, Bansuri, I wrote on elections!

2. ‘Be rest’ assured: Now, you can’t be rested and assured in a single phrase. Because we are wrongly using two verbs. But, you’ve always heard people say it this way, haven’t you? Example (imaginary, don’t troll me please): Sushma Swaraj told Arun Jaitley, “Whether BJP gets votes or not, rest assured (not be rest assured) that we will go and have the best chholey-kulchey in Amritsar.”

3. I’m here ‘only’: See, if you are here, where else could you be? Unless you have some strange spiritual powers that your limbs could be elsewhere while the rest of you are here, WHY DO YOU SAY ‘ONLY’? But we do. In a very, ‘hum toh aise hi hain, kar lo jo karna hai’ way, we continue to add words and alphabets (I mean, letters) wherever we wish. Example: Sonia: “Where is Manmohan ji? I haven’t heard his voice in months.” Rahul: “Mom, turn around. He’s here, accidentally.” (not he’s here only).

4. Taken for granted: ‘Mujhe taken for granted mat liya karo’ — say half of all the wives in India to half of all the husbands in the country. And vice versa. Now listen, Einsteins of Hinglish like myself. You can’t say ‘taken’ and ‘lena’ both in a phrase because they mean the same thing. So while ‘don’t take me for granted’ is fine, ‘taken for granted lena’ is not. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not.

See how useful this week’s rerun has been? I even gave examples. Bansuri is still not likely to get the point. So, for her and thanks to wikiHow, I reproduce a 4-step practical guide to help you stop saying ‘anyways’, if you do.

Step 1: Practice saying ‘anyway’ several times a day. Repeat: “I’m an idiot, but I want to meet Salman Khan, anyway”. “I never read a newspaper, but I give suggestions for column topics, anyway.” “I’m 25-years-old, now. I’ll continue to address every woman as aunty, anyway”

Step 2: Practice pronouncing “anyway” one syllable at a time. First syllable is “en”. Second syllable is “ee”. Third syllable is “way”. And that’s how many there are.

Step 3: Say it together “en ee way”, and close your mouth immediately, so you cannot make the “z” sound.

Step 4: Look in the mirror as you practice saying “anyway”. Make sure your lips don’t roll to form a “z” sound at the end. If you mess up, don’t lose heart. Just practice some more.

Sonal Kalra is worried that Bansuri will sulk for at least two months after this column, and might start taking lessons from @TheLinguist5. But, isn’t that good news, anyways? Mail her at sonal.kalra@ or Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: Jan 27, 2019 11:07 IST