Revisiting English literature: A Forgotten Love Affair


Languages bear artillery of influences—they may comfort, stir, and immiserate, build perceptions, fortify beliefs, demolish conventions, entertain and educate. They can provide escape velocity to a whole new space or isolate and even cause the whole world come crashing down to the confines of one’s mental doldrums.

Books, for most part are the windows to the arena of languages. They posit questions and attempt to provide answers. They devour attention, energy, brain cells and time. Wonderful as books are, they demand certain things. Sometimes, they can overwhelm and often they can enhance certain cerebral exactions. But as the saying goes, they are like training weights of the mind.

In India, according to India Book Market Report by Nielsen, the market for books is likely to expand by 19% by 2020. The book market has already assumed tumescent proportions at an estimated $3.9bn, with an addition of nearly 90k new titles annually. English dominates the book sales with 55 per cent.

Why English? Well for starters, English offers a beautiful intersectionality with life, love and literature as different axes. A hallowed triptych of the writer, the reader and the thinker (sometimes overlapping)! There is romance of French, euphonious musicality of Italian, artistry of Arabic but it is English that adorns an undeniable and unparalleled ubiquity.

From the time of its introduction and proliferation under the ‘sun’ of British Empire, English has nurtured a smorgasbord of nuances, sensitivities, tastes and flavors through its delicacies of prosody and appetizing palate of poesy.

India enjoys a small but considerable population of English speakers, writers and learners. The distribution is fairly pan-country, unperturbed with geographical strictures, something the vernacular literature often bemoans. However, in the new age world of globalised networking, Twitter and Netflix, a large section of this urbane or even aspirationally urbane English-speaking population is dependent and addicted to a quite unhealthy diet of ‘sitcom’ or ‘fast food’ language. Littered with poor grammatical construction, absurd acronyms and immense vocabulary of profanities, expletives and derision, the content doesn’t even warrant the discussion in the same discourse. The gargantuan socio-culturo-economic upheavals at the turn of the Millennium ushered in an era where waves of globalization washed the celebrated and exotic shores of Indian call centers, IT industry etc. The last two decades also witnessed a whirlwind vortex of numerous Indian English writers, bloggers and commentators.

Owning to greater accessibility, higher social currency and even brighter global market prospects, English is ruling the roost in terms of quantity of speakers but getting roasted (no pun intended) in term of quality of speech.

English, in absence on any definitive and uncontestable dictionary, has almost limitless lexicon. It has twice as many words as any other language owing to the fact that no one possibly limit it a finite number, no one knows the exact count.

Notwithstanding that the change has happened through consensus and by Neronian decrees. To put it simply, I can mould the course of language, however insignificant, as much as a sixth grader or a Newspaper cruciverbalist or even an Oxford PhD holder. The only warrant for such motion is efficiency rather than proficiency. The qualifications required to invent a new word in English does not even require ample understanding of its syntax, grammar or rules. English is patently more democratic than meritocratic in its present form.

There are still many ghost stories and myths surrounding the language like its proximity to Latin, a language with which it does not have all that much in common grammatically. The fact is there are no inviolable commandments anymore. No central authority to debate on acceptability norms for words or even new fangled constructions like Académie française or the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung. English has been responsive to the needs of its speakers and at no period in its history it has enjoyed as diverse a base and popularity than it does right now.

The emergence of English as a Lingua Franca means that the landscape of communication has overcome the earlier haughtiness and class conscious nature of the language. Obviously it still suffers from several redundancies like letter ‘b’ in words like ‘debt’ and ‘doubt’ or ‘g’ in naughty etc. Nevertheless, the evolution is certainly fast afoot. English speakers of the Victorian era would surely balk and cringe at use of AWOL and ASAP and possibly mourn the butchered state of ‘articles-use’ but the natural growth and change of the language has brought a characteristic of egalitarianism. Trying to enforce any sort of acquiescence or complete quiescence has proven to be impossible, even though it is often lamented in the age of online trolling and twitter abuse.

The fact that anyone from the Queen to a pauper can make it their own, bereft restrictions of yore, adds to the versatility and democratic vitality of English. At Its best it empowers any speaker with an arsenal of expressions and device to proclaim their own share of softer sovereignty.

We don’t love our family just because they’re beautiful or fashion savvy and malleable to certain social norms or online trends, we love them because we are one with them in the whole picture. Our love for language also stems from that oneness with it. What makes one fall in love with a language is not essentially contingent on the eloquence of its puns and befuddling variety of phrases imbued within it. It is the sense of ownership or a claim to call it your own. English has travelled through time, distance and change to infuse the same sense of home for peoples in India as much in Iceland or Brazil. Contiguously, it has evolved and acquired distinctive and diverse accents, lexicons. The process has extruded an experience of a fulfilling enigma, a voyage to different worlds and an exercise in exploring one’s own mindspace. Notwithstanding any of it, it has succeeded in retaining its tradition of history and tendency to amalgamate.

Today, the same history of praxis is confronting a serious threat of obsolescence. The priority at large is fixated on producing the prototypical professional with excellent verbal and written competencies.  The content requirements have the pincers latched on the fulcrum of the email and report writing. As exhausting as it is, it certainly leaves morsel quanta of vital intellect and intrigue for scholastic and ratiocinative ambitions or simple pleasures of a Shakespearean Hamlet or Wordsworthian Lucy Gray. The dropping of expedient guillotine on English studies, the stymieing of the discipline as a whole is robbing the youthful ebullience of many a curios mind and consequently causing to erosion of collective epistemologies of several academic disciplines and sciences. Within the remit of its powers English literature has its own battles to contest between contemporary/ modern form and its erstwhile but timeless classic wealth. For some critics classical literature has lost its relevance both in terms of its topical plotlines, content, devices and even vocabulary. Modern literature is more relatable for readers and serves up a more current, snazzy and zestful experience especially for young minds. However, the likes of ‘The Odyssey’, ‘Julius Caesar’,’ The Scarlett Letter’ or ‘Tale of Two Cities’ etc still inspire curious sparks and elicit emotional upheavals in readers, a testament to their timeless magnificence and innate understanding of human realities. The likes of ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter’ series have still to measure up to the scales of age and time. From their historical significance to their refined and elevated language, the classics are inextricably entrenched in the tapestry of the spectacle of English literary-verse. Of course the ideal is an espousal of balance and equilibrium between the two.

English as a discipline has thrived when married with a purposive reflection kindled in cornucopia of disciplines, subject matter and lanes of investigation. Unreservedly, the mill of synergistic creation of knowledge has enabled English to take on motley of roles and develop fardel of tempers and engender a richer vocabulary of emotions. Independent India chose to upset the trend set by other new born nations and go for the more arduous but enriching route of celebrated literature. The language of the erstwhile colonizers became a pursuit to find a new form of national enterprise and individual identities.

“English” bears plethoric subject connotations, from literary criticism, disinterring English literature to inoculation of effectual communication skills. With the advent of 20th Century and the academic sea changes like Post-structuralism and Post-modernism as a literature discipline, English has suffered scrutiny of distinct and uniquely divergent lenses. With literary theory of Post-modernist approach, the discipline saw a challenge to the extant systems and canonical arguments.  The feminist critique and queer studies, political and media theories, biocentric analyses etc have brought a greater degree of democratization, representation and decentralization.

The syncretism provided through translations from hitherto insulated vernacular and endemic literature catalyzed influx of rich Indian classical literature. The transition was not instant and required neutralizing considerable refractory sentiment.

In its current state, English studies spills over beyond just literary entrenchment and subsumes broader research in humanities. It is safe to say that the chasm between the sheer volume of curricula at school and collegiate levels is massive and still widening. With the preponderance of English as the language of instruction and intellectual tradition in India, English must bridge this rift.

Consequently, there exist a need to emancipate the mindset of basic language skills and reintroduce English as a gateway for diverse knowledge acquisition and subsequent use. The galvanized microcosm of the cognitive ability of a physicist, the curious acumen of a social scientist and the imagination of a poet can only manifest the possibilities of matching the likes of Einstein, Nietsczhe and Shakespeare, if not even surpass them. Even analyzing seemingly inert and passive data requires an active entanglement of fascination, truth seeking and leaps of faith.  English, as a study discipline has periodically being introduced to several distant and virgin knowledge systems. It has traversed topographical contours of numerous diverse studies. However, this interaction is slowly losing momentum today and with it the skill of deconstructing polysemic complexities and acquiring intensive comprehension of cultural significance. The love for the language can arrest such adverse regression

Historically, India has adopted the language as its own vehicle for diverse ends from scholarly critique to social transformation. Introduced as part of The Imperial Civilizing Apparatus, English was widely and extensively leveraged for inciting designs of nationhood and fostering democratic principles.  The same can be precipitated even today. Arguably, a mass education programme can ensure a finer life of dignified emancipation for millions wallowing in the weary internment of poverty and social exclusion.

The irony of the original aim behind the herald of English language and the subsequent role in rallying nationalistic forces against it is a valuable lesson that can be replicated to write a contemporary code of social inclusion.

Revisiting the swathes of classical literature will help herald a new beginning of intellectual culture. We can prefigure that there will be struggles, many will falter at times but the course of great accomplishments requires the hardest of challenges. In the end, English, with its exorbitant trove of stories of triumphs and disasters will add more light to our increasingly scuppered thoughts and help deal with those two impostors with equanimity. Hopefully it can empower the floundering souls to disengage with the surrender to baser, immediate and fugacious fruits of salaried employment and develop a greater emotional and cognitive response to the World around them and life imbuing it.

The aim of the entire practice of inculcating the skill for English language is to transcend the demands of professional industries or mere communication prerequisites. It must evolve into a process of engagement with multitude of cultures, beliefs, idioms and even possibilities. It must suffer from the rigors of insatiable enquiry and needs of an inquisitive churn inside the reader, listener and the hand with the quill… Delve In your story or be inspired by someone else’s!

Zeeshan  Ali has studied Journalism and  Engineering. Through is education and experience he has developed passionate interest in Sports, Science, Literature and Theology. He values honesty and sincerity in any piece of work either his or otherwise.



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