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The Monster Anglopolis: The English Language in India

From Planet 216

Sunandan Roy Chowdhury decries the dominance of the English language over Indian culture, thought, identity and material development.

The waters of the Arabian Sea wash the walls of Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing Arts – India’s premier venue for theatre and performances, located in posh downtown Bombay, as Mumbai was known in the days of British Raj and in the early decades of independent India. It is mid November and I am there with a writer friend from Slovenia to attend the Mumbai Literature Festival. The festival has brought together an impressive show of writers from India and abroad. As I walk around the designer campus of the NCPA, I notice theatre posters, about a dozen of them, announcing forthcoming shows – the shows and their posters, all in English. This, in a city where people speak more than a dozen languages and which has strong modern tradition of theatre, at least in Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi. However, Mumbai almost never hosts theatre in a language other than in English.

Shall we call this irony? Should we feel dismayed? Be as it may, that is the nature of the beast I call Anglopolis, a city spread across much of what used to be British India. It is present as much in affluent pockets of Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and other Indian towns and cities, as in Pakistani Karachi and Sri Lanka’s Colombo. The festival we attend in Mumbai brings alive the work of important writers and thinkers from India – all of whom write and speak in English. India’s languages – twenty-four of them officially recognised by the Indian academy of letters, at least twelve with a strong publishing market – are completely absent in this top Indian literature festival. Do we call these festivals Indian? They are festivals of the Indian city of Anglopolis.



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