India has a number of regional languages and dialects – but English is not one of them, even though India has one of the highest number of English-speaking people in the world.
That’s not a bad thing though. What is sad is how people who do not speak English are often made to feel less smart or knowledgeable by others whose only achievement is that they speak the language better.
The irony and hypocrisy is not lost on Diksha Bijlani, who performed a spoken word piece at the Spoken Fest. Organised by Kommune, the Spoken Fest event saw the coming together of some of the best slam poets in India at Mumbai in October 2017.
The video of Diksha’s performance was released by Kommune on Sunday, and her poem, ‘Translated Disney’, touches upon a number of issues relating to the colonial hangover which manifests in our obsession with English.
She starts by talking about how she grew up watching Disney shows like Hannah Montana and Lizzie Mcguire in a language other than in which they were originally made. She talks about how identities change with translation and mentions the example of the Harry Potter character Moaning Myrtle being dubbed 'Mayoos Meena' in the Hindi versions and how, when she watched the shows in English, the characters seemed like different people.
Diksha then talks about the mortification of her mother, one of the smartest women she knows. She discusses how the lack of proficiency in English inhibits her mother when they are outside or she wants to type a comment on Facebook.
Speaking about colonialism, and our habit of making people who do not speak English feel like second-class citizens, Disksha’s powerful piece is spot on in calling out the hypocrisy with which we treat our own. She also speaks sublimely of white privilege and how the language makes the speaker privileged because it has come from the white man. She also touches upon how the West, which has been the root cause for many of the social evils in developing countries like ours, has shirked its responsibility in addressing these.
Her most powerful lines come at the end:
“Maybe 50 years later our kids will ask us, “Mom how do white people make themselves look so big we all look small? How do they do it?” And we will tell them, “Kid, first you burn the whole world down, bring it to its knees. Then pretend to put out the flames, make fire extinguishing a profession. They’ll call you prince, and they’ll never remember, who lit the fire.”
Watch the full video here.