March of the Evil Empires!
English versus the feudal languages!!
VED from VICTORIA INSTITUTIONS
First drafted in 1989. First online edition around 2000
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!
Part 2 - Delineation of a feudal language nation
11. The concept of politeness
There is difference in what is considered as good and polite manners and behaviour in Indian languages and that in English. In the former, polite expressions of behaviour essentially means using the correct suffix or prefix of ‘respect’ towards elders and seniors, and using respectful terms of address of reference towards them, accepting in mentality one’s own position, without disagreement, as expressed by the language; standing up in the presence of elders, displaying humility by such expression as namaskaram etc.
In English, polite behaviour has no reference to any of the above. Here, it essentially means using polite expressions such as please, sorry, thank you, pardon, excuse me and such other words and a polite tone. It naturally includes such behavioural code such as forming a queue where there is more than one person standing for a thing etc. This type of politeness has no place in the Indian vernacular. And possibly, they would be understood as negative attributes, which restrain a man from acting forcefully to dominate and manipulate a situation.
Though the Indian social communication is intimately connected to the concept of respect and disdain; the principle of ‘Give respect and take respect’ doesn’t work here. Here, respect is to be given to the superior and once that is established, the discerned superior cannot communicate with respect to the inferior. So, to assure respect is returned one should not show too much respect. This in the Indian context means, one’s behaviour should be offensive and rude, and one should put on a mask of un-approachability and superiority. For, in most cases, if one uses the word higher indicant words to another person, and also use such words as Chettan, Annan (elder brother), Chechhi (elder sister), then what you would get in return is the lower indicant words. For, once you acknowledge another as a respectful superior, then it is only natural that he treats you as an inferior.
The effect of this understanding is manifold and is of striking proportions. With so much poverty and distress in the country, one would wonder why no one is bothered, and does not go near the poor to help them. One gets a feeling that in spite of all claims to spiritualism, Indians are at heart very selfish, and brutish. One of the main reasons, why persons do not want to mingle with the downtrodden is the factor of being brought into the lower indicant levels by the underdog crowd.
If someone goes to help them without a proper, and very obvious, protective cloak of superior status, and position, the underdog will use the most lowest indicant words to address the helping hand. The lower group of people are used to crude language, and generally they know only to acknowledge, and respect power and not compassion. If a young woman goes to a poor elderly woman in distress, she would be addressed first with some usage meaning ‘my child’ or so; then with it, and within no time the whole package of lower indicant words for You, She, Her, Hers etc. would come out. In other words, this helping of a person in distress would only lower a person who is not properly attired with a superior position. It may be mentioned here in passing that if the same is done by an acknowledged superior person, then she would be Ma, Amma, Mother, Aunty, Chechhi etc. and there would only be a progressive rise in her level of indicants. So charitable actions in India can have a very non-tangible selfish ulterior motive.
Here a very striking thing about well-known English behaviour may be discussed to show the sharp contrast it has to popular Indian behaviour. The English are known for their stiff upper-lip type of behaviour. It is generally said by persons from the outside nations that the English Show of Welcome to guests is cold, and that it lacks the effusive cordiality and warmth, that is a hallmark of Indian (and Asian) welcome to guests and visitors. Even the English would be very trilled to experience the exhibition of honour and courtesy, and an attitude of spare no expense to them when they come visiting an Indian household or such other setting.
The actuality needs to be dissected and examined. In any Indian house or organisation, any outsider who comes with some level of superiority to be attributed to them would be given the higher indicants. Then the whole psychological atmosphere is one of respect and honour. To the acknowledged superior, nothing is beyond limits. Yet, the guest of honour is under a scanner. As time moves, each and every attribute of the person is absorbed with the smallest of details. Each and every point is compared with the local conditions, and persons. Slowly the grand standing of the guest comes down.
To put it in so many words, the grand levels of honour and respect given to the guest is not an enduring one. It is an event of passing glory. The guest should move out and be gone before his or her standing changes. Usually the guests do that.
Compare this with an English situation. The guests are not shown such effusive welcome and honour that is so abnormal. The English welcome is not comparable with the Indian honourable welcome. The English welcome is one of friendliness. The other is of keeping one on an unstable pedestal, and is not of enduring stability. And is necessarily fussy.
Though it is true that visitors who overstay are generally a bit of a nuisance, the Chinese philosopher Confucius’s comment that Both fish and guests stink after three days, is possibly more based on Chinese language situation.
The effusive warmth of an Asian (feudal language) hospitality is actually a tool of conquest. Japan used it fabulously to befool the US officials immediately after the losing in the Second World War. Using this tool, they more or less conquered a major part of the US economy.
The Metamorphosis of Respect
In India, one would concede a very glowing respect when one makes a first time acquaintance with a man whose attributes are not fully known, yet seems to be above the servant class. However this state is not a state of equilibrium. It is actually in a state of dynamic equilibrium. For, with the continuation of interaction, the level of respect will either go up or down. If the person says that his job is something like a Professor or teacher or landowner etc. then the indicant word would go to the higher level.
At the same time, if the conversation had given information that the stranger is a worker, or private employee or some other person, with not much of an address of a landowner, or government official, the indicant words would go down.
The change in indicant words is sudden and abrupt. Most of the time, this does not cause much problem, as the person concerned may be mentally adapted to the level of indicants. In many cases, people do not go into social interaction with unknown persons, without a halo of some prominent address or recommendation or introduction. However in the absence of these things, real social and psychological problems can arise. For, without the protection of the halo of some superior attribute, one is at the mercy of the other person. The other man’s each and every use of indicant word would affect the way the immediate society would react to him and places him.
In many cases, persons do concede higher indicant words when they want something like a favour from another person. They shower him with exquisite higher indicant words. Then, the natural physical postures that go along with the higher indicant words also keep him at a pedestal. Yet, this type of language usage is a typical hallmark of the so-called oriental treachery. For, the admiration, reverence and deference that was extended would be purely superficial and a deceit. This tendency is actually an undercurrent of Indian social understanding. For, everybody knows that one is entitled to respect, honour and social precedence, only so long as one can show one’s power and prestige.
Hence, there is a mad scramble for achieving levels which one is not morally, ethically or even intellectually entitled to. This can explain the tendency for corruption in Indian bureaucracy. For everyone knows that honour in the Indian language comes not from honourable deeds or honouring of one’s word or commitment or from a higher level of scholarship and learning.
If one is fabulously rich and affluent, then the honour comes in the language. If one is not rich but decent, then the indicant words used are of the lower level. For, no one gives higher indicant words for the decent. Even if one does give it, it is not a stable situation. The others in the society would not agree to this conceding of higher indicant words.
Everyone knows that India is full of towering personalities. Many would come with ji’s as a suffix to their names, some with Ettan, some with Chechhi, some with Annan, some with Periyavar, some with Amma, and so many other suffixes. These persons who are having a holy halo around them are treated with an unnatural level of reverence, which is not natural in the English world. The degree of reverence goes up in an exponential manner, as more you extend reverence, the more higher he goes up. Ultimately he becomes a sort of all-knowing, all-solution-in-hand-but-you-are-not-fit-to-be-told sort of entity. Around him exists an immense sea of individuals who bask in the understanding that they are not fit to be equated with the hallowed, towering personality.
Manipulation of superiors
Now how do the subordinates react to the suppressing by language? They indulge in manipulation of the superiors. It is a sly game. Their aim is to create dissension among the superiors. Actually, in such things as politics, where designations are not permanent, it is mighty easy. Here everyone is wary of another person’s position in comparison to one’s own.
Suppose there are two senior persons who are friends and equal. One is made the leader of the whole party. The other concedes to remain the second. However this is a very vulnerable post. For the rest of the followers after some time would start showing marked servitude and respect to the leader and try to impress on the second, that he is a subordinate and maybe equal to the rest. In the vernacular, it is very easy to make a person understand that he is above or below another person, by just referring to both using different levels of He, Him, His or You. This becomes more painful when both the earlier friends are together, and the leader slowly starts dissociating himself from his earlier friend and starts to feel that he is above the other.
Now what would the other person do? He would himself start acquiring his own followers who would offer him servitude, and then would start engaging in manipulation of the other’s group. ‘Groupism’, or factionalism, becomes rife. Each group is like a pyramid. Inside each group also, there would be sub-groups, which compete with each other. The same phenomena just repeating downward. It is a sign of democracy getting afflicted with a disease. It a disease created by the feudal language ambience.
It can be understood better, if I compare the whole set-up with an English scenario. When Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of Britain, she would be addressed as either, Mrs. Thatcher, or some other formal term, by her subordinates. Or if someone were having an informal friendship with her, she would be addressed by her maiden name.
In India, in the case of a similar leader, he or she would never be addressed by name. It is either Saar, or Maadam or Maadamji, Memsaahib or with a ji suffixed to her name or with some other feudal title. In South Indian languages, even the words like She, He etc. would be replaced by these words. Under this leader would come a group of people. Each one of these persons would find security only if there is a sizeable group of persons, who would perform the same type of obsequious poses. If someone does not do it, then that person cannot be a lower level member of that group. Anybody who has a follower is a leader. Here the follower means a person who by instinctive inclination does homage to the person. Usually the followers stick-on, not on the basis of any ideological affinity. The main motivation is the chance to hold some office under some leader, with who they can be at feudal intimacy. Though they exhibit servitude to their leader, they are not unhappy. For, then they can easily build their own followers.
The instinctive aloofness
It is not to be understood that the feudalism in the language is of advantage to the upper persons. No, it is not. Both the persons in the higher echelon as well as those in the lower echelon suffer from the negativity it brings into their midst.
The total amount of negativity it brings into the society is not measurable, and its finer affects are not possible to quantify here. For the effort required would be a gigantic one. Yet, we may try to peep at a few of them.
One of the major negative effects this language has on society is the division of social beings into hierarchical levels, each living in abject fear of going down to social levels below them. The fear is of a lower-level person getting into casual, respect-less, intimacy. So the upper-placed person is always at pain to display his various positive traits, like good family connections, financial stability, and high-class connections. He has to continuously display a recurring code of aloofness from a lower-placed guy who would like to get into a communication of equality. For, each level of equality would place a person in a specific level.
Generally, people display a studied, well-practised and deliberate capacity to ignore people who do not belong in their social level. In fact, all human beings, including native-English people, would practise the art of looking-through others of the lower category who have risen above the rest, in a social ambience of feudal languages. Now to put it frankly, these traits are seen in all societies, where there is an infection of feudal languages. However the one seen in a feudal one is certainly special. It is not possible for me to explain this further, than to say that the effort as well as the impact of this performance is entirely different from that in the English world.
Another thing is that persons who are in the senior levels of a career or society find it difficult to imbibe new information or knowledge, if the same is disseminated by a person who is of the lower indicant level, including in age. It may shock many Native English speakers to know that in India, there are many private firms, which have computers, yet the bosses do not know how to use them. These computers are in the possession of the lower staff, who do the letter typing, page layout etc. It is impossible for many bosses to sit with their lower staff and either learn the working or to even sit with them and input his ideas to the lower staff, on a regular basis.
NOTE added on the 24th of May 2016: Please note that the above paragraph was written more than 15 years back.
The lack of courtesy in social scenes in India
This attitude is not one confined to the youngsters. Many groups of people do use the offensive, rude, overbearing, intolerant and pretentious busyness as a means of overriding the suppressive social atmosphere. Take the case of the private bus-staff of India. They are generally rude to local Indians, who come with faceless identity. However to the person who comes with a halo of social or official position, they are highly accommodative.
The police and other department personnel connected with private bus-service, behave in a very rude and disdainful manner to the private bus staff. However, the bus-staff (most of them) take it in their stride, as one of the hazards of the job. In Malayalam, the police and other personnel use the lower or lowest indicant words to the private bus conductors, drivers, and the other staff. There is no doubt that these persons are mentally affected by the enduring understanding that they are at the beck-and-call of the lower government officials.
This creates in them a mentality to show their own version of superiority and control over other people. The only persons at hand are the bus passengers. On all persons, who cannot retort, they take it out. To the old women who are late in disembarking, to the students who scramble to get inside, to the persons who are a little slow in getting down, and even to the persons who are climbing inside, they use forceful and rude dialogues. However to the decently dressed, (meaning: people with means), they are generally courteous. To the cheaply dressed and the obviously of lower financial class, they can be very, very rude. At times, it is the opposite.
Actually, what I have written is markedly opposite to the picture of India that is being painted in propaganda literature and Travel & Tourism articles. But the reality remains that Indians are very rude to Indians, who do not come from the higher indicant group.