Saturday, August 11, 2007

I'll See Your "Like, Like, Like" And Raise You A "Ruh-lly Na"

I think I may have finally discovered the Indian equivalent of Valley Girl-speak. For those unfamiliar with this most delicious of American pop-culture phenomena, here's a veritable dissertation on the matter (is there anything Wiki won't think of!)

You see, Channel V India decided to go all Tyra on our asses and come up with "India's next hottest face" (ha ha, no shit dude - a most unfortunate use of "hottest"). The problems with the show are myriad - primarily the fact that it doesn't benefit from an Indian Janice Dickinson-like diva or a ghar-k-murghi version of Tyra to spice things up (speaking of Tyra, the woman is not at all photogenic, because she's actually stunningly beautiful in person).

What fascinates me though is the way the girls on the show speak. It is a highly affected sing-song accent, interjected with the occasional Hindi word like na and achchha and marked by an excessive use of really, pronounced "ruh-lly". I've heard a fairly watered down version of this by girls in some of the more snotty public schools and colleges in Delhi (mostly South Delhi), but this just takes the douchebaggery to another level.

There are a few incidents that immediately spring to mind when I hear this accent, and one of them has little to do with the matter of accents per se, but when has that stopped me from rambling away and telling you a good story.

Once upon a time, I was invited to the apartment of two Indian students for a party. One of the boys, a bona fide South Bombay type had a lot of his South Bombay friends who were based in LA turn up for the party. The other boy had invited me and many others, including one Jat boy from the deepest badlands of Haryana (a character if there ever is one).

So we all liquored up, danced and chatted away, and were generally having a good time (some were having an even better time, and a few couples who had hooked up at the party were using the two bedrooms for some heavy petting action). I was hanging out with my friend Gerry when suddenly I heard a loud commotion and saw Jat boy make a mad dash for the door, followed by South Bombay boy threatening to kill him and a couple of other boys as well. I went outside and saw that the chase was unsuccessful - Jat boy was way too fast for them and almost jumped out of the second floor stairwell on the road and then drove away.

When I went back in the apartment, I saw a girl sobbing away being consoled by her friends and a guy I presumed was her boyfriend. The host was livid and no one seemed to be in a mood to explain things. I was sleeping over (because my ride home was too drunk to drive) so later at night I asked the host what happened. He said that the Jat boy had molested the girl and hence everyone had been so outraged. I was disappointed to hear that as I knew Jat boy well, and wacky though he was, I couldn't imagine him molesting someone.

The next day I met Jat boy and demanded he explain his side of the story to me. This is what he told me and I believe him because the man's never lied about even the shittiest, craziest stuff he's done.

Apparently it all started when the designated DJ started playing the song "Lady Marmalade" and the refrain "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)" came up. Now Jat boy had a habit of singing along with songs and soon enough he kept repeating the line over and over. A girl was standing next to him while her boyfriend chatted with a friend a few feet away. This conversation ensued.

Jat boy: Do you know what this line means?

Girl: Will you sleep with me tonight. But I would never sleep with someone like you.

Jat boy: Why? It seems that you might.

At this point, girl got livid and slapped Jat boy hard across the face. Jat boy, reeling from the stinging blow planted a retaliatory slap on her cheek. This got her sobbing, caught her boyfriend's attention who promptly started issuing dire threats to Jat boy and the rest is history.

Now the only reason why this finds mention in a post about Indian accents is because I could clearly see that the South Bombay boys and girls were repulsed by Jat boy's thick Haryanvi drawl. It was almost as if the boy had confirmed their worst stereotypes about him and about those that spoke in that fashion through this incident. The host was furious and the matter of the Jat boy's background had come up repeatedly. The contempt was palpable.

Ironically, Jat boy grew up in an affluent Delhi neighbourhood and had all the right credentials to belong to the very classist Indian clique of the right school, right college and right residence. But for some reason (mostly stubborn pride I think) he had retained aspects of a rustic accent and could break out into full-on dialect when speaking with a fellow Haryanvi. He was eccentric but academically bright, however, this never seemed to register with the Indians who met him because they just couldn't get beyond his Jat-ness and that drawl. It's all very snotty and presumptious, but that's what the accent and class dynamics in India are.

So am I allowed to revel in my schadenfreude that when these Made in India Valley Girls (and Boys) arrive in Los Angeles, they discover to their horror that most non-South Asians cannot distinguish between an upper class posh Indian public school accent and an accent heavily tinged with the flavour of whatever regional language a person grew up speaking. Unless it's an anglophile Indian with a cultivated English accent in which case they'd be asked repeatedly if they grew up in England. But the class connotations of any specific accent vanish overnight, and everyone starts with a clean slate.

Which means that you - born in a fancy house in South Bombay or South Delhi, who went to an expensive public school that Daddy ponied up for, got into an uppity college and condescended all who spoke without your accent or in any language other than English - you, in the eyes of the average Joe are nothing but a brown FOB. And so am I (and I have none of the advantages of your upbringing). And unlike Euro-FOBs (including the Eurotrash among them), a brown FOB isn't very coveted. Apart from the odd yoga and Indian food junkie, I haven't seen too many people express a desire for Indian men and women, unlike say East Asian women or Italian men.

How very sad. Remind me to go Nelson Muntz on the next posher(poser) than thou girl I see in India who thinks she's the shit because she speaks with a public school accent and ruh-lly ruh-lly rolls her ruh-llys. Ha Ha!!

12 Comments:

Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

I am loving it.

Some of the people I work with so need it. They are a sub-species, the ones from the backwoods who want to be cool and end up with slipping Yank accents.

10:52 PM  
Blogger MISSquoted** said...

ruh-lly? ruh-lly ruh-lly noone desires us indian brown FOBs??

eeeeeep.

ps- FOB? never heard of that one? means?

12:52 AM  
Anonymous varun said...

Well I had to comment on this. I grew up in South Delhi and went to a DPS. DPS is very hilarious in this respect because we had people who couldn't speak english properly and kids who couldn't speak hindi without some sort of an english accent, but more of the former kind. Then when we got to 11th all the kids from Doon, Mayo, and Christian schools of Delhi like CJM came. For them we were another breed, who somehow got rich ("our parents must have been some sort of crooks who were obviusly not educated") and could live in south delhi, but had no manners or right christian values. These students always belonged more in the erstwhile presidency cities of calcutta and bombay or maybe abroad.

1:19 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Arthur - the put on Yank accents are really funny because the speaker does not have a clue that he/she does not sound even remotely American. I've never met a person who was raised in India and managed to pull off a credible accent from any region of America.

Missquoted - sad, sad but oh so true. East Asians are way ahead in the game (only the women though).

It's not that we are undesirable, it's just that few consider us generally desirable as a group(as opposed to liking an individual Indian man or woman). That's actually not such a bad thing, I usually run in the opposite direction when I hear - "I love Indian culture!".

Varun, I totally identify with this. I went to a public school in Delhi where kids were far more comfortable conversing in Hindi rather than English.

I had also worked for a year at Springdales DK, which is a fairly moneybags school and the kids refused to speak amongst themselves in English, despite the teachers admonishing them to do so.

And then in the US I met so many upper class kids from Bombay who had grown up speaking only English in school as well as home and condescended to Hindi speaking peeps, calling them "vernies".

How obnoxious that they would imply that the DPS kids' parents were crooks - what a bunch of douchy assholes!

6:37 PM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Get Gorgeous is so so so bad. And its on TV all the bloody time. Eeks.

Hahaha. You're right on abt easta sian women. I don't understand exactly what makes them so desirable???
Indian women - always hear the very standard "They have such beautiful eyes" line.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Horn Please!! said...

You are spot on with the accents that belong to the other side of the tracks stuff. I woke up when I moved from Delhi to join the Merchant Navy and very very soon discovered that proficiency in matters professional did not in any way whatsoever depend on syntax grammar or accent. The rest was history.

But believe me, the lot that left India in the 60s and 70s and even 80s, and then found that somebody from Delhi-6 was their boss, they could never reconcile to this.

Well written.

Now tell me, do you see how it rubs off on their ABCDs?

11:10 PM  
Blogger ggop said...

Very good observations! I can understand slowing down while talking to Americans to avoid "Say that again" repeatedly but the accent bit makes me laugh a lot too.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Gammafunction said...

A very interesting post.Reminds me of the time when I stepped into college in Bangalore and they naturally assumed that I would not be able to speak English (coming from Jharkhand no less) whereas the reality is that beyond a certain number of basic sentences most Bangaloreans have extremely limited vocabs and are oblivious to that fact.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Point very well taken. Great post. This is not natural only to South Bombay though (infact, may I say, they are slightly better off). Heh, I once used to be called a vern. In Calcutta. Coming from tiny town, to big school in Calcutta....

Ah well, and the only species who ever thought my accent has an iota of a problem, as my experiences with the rest of the world came to confirm, are those prim-and-propah kinds.

And yes you are right about Jat guy... some people refuse to change their accents. Pride, vanity being the criminals in this case. I know.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Rahul said...

Do I detect a little bit of reverse snobbery here???

The attitude you pointed out stinks, but so does some of the reverse snobbery and self righteousness that I have seen among some of our "self-appointed" intellectual class which I have often seen. (I mean, yes, some people use a lot of grammatically wrong english with one or two words of Hindi as you said, and yeah some of them roll up their eyes and say ruhh-lly or whatever...so? dosen't give the other half of humanity the right to look down their noses at them......

It's like the English...through their history they have always gone to war against continental countries like France or Germany who at different times have had the gall to declare that they were the ideal or most perfect people..and inspite of these wars the English themselves never stated who the ideal race really is.....

So at the end of the day, let's just stop judging people, specially on such superficial things as accents etc.....

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