Cerebral Shangrila

Monday, October 30, 2006

Twist of fate - The language issue

Idealism makes wonderful theory ; pragmatism is how the world works. Jerry Rao (Founder of Mphasis Software and currently VP,EDS) writes a wonderful article on why English language might be the best ticket to employment for the millions of jobless striving to find employment in the services sector.

He writes in the Indian Express, " The familiar adage is that there are many Indias. Given our ancient Indic obsession with pairs of opposites, our academic and popular journals are full of bi-polar descriptions. Rich vs. poor, rural vs. urban, Bangalore’s silicon plateau vs. Bihar’s badlands, Gurgaon’s sleek shopping malls (islands of consumerism) vs. Vidarbha’s crop-less farms (islands of death), soaring stock markets vs. barefoot children, spiralling real estate values vs. horror-stricken slums, new-found materialism vs. eternal spiritual values... the list goes on.

I’d like to make my wise sage-like contribution to this litany. We have two labour markets. One where wages increase at double digit rates, where mobility is the name of the game (if you don’t switch jobs every year there is something wrong with you), where resumes gain in value each month, where placement agencies make a fortune. The other where joblessness is an endless fate, where years of despair pass you by as you keep waiting for a job that never turns up and you fill your life with inane activity, not with fruitful employment, an environment where real incomes shrink, savings erode and where you are left as a mere spectator watching the ‘other’ India pass you by.

There is only one differentiator between the two worlds: knowledge of English or lack thereof. You may have flunked high school, but if your English is passable, you are on to the ladder of upward mobility. You may have a master’s degree or even a doctorate, but if your English is poor or non-existent you are for all practical purposes excluded from the ‘shining’ India. Even more than engineering degrees or MBAs, the English language is the great divider.

And all of us know this in our heart of hearts. Pandit Nehru’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended English medium schools, as do those of most leaders. Vociferous adherents of Hindutva and Marxutva are great patrons of the much maligned missionary schools and foreign institutions when it comes to their own children. Where is the elementary justice, let alone the logic of arguing that English is good for ‘our’ children but not good enough for the children of ‘others’ — for the children of our servants and our ever-present poor. Everyone gets it; the poor get it, their children get it and yet we carry on with this charade that what is obvious to all is not the basis of public policy. "


  • interesting read..while i agree that english is a big factor in employment and upward mobility these days..it is certainly not the largest divider of the shining vs. the fading..learning english may get u job (not even necessarily a good one) but it wont keep you there..vocational training and access to the same is critical.

    By Blogger Abhishek Chatterjee, at 11:19 AM  

  • Interesting. Jerry sounds as though fluency in English is the ultimate necessity for decent salary and everything else is secondary. May be he is right to an extent in his industry which is Call center/BPO but definitely U needs lots of other vocational and knowledge related skill sets which are more vital in geting a decent job and package

    By Blogger RK, at 2:42 PM  

  • While its the only factor, there is no denial about the importance of it in the services sector.

    The fundamental questions, why should be force myopic ideas on people.Its hypocritical to think that something good for me cannot be good for others.

    By Blogger Cogito, at 3:56 PM  

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