The French have always been crazy, as anyone who reads Asterix comics will know. Now they are intensifying their campaign in globalizing India to attract more Indians towards the French language. Within the next 10-15 years, more Indians will be familiar with French than the entire population of France. Imagine Julius Caesar of Asterix comics and Thomas Babington Macaulay, founder of our English babudom, sitting at a table and downing champagne in despair. JRD Tata and Indira Gandhi, both fluent in French, would chuckle.
The onslaught is being provoked by Alliance Francaise, the French cultural centre, in Mumbai. The super-improved version of its monthly magazine, Impressions, has two articles in Marathi. One headline says: “Have you thought of teaching English in France?” It has photos of Indian youngsters singing French songs. It is also offering space for classified ads. It has announced that Le Cordon Bleu institute plans to open a culinary school in Mumbai. Earlier, Impressions was merely a calendar of monthly events at the Alliance. It was not a magazine for reading in trains and planes, as it now will be.
French activism will provoke other embassies to intensify their efforts. The American embassy does have Span in English, Hindi and Urdu. But they are like missionary tracts designed by some humourless bureaucrat in the US state department. Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Spaniards and others will also issue magazines with features written in their languages as well as in Indian ones. These will tie up with colleges and the mushrooming private language coaching classes, especially in Mumbai, for translation work and articles in foreign and Indian languages. Language will be Big Business.
Impressions is attracting many Indian and foreign brand advertisers. Other embassy magazines will also benefit with multinational advertising. Then, more and better-paid writers and photographers will be attracted to contribute to them. The classified ads in the magazines will start with job offers for translators and interpreters, and will diversify into other areas, especially matrimonials. The Indo-global genetic mix will produce weird combinations of names such as Domingo Mhatre, Gayatri Zedong, Vaishnavi Hugo, Sunita Mitterand, Satish Herzog, Emeline Thakur, Mrinalini Hayakawa, Gayatri Rafsanjani, Omkar Wilde, and so on. One can anticipate, for a change, mothers-in-law suffering nervous breakdowns.
The Indian media will want a share of the language business. Newspapers and magazines will carry pages in French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Farsi, or whatever. They will attract foreign company ads as well as classifieds from across the world. There will be incentives to attract readers, such as “Subscribe for one year and get Der Spiegel (or Paris Match) free”. Over the next few years, Mumbai’s suburban train travellers will be seen reading the French page of a Marathi newspaper, German page of a Hindi paper, Spanish page of a Tamil paper, and so on. Mumbai’s tapori train language, which currently combines English and Indian languages, will expand to accommodate foreign languages. India, especially Mumbai, will be the centre of a continuously evolving global language.
Television, too, will go global. One can expect Indian TV media to have separate channels in foreign languages and tie-ups with foreign TV channels. There will be disputes in homes, with one child wanting to watch the French channel, another, Spanish and the mother insisting on German. The father will go to a bar and vent his frustration with Chinese and Malayalam obscenities.
The publishing industry will transform. Foreign publishers will rush to sell books in India. Indian publishers will go global, selling books written by Indians in foreign languages. One can anticipate Indians occasionally winning literary prizes in China, Iran, Germany, Argentina and other countries. It is possible the Indian literary class will be as snooty as French intellectuals used to be.
India is also opening up as a global job market. Those talented foreign youngsters aspiring for a job in India will take Indian language courses in their countries. London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Nairobi, Hanoi, etc., will have coaching classes in Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, and so on. Since the competition will be tough, new teaching techniques will evolve as youngsters aspire to emulate Sir Richard Burton and Vinoba Bhave, who knew an awesome number of languages and had developed unique ways of learning them fast. One can expect global Burton-Bhave Language Learning (BBLL) standards.
If Indian MNCs become parochial and choose only multilingual Indian executives for their enterprises abroad, they may provoke Swadeshi movements against Indian imperialism, and demands that local jobs must be given to local people. It’s time Indian corporates start planning long-term about the language business and its social, political and economic consequences.
Some 20 years hence, the world may blame Mumbai’s Alliance Francaise for launching the Indian linguistic expansionism. But the Alliance will be busy singing French songs and organising parties, as in Asterix and the Banquet, where the food served is of Le Cordon Bleu specifications. I’ve told the Alliance people that I want to write for Impressions. In French, of course. I don’t know French but, with the BBLL process, I can learn it quickly.
Dilip Raote is a Mumbai-based writer. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org