“You don’t speak with a typical Indian accent.”
“I don’t?” (What did you expect? Apu from the Simpsons?)
“Were you educated in India? Did you go to a special school or something?
I swear I’m descended from a thousand generations of Indians, and I was born and brought up in India. No, I did not go to a “special school”, just a normal high school (though it did have too many rich kids in it, who perhaps needed some help).
These are real conversations I’ve had with people here in the States. They gasp when they discover that I say “Thank you VEry much for the WAter.” I’ve been really hard pressed to convince them that India is a large and diverse land, and there isn’t one single “Indian accent.” Each region has its own distinct, captivating and always amusing accent. Just like America has a Southern, South Western, West Coast, Mid West, Hispanic, East Coast, Boston, New England or other accents, we have our own Punj, Tam, Mallu, Telugu, Kannadiga, Marathi, UPite, Bihari, Bengali, North Eastern, Gujju or any other variation of English.
The poor hapless Bengali has to grapple with the fact that B, V and W are three distinct and independent sounds, and not just one. The woeful Mallu’s fate has been wonderfully captured here. My grandfather, an erudite TamBrahm if there ever was one (I just wanted to use the word erudite before I died, no hidden agenda here), dictated his letters to me when his eyesight was failing. He spoke in the Queen’s English, albeit better than any queen of England could have, and tormented me (at the ripe young age of twelve) with words like “claustrophobia” and “sovereign” which I tried to split and spell, and failed miserably. He was particular with YEvery word and knew YEvery thing from Yay to Yezed. WOnly WOnce did I manage a flawless copy. On a score of Sero to ten, my spelling abilities still remain close to Sero.
There are the distinct accents that separate a Mumbaiya from a Bangalorean, and a Delhiite from a proud citizen of Chennai. My wife left the north years ago, yet her (flawless) English still reveals her proud UP upbringing. Then there is the oft quoted joke about the Gujju family who called some friends over for tea, and terrorized them by declaring that the “Snakes were in the hole” (Snacks were in the hall. Sic.)
There are also shared Indianisms, such as not being clear with the v’s and w’s, forced American accents, and a tendency to stress on the second syllable of words (not very common in English), a trend typical in most Indic languages. So attempts to say can’t with an American accent fail miserably, and diarrhea (dI-&-'rE-&) becomes di-yea-‘rE, or just die-reaa. Easier to stick to the old fashioned “runs.”
But I can with certainty tell people that we are not all like Apu, and yes, we each speak English our own way. And we are proud of it.
Post script: Men and the art of Hara-Kiri
(I removed this postscript)