ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Would Caliban Have Renounced English after Prospero Had Left?

The belief that English is a “foreign” language, throttling India’s native languages, is dated and parochial.

Attending conferences on the preservation of indigenous languages in India always brings about ambivalent feelings in me. I often find a speaker charging at English-speaking Indians as traitors to their mother tongue. In the dark recesses of my mind, there is a lurking guilt in response to such speeches which imply that service to the mother tongue can only be done by abjuring the use of English. It appears as if English is a redundant colonial leftover, the only villain throttling native languages one after another. As an English teacher in India, I have often felt as if I too have betrayed my mother tongue. I could have bypassed the guilt by convincing myself that I am professionally bound to teach English. But there’s more to it. I feel passionate while teaching the works of authors prescribed in my English syllabi. I am reminded of Caliban—a character in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest—who was taught English by his colonial master Prospero. Am I a Caliban who continues to speak English even after Prospero is gone?

I was born and raised in Rourkela, a small and cosy industrial city in Odisha. Odisha is named after the Odra tribe, and the current territory of Odisha was assimilated by the regions sharing a common tongue, Odia—my mother tongue. For the last two decades, Odisha has been governed by a chief minister who is more comfortable in English than Odia. He occasionally speaks in Odia in public events, albeit with a thick English accent. The people of Odisha, proud of their language, do not seem to mind a chief minister who does not speak fluent Odia.

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Updated On : 28th May, 2022
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