Language and Logic on NDTV

The station’s flagship programme “The Buck Stops Here” chaired by star anchor Barkha Dutt last week featured a discussion purporting to highlight the double standards of the BJP. The party had taken Minister Jairam Ramesh to task for saying, during a public speech on the subject of development, that toilets were more “pavitra” than “mandirs”. To most people this translates as “mandirs are holier than toilets”, but to Barkha Dutt this meant “more important”.

Some time later Shri Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, also speaking on the subject of development, had said “build yourself a toilet before building a temple”. Barka Dutt found it strange that Shri Modi had not been criticized by the BJP, and all participants from “secular” parties agreed with her. When it was pointed out to her that Shri Modi had meant “more important”, she replied “To me it’s the same thing.”

To help younger readers understand the difference, I will point to the problems our own ancestors faced during their early days in the wake of their migration to this country. Those who elected to stay in the country on completion of their indenture contract gradually moved out of the “camps” and bought themselves small plots of land with their savings. They would usually build themselves a small wooden structure supported by a low stone wall on three sides with a sloping thatched roof on top for a house and also arrange a small prayer station in their yard, usually dedicated to God Hanuman. For toilet purposes they would use the surrounding bushes of which there were plenty in those days.

Going to “maidan” with a lota of water was a common sight, as was, for instance, the use of the “datwan” or “datoon” for cleaning one’s teeth in the morning – all practices brought from rural India where they came from. There still were a lot of straw-covered houses or huts right up to 1960 when Cyclone Carol came and blew most of them away. Since that time all new constructions have been in solid concrete. By this time bushes had also become scarce for “maidan” purposes, and toilets were built along with the houses. Initially they were a small hut separate from the main building; this was the phase when the toilet had to take precedence, in terms of timing, over the prayer site. My generation finds nothing wrong with Shri Modi’s rendering of the matter, either in intent or in choice of words. It does show however that the development of rural India is lagging behind that of rural Mauritius by a few generations.

We would not wish to question Minister Ramesh’s intent but we do find his choice of words most objectionable. Had he chosen to refer to the prayer site of another religion in a similar manner, there probably would have been little left of him shortly after for funeral rites.

Leaving aside the stench of NDTV’s politics (this term their choice), there is another important reason why youngsters who are still learning English should not watch NDTV. Their programmes are replete with mispronunciations. Children should not have to go to dictionaries for correct pronunciations of English words; besides they wouldn’t know if a word was being mispronounced or not. They should acquire the the correct pronunciations from their teachers and from their environment generally. This includes Radio and TV stations. Children should not be allowed to listen to stations which have no respect for correct pronunciation.

At NDTV even the anchors mispronounce simple words like “refer” and “deter”, rhyming them with “offer” which has its stress on the first syllable. In “refer” and “deter” the stress is on the second syllable; and in adding “ing” and “ed” to them while writing, the “r” has to be doubled. This is not the case for “offer”.

Even the ‘great’ Barkha Dutt cannot get words like “continuity” and “contiguity” right, rhyming them regularly with “equity” and “ubiquity”.

If you want your child to speak English correctly, be careful with the stations they watch.


* Published in print edition on 11 October 2013

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