I say ‘thank you’ frequently enough to make politeness part of my disposition but the words, most times, mean little. They burst out involuntarily like a sneeze.
In Goa, where I live now, I hear few locals say thank you. Not because they aren’t polite, but because they have another phrase in the local language that is more expressive than thank you.
‘Dev borem korum,’ they say. ‘May god do you good.’
God can have a wide reference range as we all know and almost always in the form of a male figure. Those defining the range chose to substitute sensitive intelligence with ignorance; it’s easier after all.
For the godless, a suitable adaptation of the phrase can be, ‘May I do you good.’ Upon reflection, it may help us all to choose the adaptation: an increased sense of responsibility for our actions can only do us all good.
Reminding ourselves that a good turn must be reciprocated is a step towards gratitude, a nourishing and desirable quality in humans. Yet we insist on thank you!
We perceive ourselves as more adequate when we speak the English language and the world perceives us as more literate when we can string together letters in the English alphabet to create words that may be far from their phonetic origin.
While attempting to teach Alvith, a twelve year old boy, the English alphabet, phonemes, and sound blending, I begin to consider this previously unconsidered bias. Trading expressive phrases in regional languages for transactional words in English pushes us towards mediocrity and dominance. We lose something deeply human when the words we choose to speak don’t express a mind state or a heart beat.
Words contain the strength to carry us. They shape our perspective and embellish our interactions with each other and with our surroundings. Dev borem korum, moves me from politeness to goodwill, where I am bringing to mind the other person’s benefit and treating their good turn as a gift by sharing my best wishes in return.
Late Modern English, the language as we know it today, is a creation of Colonialism—Of Invasion and Industry. It’s not a language built on community, shared realities, common interests, and therefore falls short of phrases and words that have evolved from a need to transfer goodwill; offering good reason to retain regional languages anchored in communities.
Alvith had been pulled out of a regional language residential or boarding school by his parents. His mother, a full-time, live-in caretaker for an elderly citizen moved homes to find a decent job and lacked the wherewithal to manage school admissions in Goa, India. With an alcoholic father who could not be relied on and a working mother, who lived in a different home, Alvith was left to care for himself—from house chores to cooking, he did his best to do it all. And now he was living someone else’s dream wanting to study in a school where the language of instruction was English. Alvith was finding it hard to recognise English letters and to blend o and n, and he had two months to prepare for sixth-grade admissions.
It felt cruel to put Alvith through the self-doubt and mortification, only so that he can get an education that is considered adequate. This is a common reality for many children in India. And it is the substitution of education for learning.
The loss of diversity in the medium of instruction is the loss of depth in learning—through language we retain culture, tradition, and experiential learning that is shared with future generations. To restore this diversity is to restore a decentralised, non-urbanised economy, where communities thrive and support individual development and where every neighbourhood and village is an almost complete, self-sufficient ecosystem. Where Alvith can learn in a language he is born into, and where we see that the beauty of the rainbow is in all its colours, the melody of sound is in all languages, and the teaching of our elders is in phrases that connect us to each other and to all that unifies our world.
Mog Asum—May love remain!
Neha, so true!A person is complete if he is allowed to flower where he has his roots.This obsession with English ofter gives an inferiority complex to those who miss out on the opportunity to get adequate exposure.