Let me flashback to my days of primary school(circa 1975). As was common those days the medium of instruction in my school was Marathi (my mother tongue). We barely had started having English as just another subject. Once, our Mathematics teacher had given us a massive homework to complete during mid-year vacation. After solving those sums, I wanted to compare my notes with someone’s. I borrowed notebook from my friend Raj, who was known to be very organized with his school material and was studious as well. While turning pages and comparing the details, I noticed that he had written “MT” in large letters at many places. I asked him what that was. He said that since he did the sums not in the order as they were expected, he had to leave spaces for solution and wherever space was not used fully, he wanted to indicate that the space left was inconsequential and did not mean an incomplete work. That was smart of him doing it in those younger days! When I asked him what the word “MT” stood for, he explained, “Don’t we call a bus “MT” when there is no one in it. It’s that.” Since I had not heard MT even in that context, I nodded my head and stopped probing. Many years later it occurred to me that he had thought the word “empty” was actually spelt “MT”.
Such is a cultural impact of English language on Indian languages is that people use many words so commonly without even knowing their spellings or many times without even knowing that they were English words. For example, I had learnt quite late that pamphlet word was not an Indian language word but an English one. This reminds me about a similar sounding word. We use Indian language words when we talk about fishes and I had thought that “poplet” was one of those words, eventually to realize that it was a distorted form of pomfret.
Another interesting dimension in India is that the people who do not know English well they often think that the others are snobs and that they use English words to show off that they are well bred. I had this interesting experience during my very first job as a teacher in an engineering college. I had led an industrial visit tour for our final year students. We had hired a minibus along with a driver. We communicated with the driver, naturally, in our local language. At one destination, we had reached early in the morning after an overnight travel. It was dark still and there were no streetlights either. I wanted a flashlight to look around, so I asked the driver if he had a torch (In India it is commonly called by the British English word). Somehow, he did not happen to know that word, so I asked him if he had a ‘battery’ (that is a colloquial synonym to torch in India and seems to be obviously wrong). He nodded in affirmation and went back to the vehicle to get it. While handing over the ‘battery’ to me he said that I shouldn’t be using English words such as torch, when we had our own Indian word ‘battery’.” I kept staring at him with awe. I was wondering how more puzzled he would have been if I had used the actual word for torch in Marathi, विजेरी (vijeri), which is hurriedly assembled alternative by linguists than something that came through generations.