Being a non-native in your native land

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As a freelance voice-over artist with a distinct Indian-English accent I only look (but obviously!) for clients that are also specifically looking for an Indian/foreign accent and the demand is pretty disappointing when compared to the UK, the US and Australian accents. Freelance voice-over is still a niche market here. It doesn’t upset me that much to see online job pages full of voice-over work for other accents than to see an Indian client for the Indian market seeking a western voice!  Our fixation with west can get frustrating.

I have lived in the West and have never seen or heard a foreign (non-native) English voice for their local TV and radio programs unless it is a foreigner who is doing the talking!  It is understandable in countries like the UAE where the country has to cater to thousands of English-speaking expats who live there.

What’s wrong with our accent anyway that some of our very own prospective clients don’t want to give us work? Ok, we don’t sound ‘posh’ like the Brits and have many Westerners poking fun of our accent but that’s how we will be speaking all our lives.  Variety makes us distinct. Imagine all of us speaking alike, what good that will be? Imagine all birds tweeting alike! I live in an area where I am blessed to hear sounds made by different birds and I enjoy guessing the species of the bird by the sound it makes – sometimes it is a koel,  sometimes a parrot and sometimes even a peacock with that voice that deceives its graceful appearance and sometimes all these sounds just overlap! Now, imagine all of us speaking the same accent and having a similar intonation! The world will be a boring place.

And why just voice-overs, we are so fixated with everything West. Why do you want your ramp model wearing a heavy Indian costume for fashion shows that are showcased in India and are exclusively for Indian customers? How many times do you get to see a foreigner wearing a sari other than it is a celebrity attending an Indian function!

We are not a cosmopolitan country like the UK where you see people of many diversities living together – natives, hispanics, Asians, middle-eastern. It certainly makes sense to showcase global models for the fashion shows there.

Ours is an outright Indian market. And if we are so obsessed with the West let’s also pick up good things from them. Like the other day my beautician was telling me that instead of copying all the ‘special days’ like kiss day, flower day and even a slap day (I didn’t know there was a slap day!),lets pick up some civic sense too from them! Instead of just taking our streets and roads for granted and throwing about garbage just about anywhere lets also make an effort to throw it in the right place!

As much as I hate to write this, it does please me then when I see an out-of-the-blue Indian model on the cover of Gap. It is a rarity. And that unfortunately got popular for all the wrong reasons!  Maybe Gap had a reason to make a Sikh guy its model and it must have been indeed a big deal. They chose a very unconventional model belonging to a minority even in its own country of origin. You don’t have many turbaned-sikh models and actors in India too!

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Well, the only way I see the demand for Indian voice-overs and everything else that should be Indian atleast in India going up is when a foreign client pushes the demand for it. Why would they do that, you ask? I have no clue! But then we, well many of us and there is no denying that, ape them and it will certainly work!


where are the new ideas?

writers_block                                  (Image courtesy:

Although I have never submitted my work to online magazines (barring some for a few story competitions where the entry is free) I do make it a point to visit many such websites. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is the thought that I might submit my work to them in the near future. I even bookmark them and then rarely visit that site.

However, one site caught my attention recently and more for personal than literary reasons. Ironically, the homepage instead of having your usual articles or even a welcome page had a ‘au revoir’ message. The website was shutting down – technically, going from premium (paid) to free! Not that websites don’t shut down regularly (one of my favourite website has in the recent past and I do miss it) but the website owner of this site had given a low-down on why he (it could be a ‘she’ but I just imagined a man’s voice) was shutting it down. I expected him to talk about the usual financial reasons but no, it went beyond that. It had 3 main reasons and eerily, two of the three are the same reasons that dissuade me from writing or starting anything new online as much as I would like to. I could empathize with the author. We would have given each other a good company and discussed it over a nice bottle of wine. It somehow didn’t discourage me as much as it meant to but on the contrary stimulated me. It was as if I had seen a Tsunami closely and was happy to be alive and wanted to now make the most of my ephemeral life.  I don’t intend to shut down my website (metaphorically mentioning that is, not that I have a website but I believe that website was his dream to which he/she let it go) but would instead work harder.

One of the three reasons was the fact that how dangerous it had become these days to express your views on the Internet. I fear the same. I do remember how couple of years ago a girl who had merely pressed the ‘like’ button to a strong status message of a friend for being forthright on the Facebook about a local policy had her house broken in and was dragged to the police station along with that friend who wrote the status! She was not living in the middle east or any other conservative country but very much here  the largest democratic nation of the world! I do have few fearless people on my Facebook too who are so close to being termed as ‘communal’ but I fear liking or even commenting on any of their views would drag the police from somewhere to my house and that will be a traumatic experience. The very freedom of speech and expression that we should be enjoying in our democratic set up has been lost. Our celebrities have been retracting their views on Twitter for the fear of backlash by the trolls and by self-appointed moral police of the country. Imagine the plight of commoners then. Or maybe the commoners are better off as lesser number of people are reading their thoughts!

The final reason and the reason I could relate but not express well before was all summed up in this one..the author’s ‘esoteric reason’. He writes that he has been struggling with his writing and has nothing new to write. He asks, “is there something that can be written, which nobody knows already? ” I feel the same. And not just in the world of writing. Everywhere. You google just about anything and lo! it is there. You wonder if there is a YouTube channel that nobody else has thought of, and there it is.

But then why write something new then? We have seen and read them all yet we don’t mind the latest work. We don’t stop reading the latest books or watching latest movies. We enjoy them or even hate them yet we look forward to more. I met a friend recently and on this very topic he gave me a wonderful example. Both of us share a liking for health-related subject. He explained me by giving the example of  asanas (poses) of Yoga: they have remained the same through the centuries but you will find them in all kinds of packaging – some done by the babas, some by Hollywood and Bollywood actors and now even we have a soft-porn version by a wannabe Bollywood actress! It is the new packaging that piques your interest. You don’t stop making videos on yoga or stop writing about it just because it is not new. Rather, this is an ancient subject which is still churning new books and videos daily with some twist or the other. A head-stand will remain a head-stand but it could be the yoga teacher doing it by the beach or on the peak of a hill in Africa or it could be a little boy of seven doing it marvelously! Or may be the boy doing it with his pet animal (now that would create sensation on the Internet!)

Yes, so till you don’t have a ‘new’ idea germinating in your head which you are sure has not been done by anybody else on this planet (just don’t Google it!), why give up on something you like to do. Do it the way you want to do it and then move on to the next. Giving up is easy. Don’t.




Poly-lingual madness


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Being born and brought up in a country where not one but two or even three languages are spoken naturally gives you a supposedly head start in life, boosts memory power , increases job opportunities along with other benefits that researchers claim of.

However, I have always wondered if it is any good knowing more than one language.

I have three problems with being a tri-linguist: it corrupts your grammar ; you make a fool of yourself by doing literal translations especially of phrases and lastly which is most awkward of all is the decision you have to take as to use which language where and when.

So here I go at length starting with the last of my three problems:

1) The decision you have to take as to use which language where and when.

Now this can be tricky. In most private offices, banks and branded places, it is an unspoken rule that you converse in English. It is a sign of being well-read. Especially if you have to go to your children’s school to attend a meeting, etc

However this very unspoken rule puts me (and maybe many like me) in dilemma.

A few days ago I happened to receive a call from an uncle whom I hadn’t spoken to in many years. He was looking for my father and got hold of my number. Now, an ‘everyday’ uncle would have causally started talking in Hindi.  This wasn’t the case here. After the exchange of pleasantries in English (which was sounding way too formal anyway!) I changed the language to Hindi without sounding abrupt and in the middle of it I realised I should speak in Punjabi to match his Punjabi accent and I don’t know how or when it went back to English in the end. This was a complete scramble of all the languages I have known and by the end of the call I wondered what was wrong with me!

The above was however a one-off  experience in personal life.

It is a different thing in public sphere especially when you have to go to offices to get ‘your work done’. For example if you go to a private bank where you are expected to speak in English with the bank agents, you would realise  immediately that you are sounding overtly formal which is not helping you solve your case and you are better off speaking in Hindi. And from the crisp, formal, serious English you smoothly glide onto  casual, friendly Hindi which to a foreign ear can sound downright hilarious.

One would wonder then why don’t we  start our conversation in Hindi and save the hassle of making a switch from one language to the other. Why initiate the conversation in English at all? Now, if that ever happens it would mean two things: you can’t speak English despite looking the ‘type’ who can speak English and you are way too chilled out (which doesn’t go down well with these bankers and other officers). The transformation from one language to the other has to be smooth and done at the right time…so you start off with English here and at the right time (depending on the kind of person you are interacting with) move over to Hindi and if you realise that the officer you are talking to is from the same region as yours you can then further change the language to regional!  Also, the higher the ranking officer you meet (which is nearly impossible as these corporate ‘babus’ are so untouchable) the language remains more formal which means … yes, English.

2) Grammar

My stand to have just one language is simply to attain perfection. After all, just doing one thing daily brings you an inch closer to perfection. In our case we are far from it and I blame our bilingual/tri-lingual tongue. We are mediocre in all our languages. In our English-speaking schools and colleges, Hindi is taught insipidly. Now wonder, we can say our abc’s better than k, kh, gs.

To make things worse we have added Hindi conjunctions and interjections in our English sentences besides nouns .  One of the two most over-rated two-letter Hindi word Na makes me cross. I told you na, Do it na, See na. The word Na in Hindi simply is to put emphasis on the statement. I see no use of it in Hindi too. So hearing it also in English is annoying, na? The second word is Ki. I told you ki she is coming, He said ki he won’t come. Here ki means ‘that’ in Hindi and I have no idea why can’t people say that for that in English. They say it so frequently ki my ears hurt!

And finally, 3) the literal translations.

I remember telling a Scottish colleague of mine in the UK long time ago that he must be upset as I was ‘standing on his head’! Now, I could see that it made no sense to him. It is a common expression in Hindi. The phrase ‘standing on someones head’ means bothering somebody by being around them whereas in English it means you can do something easily! What a contrast! And no wonder he looked flummoxed and expressed surprise when I said so. And the second one which I use for my daughter at times is “don’t eat my head” to which a non-Hindi speaker will not be able to fathom. Translations of phrases are a bad idea and should not be attempted at all but it comes naturally for speakers of more than one language.

So yes, the quest of achieving perfection in a language especially in a country like ours which has hundreds of languages is far from being achieved. And asking users to exclusively speak just one language at a given time seems impossible now. Maybe someday people like me would get familiar with this fusion of languages just as we have accepted using parsley and thyme in our Indian cooking.


The image on top is of a ‘cool cow’  or a ‘cool guy’. The Hindi word for  a cow is a gaay which as you can now tell is a homophone . Hinglish at its best! 🙂