The FoU meet, and some negative thoughts about elitism, particularly English elitism

November 24, 2006

Have been travelling so much that I still haven’t got my house (literally) in order, or the pictures on to Flickr to post about the JLR Bird Survey or the wonderful trip to Dandeli…. but meanwhile, I attended the second Silk-List meeting yesterday. I met some very interesting people….and I always like meeting new people, and this time it was truly a pleasure to meet , finally, after a long period of LJ contact.  And contrary to what said,in our discussion about what "home" means (that kept straying to what "friends" mean) my experience of meeting people whom I have got to know over email, chat, or LJ is...that they are almost exactly what I expect.  Casey O' was a real pleasure getting to know you too!

I was, however, less than delighted with the venue, “Fireflies”,sorry, ! The property is very beautiful and green, with birds like the rose-ringed parakeets, bee-eaters, barbets and kingfishers in evidence,  and the architect who designed the buildings has done a great job. It is, apparently, a secular ashram; but if they ARE renting it out to people, the standard of service and the food should have been vastly better than what it was. And it was NOT nice of the owners to  let loose--without warning-- two very large and one smaller dog in the guest areas, which then stayed with us ALL the time,  without bothering to find out if the guests might be allergic to,  dislike, or fear dogs, all of which are common occurrences. (Luckily, all of us  who were there yesterday liked dogs.)

Then there was the local who came into the property shortly after our arrival, told that he (Udhay) had run over his pigeon, and demanded Rs 2500 as compensation. Udhay's fluent Kannada and his general stance of " I will not take crapola from you" made sure that the guy went off quietly, but it was not good that the management at the resort allowed this guy to come in and make this scene. It seems to me as if this is a regular happening and perhaps more peaceable guests might be fleeced.

I must also mention that I lost two five-hundred rupee notes out of my handbag; on two occasions, the room in which we all had our stuff was unlocked, and when I saw my handbag had been shifted, I didn’t think anything of it until I opened it this morning to take some money out….I had taken the notes from the bank just before driving down, so there is no possibility of a mistake. That sets my opinion about Fireflies….a secular ashram where the inmates “revere the Earth as the first mother” (to quote their brochure) is not so hot in reality.

But then, the company was good (though I had to leave after the discussion on the topic of “Home” was done with), and it was nice to sit and engage in that most beloved of wild animals, the Great Himalayan Yak! We all yakked and it is so nice to listen to what others have to say, and air one’s own opinions too, and be listened to in turn!

I would be less than honest, however, if I did not confide that there was a sense of elitism that subtly pervaded the air….as I have said often, I am uncomfortable when anyone feels superior for any reason, be it intelligence, wealth, good looks, or social status–or knowledge of a language, which I refer to below. I think a superiority complex is an inferiority complex in disguise. But oh well, I don’t get bothered by this….I really enjoyed meeting people face-to-face, and I also think that probably the more intense discussions would have taken place after my departure.

Another strong impression I have had ( at several meetings, not just of Silk, but also, at, for example, Ranga Shankara, or Alliance, and so on ) was of the importance of  fluency in  English, knowing all the “buzz-phrases”….and making all the “with-it” hand-gestures that go with those expressions. I saw these being used all the time,  in the films made by two anthropologists that we watched, about the IT culture in India (well, it was about 3 companies in Bangalore), shot by two anthropologists, of which there are a fair number on the Silk list. I was wondering how people who do not have such a command over English manage…do they pick up all the jargon and the “cool” gestures as they go along? I feel that if one uses these, one can give the impression of erudition without necessarily having it….maybe I am being cynical, but certainly, a very intelligent  but not-knowing-English and less-than-highly-articulate person would have felt a little out of place at  a gathering like yesterday’s …and the loss would have been ours, because we would not have heard some insights that would have been no less interesting for being “not in English”.While I strongly support English as a great link language, I feel we are falling ever deeper into the trap of “English elitism”, with the assumption that the person who is fluent in English and articulate  is somehow superior to the one who isn’t.