This is What They Said

“Damn that Autocorrect!”

I have, I must confess, used more colourful language than that when the autocorrect function on my mobile has transformed what I want to say into something else. We get so worked up when our words get distorted. But we do not always necessarily accord the same importance (and frustration) when the words of those we work with get changed in our writings. Strange, isn’t it?

“It’s ok. You can change these few words. Basically, this is what she meant.”
“It means the same. But this sounds better.”
“We are just summarising what they said. We are not changing it.”

I have agreed to some of these. Or rather allowed myself to let it go. But it isn’t right.

What children and people say matter. How they say it matters too. It may not always fit the neat ‘quotable quotes’ boxes that we want in our publications and websites. But if we want to come closer to our aims of being authentic and participatory, we have to let go of our urge to make what others say ‘presentable’. Each comment – whether considered clear or chaotic – is moulded by the unique experiences of that individual and articulated with that cadence of voice that only he/she possesses. Reflecting that voice, however it may sound, makes our collective work and the stories we tell about it real and impactful.

Maybe, even as we wage our bigger battles, we need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of these crucial fights too!

When Imperfect is Perfect

I grew up in northern India among Hindi speaking people. In school, I spoke English. Bangla – my mother tongue – was used primarily within the family. Not surprisingly, my Bangla had a generous sprinkling of Hindi and English words. When corrected, I would smile and say that it reflected national integration! Of course, this did not always go down well with the extended family and acquaintances. As I grew older, I learnt to keep my mouth shut during annual visits to relatives and others living in West Bengal. Over the years as I spent more time in the state, my Bangla did improve. But I was always marked as an outsider the minute I spoke. Then I went to Little Andaman and felt perfectly at home!

I had gone on an assignment to capture stories of participation and impact for a project on tsunami affected children. The project was implemented by Prayas in Little Andaman, one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was supported by Terre des hommes Foundation. Bengalis and Tamilians made up the bulk of the population. There was another distinct group that originally came from the Bihar-Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh-Chhatisgarh belt and were known locally as the Ranchi community.The island was also home to the Nicobaris who mingled with outsiders on their own terms.I will write more about them another time!

The Bengalis had arrived either from West Bengal or Bangladesh over several decades. The islands were now their home and I even saw two Bengalis squabbling over whose island was better! But it was their language that fascinated me. Their Bangla was unique. It was colourful. It had its own rhythm. It reflected who they were and who they lived with. It was not always grammatically correct and the people I met didn’t really care about that. And I fitted right in. Continue reading