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January, 2008

Sketch and Travel

Totally Buzzed
IN doesn't want it, otherwise, I assure you...
By  Buzz Burza

Whether we like it or not, good or bad, the Enghlish language is forever changing.
Oh, listen...

Welcome to the first entry of The INdia Buzz, yours truly's own, as they say crassly, column. You may have caught a few of my reports from New Delhi in IN's news section the past seven months.

In The Buzz, expect less reportage and more reflection, less facts and more frivolity, in issuing musings on what it does, indeed, actually mean to live the life of a freelance (or otherwise) writer (in my case, in Delhi and sometimes Gwalior, by default). One of those compelled to write professionally (or otherwise).

Of course I want the inaugural one to be striking, memorable, amusing, informative, in your face. And I lucked right out. The very country that houses the IN offices, and where I bled, sweated and cried for years, provides the fabulous fodder. To wit...

“F**k enters the Canadian Press wordlist.”

Thusly bellows this headline, straight into my gracefully aging Yank mug.

It's on the cover of the current edition of Today, a daily Delhi English tabloid I read only because it is available gratis at the library of the India International Centre and has colour pics of American and Indian glitterati.

After four years of publication it remains stuck at 16 skimpy pages, and is distributed mainly through the huckstering of hoards of imploring urchins who besiege hapless motorists at countless stoplights.

Having been Circulation Director of a couple quite successful and powerful, as it turns out, North American publications, I consider this to be, at best, an overly aggressive and ineffective way of building readership.

Also, being a print junkie of the first magnitude, I read it to keep track of the paucity of advertisements as well as monitor the rag’s oft changing tone.

Forgetting the rather lurid headline, the piece in question dwelt on the unavoidable evolution of language, something the august, stuffy French Academy will never acknowledge.

It also pays tribute to the cutting-edge role that Canada plays in world culture by including this all-purpose word (noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, modifier, invective and so on) in the 2005 edition of The Canadian Press Caps And Spelling.

India, like most of the world, is ridiculously enthralled by the cult of celebrity, both the homegrown variety and international flavours a la Blake O. J. Aackoffson.

That this compelling little piece sneaks the f-word into the paper, even if it's not spelled out, is juxtaposed with another story whose headline blares, “Paris Likes It Small” is an unnerving example of the current state of the daily press in Delhi, though it does bode well for me.

At any rate, during my recent stint teaching in a call centre training program, I began the American Culture course by saying, “When the U.S. dies and goes to heaven, God’s going to ask each of the United States two questions:" -- I used the f-word of course, and you're invited to here substitute it for "mess" -- "Why did you mess with the African people and why, oh why, did you mess up the lives of native North Americans?”

I’d proceed, of course to explain that I wasn’t talking this way to be cute, or crude or vulgar or hip or literate or even illiterate -- which, huge irony, most of them here pretty much, in English, are.

I tried to explain that language is malleable and ever-evolving, to the point that now the f-word is continually heard on television, depending on what network you're on. (It was also a neat, direct way to allude, which I feel I must, to the fact that I'm hip to the undeniable racism that taints the history and permeates the present of American history).

But oh, what an effect it had on centre employees, who'd go to pieces like brown, mustachioed Tammy Wynettes when irate Yanks would verbally abuse them with said f-words when they called about overdue bills.

Sticks and stones, I'd cliche my young charges (but still a good tip for English-speaking newcomers on how to get rid quick of a Delhi telemarketer).

On world’s other side, a few years before I was born in 1941, the producers of the American film classic, Gone With The Wind, had to pay a $5,000 fine for Clark Gable’s parting “damn.”

Ten years later Norman Mailer’s dense, definitive, if controversial, World War II novel, The Naked And The Dead still had to, and does, resort to such nonsense as “fug,” one of my editor's favourites, and he's got a litany of 'em, I'm here to tell ya. The little fooker.

It all hammers home that these times are, as usual, like all other times, a-changin' -- something a Jewish kid from the state right next to mine, Minnesota, has long been fond of relating.

All that said, I am glad, even if IN does not follow, that Canada is helping to lead the charge.
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Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email: 

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