Goodness gracious, how presumptuous!

Goodness gracious, how presumptuous!

Absolutely nothing had prepared me for the quagmire of unintelligible sound here: Nimmi Bhimaya (Representative Image) (Photo by Kaboompics from Pexels)

In the pre-noughties when social media or global exposure was barely a twinkle in some Google Apple eye, I had the nerve-racking experience of joining a local Writers’ group in Britain having just arrived from India. It had been an act of uncharacteristic courage on my part fuelled by my love for writing.

When I gingerly arrived the first time there was considerable bewilderment on both sides as my contact person was missing and I was adrift. After the perfunctory British politeness to a foolhardy stranger, the group got into its reading mode while I sat back. Listening to the members read their unintelligible work I concluded — wrong language, wrong group. My premise was; anyone belonging to an English writing group wrote the Queen’s English and read it in a BBC accent.

A misconception harboured by a lifetime of reading English authors and listening to BBC World Service. I was familiar with Shaw’s Pygmalion but associated “other” speech patterns with the uneducated British. I assumed most people in England had left that state of illiteracy far behind and evenly spoke like the Queen while munching cucumber sandwiches.

When I entered London for the first time and had the East End accent thrown at me I panicked, thinking Britain had adopted a foreign language and failed to inform the world. When I landed in Manchester a few days later I was sure they had adopted two! Absolutely nothing had prepared me for the quagmire of unintelligible sound here. Consequently, any encounter with intelligible speech and I was routed to the spot. No wonder I became a couch potato!

This exposure to thick Manchunian and variables from a group of writers who were supposed to be educated was very confusing. Not to mention half of them hadn’t been to university. This indifference to further education came as a shock beyond culture. Nothing seemed logical any more. When I was asked if I would like to read anything of mine, I promptly demurred. Besides suffering a temporary loss of lucidity, would I be so foolish as to actually read out something written in the Queen’s English in an Indian accent? They requested I bring something to read next time. 

Next time? Ha.

I did roll up the following week, mainly to make sure I had not been hallucinating the week before. I should be so lucky! Two new faces introduced themselves as Charmaine and Pendragon. Names hardly designed to alleviate my anxieties. I felt an aural fog slowly envelope me as some of the nine present read their work. Then Pendragon began to read. To my extreme relief, I had returned from a parallel universe to encounter English as I knew it! The fact that Charmaine immediately proceeded to read in a Scottish accent is something I’d rather not go into. Then all eyes were on me.

So I bravely plunged in and read a short piece. The stunned silence when I finished had little to do with the power of my prose more with their collective perception that my accent wasn’t Indian at all, but Welsh!