Every time I hear the word ‘Colonial Hangover’, I feel as though the period of British colonialism was one colossal binge which left a massive hangover lasting generations. While it cannot be denied that some aspects of Indian behavior certainly owe their origins to what may be termed a colonial hangover, I think that too many things are getting attributed to it.
Take, for example, the Indian obsession with fairness of skin. Far too often have I heard it described as a manifestation of the colonial hangover. It cannot be denied that the powerless, at any point in time, give undue importance to the attributes of people in power and wish to emulate them. The preference for fair skin, however, probably started with the Aryan-Dravidian conflicts which the former won handily. The far later incursion of the British may only have reinforced the inclination. Thus, the preference for fair skin probably started far before England even had a recorded history and to attribute it to a colonial hangover is to give far more credit to the British influence than it deserves.
The fact that English is the lingua franca of any pan-Indian operation is another of those things that seems to be the influence of a colonial hangover. To an extent this is true. The colonial period is what truly welded a nation of multiple languages together as a modern nation. Given that such was the case, choosing any one of the native languages for a lingua franca would have unduly disadvantaged all people speaking other languages in their search for jobs and opportunities. Thus, it was more a question of economic egalitarianism rather than any lingering awe of the British that made English the main language of pan-Indian communication.
The other part of English usage that invites comment is the fact that people assess the other person’s literacy from his familiarity with English; that some Indians poke fun when other Indians mispronounce or misuse English and that some Indian spend their time correcting the usage of other people’s English. Since English is the only language learnt, almost exclusively, from school by any Indian using it, it is understandable that education is equated to usage of English, since that is possibly the easiest way to understand the extent of the other person’s education. As for the people who wax sarcastic about the way others use English, you can always find people who like putting down others on their inabilities in any field. Back-seat drivers and perfectionists are not a rare species and, thus, when they apply their individual talent to English – unsavory though it may be - rather than driving, why should that be taken for a colonial hangover? The only people who actually do suffer from a colonial hangover are the ones who poke fun at their compatriots - in a bid to segregate themselves from their fellow-Indians and, normally, to an audience of non-Indians, specifically whites.
While it is incontrovertible that there are some elements of colonialism that still linger in Indian Society, I feel that far too many things get attributed to it. When I hear Indian languages like Tamil spoken with an overlaid Yank accent and with phonemes, specific to them (like the three variants of ‘la’ in Tamil) disappearing from daily usage, it seems to me that far worse than the colonial hangover is the cultural colonialism that seems to be in progress. There also seems to be a decline in familial values which places personal convenience above maintaining family relationships (by which I mean the relationships that go beyond the direct lineal family). Definitions of hospitality are also getting westernized in the sense that the guest is now expected to accommodate himself within the existing routines of the family from where once the family routine changed to accommodate the guest. All these things have their pros and cons but the fact remains that these were cultural values different from those of the west and, in aping the west, we are lending ourselves to a cultural colonialism that far transcends any changes wrought in Indian Society by British colonialism.
Maybe it is time we stopped being hung over about colonial hangovers and started thinking about the value of the changes happening currently.