What PM Modi's exclamation 'Oh, My God' in Germany to a grievance voiced in Hindi tells us

PM Modi had the option of exclaiming, "Arrey or Achha or Wakai" when Indian media persons complained in Hindi that they were not allowed to go in. But the PM chose to exclaim with 'Oh ! My God'

What PM Modi's exclamation 'Oh, My God' in Germany to a grievance voiced in Hindi tells us
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Sujata Anandan

An exclamation like, ‘Oh my God!’ should have come naturally to Pandit Nehru, what with his Harrow education and rubbing shoulders with all the leading world rulers of his time. Yet he is not known to have ever used the exclamation.

But Prime Minister Modi is a wannabe Nehru and also a wannabe Rahul Gandhi; which is why he perhaps prefers brands like Bulgari and Gucci to draw an Italian connection to himself while all the time turning up his nose at Rahul Gandhi’s connection to Italy. An exclamation like Oh my God would come naturally to Rahul Gandhi, what with his Harvard and Cambridge education, his ability to dive off a cliff, dance at a wedding or feel at home at a Queen's table. But we have not heard Rahul Gandhi exclaim Oh, My God !

Modi Ji is also a wannabe Indira Gandhi whose record of creating a new nation (of Bangladesh) no one has equalled so far. She might well have exclaimed 'Oh my God' when Modi Ji claimed to have sat on Satyagraha and gone to jail for the creation of Bangladesh! But no, even when her own bodyguards pumped bullets into her frail frame, she is not known to have exclaimed, Oh My God!

As a wannabe Manmohan Singh, Modi Ji went for a dramatic Demonetisation of the currency, from which the Indian economy does not seem to have recovered. Yet Dr Singh was not heard exclaiming, Oh, My God before or after the Demonetisation.

PM Modi is also wannabe Donald Trump, who could be rude to the media without having to shy away from their questions. I also know he is wannabe Vladimir Putin who could take on the best international television anchors in the world. Yet neither did Trump say Oh my God as our man laughed raucously at the US President's snub to the media, nor did Putin say Oh my God as he lowered the dignity of the office of the Indian Prime Minister by inane remarks about an umbrella to American talk show host Megan Kelly as she arrived in Moscow to interview Putin.

Involuntary exclamations used by Indians are different. As someone with South Indian roots, I generally tend to say aiyo! Or if it merits a stronger exclamation it would be aiaiyo! But as someone who has lived in Maharashtra all my life, I also tend to say ‘O Bappa re!’ Which is an invocation to Ganpati, the most popular deity in the state. All this when I have the some degree of fluency in the English language and five other languages.

My Maharashtrian friends usually exclaim spontaneously with Deva, re Deva! Or Hey Vitthala after the state deity at Pandharpur. My Punjabi, mostly Sikh, friends will come up with Wahe Guru! as the first exclamation of choice; my Bengali aunt used to never invoke God but I always loved her ‘Le Haluwa' instead. Quite the equivalent of Oh my God!

My British friends would almost always say ‘Bloody Hell!’ Never Oh my God - for thou shalt not take His name in vain and all that. My various American friends would variously say ‘Rats’, ‘Holy Smoke’, etc, but never invoke God either. My French friends would say Merde! (doesn’t bear translation for decent readers) or ‘oo la, la!’ My German friend usually says Mist! for 'damn' or donnerwetter for 'gosh', but never the German equivalent of Oh my God.

But even those who do say Oh! my God, do so in context and to suit the occasion because they very well know the nuances of the language in which they are swearing.

Now why I call our man a wannabe is because he was told in Hindi , ‘hamein andar jaane nahin diya’. ‘Oh my God’ was an over the top reaction to that complaint as though that lack of entry had been a calamity or no one was aware of it. So it came out as insincere and I am sure no one had any intention of acting upon it as promised by the PM.

But the PM's involuntary exclamation did convey a few things – Do in Rome as Romans do - meaning speak in English in Germany when you don't know German or you would have been saying the German equivalent of Holy Smoke (there is one).


Second, as someone whose party is hell bent upon imposing Hindi upon the rest of us, why could our man not have used Hindi to respond to Hindi? It reinforces the hypocrisy of not just the language issue but that of going vocal for local when you wear Gucci and Bulgari, ride in a Mercedes and fly in a Boeing. Is local then only for other Indians?

It tells me how our man must be feeling amidst a galaxy of highly educated and sophisticated predecessors, some of them very fluent in English, while he has to contend with just spelling out strength as S. T. R. E. A, N. H. that is neither here nor there.

But most important of all it tells me who was a true nationalist and devotee of Lord Ram – the greatest Indian the world has known – Mahatma Gandhi - who died with Hey Ram! on his lips or a vain fellow Gujarati whose Oh my God too is neither here nor there. For despite his Hey Ram, Gandhiji was a unifier of people and Oh my God is mere lip service to statesmanship.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

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    Published: 09 May 2022, 1:30 PM