(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 24th January 2009)
Among the several memories that tarnish my recollection of my childhood is my mother’s three-word reply to any grammatical doubt I had: “Check the dictionary”. Over the past eight years, it has become quite obvious Barbara Bush didn’t have this annoying maternal drive. As American loyalists strove to expand their dictionary of ‘accepted’ words and the austere guardians of Queen’s English rushed to coin new words for the acrobatics the tongue underwent as it played out through the now-outgone American President’s vocal chords, most of us didn’t factor in to what extent we had misunderestimated him. It is only now that it had begun to hit us that the era of subject-verb disagreement, comma spices, hanging participles and uber-spoonerism is over.
No more will we hear that all those who refuse to stop thinking of new ways to destroy America have counterparts in the American government who do exactly the same thing. No more will we be thanked for taking time out of our days to witness the hanging of the most powerful man in the world. Nothing will ever be preponed, and no President will claim to have been in the Bible everyday he was President. Never again will we read about a President who says, without flinching, "Yesterday, you made note of my -- the lack of my talent when it came to dancing. But nevertheless, I want you to know I danced with joy. And no question Liberia has gone through very difficult times."
Barack Obama is not likely to complain about the Afghan militants’ lack of disregard for human life, or hold up his fist to Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy after calling himself “the world’s biggest polluter”, or recall the mother of a child who was kidnapped by North Koreans right there in the Oval Office. He might not claim there is plenty of money in Washington, and say what they needed was priority. He certainly would not be surprised at the prediction of gas at four dollars a gallon, and may not estimate that immigrants had caused the population of the thirteen colonies to grow till it numbered three hundred people. Chances are he won’t think people dying of malaria in Ghana is in the national interest of Americans.
And what does all this mean for us? Uncomfortable silences following grammatical faux pas cannot be broken with, “oh, don’t worry. Just the other day, the President of the United States said…” unless you wanted to finish with, “…something that was grammatically correct.”
Romances that have begun with the discovery of love for the English language might end for the lack of common topics of interest. We will have to learn to make conversation about the weather again. Stand-up comedians will have to think of new material; the era of googling Bushisms will now come to an end.
Faced with a crisis of this magnitude, the world must keep its calm before the storm as Bush would want it to, and decision-makers around the world must decide to make decisions as he would want them to make. Nations that remain enemies must come together as partners to invite Bush on a Global Speaking Tour. Pressing when there has to be pressed and holding hands when there needs to be hold hands, he might just confuse the lawmakers and lawbreakers of the world enough to end all wars between terrorists and freedom-fighters. That way, when history was written, the final page might well say victory was achieved by the United States of America for the good of the world.