There is a pedantic English schoolteacher lurking somewhere inside me. It rears its ugly head every time I get yet another WhatsApp forward filled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. I don’t really remember the intricacies of split infinitives and dependent clauses any more but grammatical errors still jump out at me. Spelling mistakes rankle. Syntax problems stick out like sore thumbs.
And then along comes ‘So beautiful, so elegant. Just looking like a wow!’ At first, I had no idea what was going on when social media kept spitting up the phrase. But then even the Chief Minister of Assam shared a picture of snow-capped Himalayas with the phrase. Actor Deepika Padukone lip synched to it as did Trinamool MP Nusrat Jahan. Musician Yashraj Mukhate, whose ‘Rasode Main Kaun Tha’ remix went utterly viral a while ago, tried to do the same with this ear-worm and actor Sanya Malhotra made a reel dancing to it.
As everyone knows by now, the phrase was unleashed on us by a boutique owner in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar. Jasmeen Kaur wasn’t trying to go viral. This was not a phrase coined by some copywriter, or carefully crafted like a ‘Kolaveri Di’. This was just Jasmeen Kaur being Jasmeen Kaur trying to sell her salwar kameez suits to her Instagram audience. And it clicked probably because she wasn’t trying to be funny.
Initially, I rolled my eyes and I suspect that many of the people jumping on the bandwagon, from Padukone to Nick Jonas, did the same. I had a feeling we were not laughing with Kaur as much as laughing at her.
But what was wonderful was Kaur was unfazed. She was having the time of her life. “I have been doing Insta lives for three years now, and suddenly I went viral,” she told the media. Or as she put it, in between giving back-to-back interviews, “I am feeling wow.”
It’s a lesson for all of us who make fun of those whose English is a little shaky. Instagram is filled with memes and reels of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee mangling English much to the amusement of Wren & Martin-ians and the chagrin of Bengalis more used to the pucca bhadralok English of the likes of former CMs Jyoti Basu and Siddhartha Shankar Ray. But Banerjee, like Kaur, is undeterred and embraces the language with a chutzpah that most of us lack, bending it to her will.
Salman Rushdie famously said, “English is an Indian literary language.” Like an expert showman, he took the Queen’s English and recolonised it, peppering it with Indian words, playing with syntax, turning phrases on their heads. Arundhati Roy took it to another level in The God of Small Things with her “Whatisit? Whathappened” and a “Furrywhirring and a Sariflapping”.
I realise now that Kaur is doing the same, just with less deliberate intention. She is making her English sound like India. And I need to get over my grammatical prissiness and go with the flow. That’s not to say grammar isn’t important but communication is just as important and Kaur passes that test with flying colours, or laddoo peela flying colours, to borrow her own phrase. She is definitely having the last laugh as even the BBC, the holy grail of the grammar police, interviews her. She also got an endorsement for some instant noodle which obviously is just like a wow.
If there is a cautionary tale here for Kaur, it has nothing to do with her iffy grammar. It’s the fact that public attention on the Internet is fickle. “Just like a wow” will run its course, the celebrity brigade will move on and Kaur will be hard-pressed to find a new catchphrase to trump the old one.
There have been other Internet sensations who have vanished. Ranu Mondal became a star overnight after someone shared a video of her singing Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai’ at a railway station in West Bengal. She was called to a singing show. Composer Himesh Reshammiya invited her to sing for an upcoming film. Soon, Mondal discovered the flip side of Internet fame. She was trolled for wearing too much jewellery and too much make-up, and blasted for snubbing a fan. She turned into a meme. Now we hear little about her any more.
Or Kanta Prasad, whose small dhaba Baba Ka Dhaba became a poignant food story thanks to a blogger on YouTube. The fame led him to become a restaurateur but that failed and pushed him into depression and resulted in a public fracas about the donations he had received.
Let’s hope Kaur makes the most of her wow moment.
The writer is the author of ‘Don’t Let Him Know’, and likes to let everyone know about his opinions whether asked or not.