May 18, 2009

Convent/convented/convent english

Convent, n. In north India, a generic term for an English-medium school, usually a girls' school. The usage derives from the fact that schools run by missionaries were the first to use English as a medium of instruction, and they are still considered by many to be superior in this respect. A convent education is a status symbol, something that improves a girl's chances on the marriage market. Hence, convented, an adjective for someone who has studied at an English-medium school, found frequently in Indian matrimonial advertisements. (A Google search should turn up several ads seeking matches for 'beautiful Brahmin convented girls' - there is, of course, no such thing as a Brahmin convent). Convent English describes the affected manner of speech adopted by the 'convented', replete with schoolgirl slang and anglicizations of Indian words.

In modern India, where children were bought and sold for marriage through the newspaper, a girl's chance of a wealthy match improved sharply if she had been to a convent. The scramble gave a new word to the language. A matrimonial ad in the Sunday papers, after describing the bride-to-be as very fair, beautiful and homely (meaning house-trained), clinched the business with convented. Naturally, convents multiplied across the country, most without the trace of a nun, and one of them named, memorably, BLONDIE CONVENT (I. Allan Sealy, Trotternama)

It’s one of the most fabled lines in LSR history, passed down from batch to batch and teacher to student. The matrimonial ads, which after asking for a ‘homely, convented girl’ state categorically and firmly: LSR girls need not apply. That line has been quoted with pride by several women, glorying in the fact that their minds are considered too unconventional to fit in with the typical Indian bride mentality. (Article about Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi in the Indian Express, November 12, 2005)

Now we all know, in most parts of our country, particularly the north, a “convent” is just a general way to describe an English-medium school. In Punjab, you can often find a St Kabir Convent, a Guru Gobind Singh Convent, or some place else, a Maharishi Dayanand Convent. But a Lohia Convent? You name an English-medium school after a man who dedicated his life to throwing English-medium schooling, an instrument of colonialism, out of this country? And you do it in the heart of Lohia-land? (Shekhar Gupta, Indian Express, May 15, 2009)

We are against foreign missionaries but we open money-minting schools with such names as St. John Convent and even Durga Charan Convent. A few years ago a young lady gravely said to my late aunt Hamida Begum, "You have such a large house lying vacant in the country. Why don't you open St. Hamida Convent in it?" (Qurratulain Hyder,'Ignorance is not bliss', The Times of India Sunday Review, July 6 1997)

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