Ravista Mehra’s initiative, Broken Englizh, was one of the finals for her Master’s thesis at the Royal College of Art. Broken Englizh is an attempt to demystify decolonization through the power of first-person narrative. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her Ted talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, that ‘the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story’. This collection of stories is an effort to get stories from people whose story may never have been told before, either because they didn’t think it was important to tell or because others didn’t think it important to listen or read. It is the smaller, personal, seemingly insignificant stories that have the power to humanise, empower and repair the broken dignity of a larger people or place.
What I asked from the participants of this initiative was to look back at their life through the lenses of ethnicity, race, disability, heterosexist rhetoric, or perceived representations, and try to explain to themselves and to the reader, where it is that they fit in the world, or don’t. The participants were not only from a lineage of the colonized, but also from the colonizer. This gave the stories power to be a conversation rather than just a ‘one sided recount’ - a quality that has endeared narratives of the West for far too long.
Expression comes to us best in our mother tongue and so I encouraged people to write in their language of choice. They also submitted a list of racial misconceptions / ignorant remarks that people made at them, about their culture or identity. When the audience engages with the narrative, the ‘stereotypes’ are the first thing they encounter, which are to be shattered once the story is read. I collected 26 stories in 5 different languages. I helped with translations as it is crucial these stories be read in the West, as they are a part of the target audience. All the stories are available for reading and downloading on Broken Englizh’s blog: www.brokenenglizh.wordpress.com as well as on instagram at @active.concerned.citizen.
The phrase ‘Broken Englizh’ according to me is ‘the expectation that there is a ‘correct’ form of Englizh for the non-native to express themselves in’. It is usually used in a derogatory sense. However, this initiative celebrates the breaking of such tyrannical ideas and the stuck-up English grammar. The significance of the broken plates are that there is no one narrative that deserves to be the token story for any place or people. Each story deserves its own plate, and each misunderstood assumption deserves to be shattered. They are co-existing, within and amongst each other on the table the way they do in a community.
Broken Englizh originally started out as an intricate printed publication, which got turned into a blog because of the pandemic, and then got turned back into an unbound folio, where 11 of the 26 stories got published by Sold Out Publishing. The book was launched at the Hypertext book show, where Elephant Magazine picked Broken Englizh as one of the five most exciting new artist books.
There is a dire need for people to be allowed to tell their own stories, and that is what I hope to be able to facilitate. We as designers can use our tools and knowledge in partnership with the people whose story it is, to help tell it. However, we alone cannot and should not tell their stories. At the centre of humanity, in my opinion, is the human narrative. To start to decolonize the world we live in, we need to understand and appreciate each other’s stories more. If you wish to participate please go to the blog: www.brokenenglizh.wordpress.com and join the fight to colour literature and history. To fight back against tokenism. Every story is important and deserves to be told.