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Wednesday, 26 September 2012






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Oh, to listen to the language the way it was meant to be spoken...

Like most of my generation, I am an avid fan of the chart topper period drama 'Downton Abbey' which chronicles the lives of Lord Grantham and his family living at the stately home Downton Abbey during the early part of the 20th century. The series which has won hearts throughout the world, is a wonder to look at - with wonderful period costumes, cut glass accents and a lively plot, Downton Abbey lets us take a peak at a way of life once cherished but now long dead. The series stars the impeccable Dame Maggie Smith who, as Dowager Countess, mother of Earl Grantham, shines in a class of her own, delivering lines as only she could.

Watching this series has made me realize that the conversations they had among each other, in an era before TV and computers and everything else in between, and the conversations we have today, are totally different. They really had conversation - the series depict beautifully crafted words, spoken at the correct time, polite words, words that care and show concern. Words that are neither brash nor vulgar. If a point was to made and there were several being made by the legendary Dame Maggie, there was a way to get it done.

There was no 'Okay' and a host of other meaningless modern words that rob a good sentence of its true meaning. The beauty of English language, spoken the way it is meant to be spoken, highlights the appeal of Downton Abbey. There are no abbreviations or dreadful half words. Neither are words borrowed from computer manuals and made famous by texting are used. It is indeed so refreshing to listen to conversations at the sumptuous dinner table of Lord Grantham.

Elegant conversation

Today, we no longer have anyone talking at the dinner table. Typical dinner is served in front of the TV or the computer. Everyone eats in silence - their attention is diverted to the TV, the computer or the iPad. The conversations are being held either on Facebook or Skype. Some of us have very active social lives on line but say as little as two words to family members.

No wonder Downton Abbey turns out to be such delicious fare for those of us tired of sitcoms and modern TV series that do their best to glamorize thorny issues. For them abnormal is the new normal while the everyday normal is abnormal. In an era guided solely by being politically correct, Downton Abbey brings back memories of an era when you did not hesitate to call a spade a spade, when loyalties were not tested by circumstances. An era when you did not dare to lie or cheat. When life was simpler and needs were few. Yet an era when people were grateful for blessings and were more conscious of their obligations than their rights.

In episode after episode, Downton Abbey sparkles with the kind of elegant conversation now long dead. Credit must of course go to Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey who is a maestro in creating outstanding television drama.

Not just in England where the series is set but also here in Sri Lanka, then a delightful Ceylon, conversation and leisurely pursuits went hand in hand during that era.

There was no stress, no rat race and no one to impress. Children were children, parents were parents and everyone had comfortable slots they fell into. Maybe everything wasn’t as rosy as expected but life was simpler and needs were few, wants even fewer. Children of the time had a mother and a father and not two fathers as parents or two mothers, as is the norm in today’s West. Children respected parents and elders and of course teachers. There was no nonsense about being victimized and rights. It was assumed that if one was conscious of one’s obligations, rights would follow.

Class discrepancy

Of course, Downton Abbey also highlights the class discrepancy that existed at the time, the down-trodden nature of the poor who served as servants in big households. But with all the bad things, I still believe those were times better than those of today. What is considered as the new normal today would have shocked people of that era to death.

Maybe it is time to teach our children the pleasure of long conversations, polite conversations, dinner table conversation etc. Maybe we could teach them that there is a use for good usage of language besides curt yes or no or maybe, all the while watching the TV or the computer screen. Human beings express themselves best in lively conversation. It keeps our lives webbed together, our friendships intact.

Watching Downton Abbey, I long for such opportunities and occasions to engage in pleasing conversation, engage ideas and share information with one another in a way it was meant to be done. Wouldn’t you care to join me?



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