Two men got into an argument on a public bus. One of them was a dignified elderly gentleman, whom our teacher labelled as a professor. The other was an arrogant young fellow who, once again according to Anil Babu, could only have been a junior clerk in a merchant firm. Minutes after the argument began, when the professor was clearly winning the contest, the young man switched over to English. It was a common practice then, if Indians wished to sound authoritative, they spoke the king’s language. Perforce, the professor had to respond in English. And that turned the tables against him. He spoke in correct, grammatical English, but haltingly. And that was no match for the torrent of terrible English the clerk churned out. Finally, just as a drowning man clutches at straws, the professor said, ‘Have you read Wren and Martin?’
If you are an Indian over thirty and you've been in a school, you'd get the drift. For the rest of humanity, M/s P. C. Wren and H. Martin were the venerable authors of a grammar book that was a combination of the Geeta, the Koran, and the Bible for English teachers in India for generations. And it was the nub of a serious problem. Each chapter of the book contained a set of prescriptions about how to frame sentences. And the examples and exercises that followed usually had lines that no one would use in their lifetime. Indians were also taught that speaking "incorrect English" was sacrilege.
But English is such a funnily unfettered language! Speaking or writing it correctly is challenging to even educated non-native speakers. To make matters worse, out of the hundreds of hours of English classes in school in our country, not one was devoted to teaching how to speak. (Unfortunately, the situation hasn't changed in most of our schools even now.)
So, generations of educated Indians could hardly express themselves in the language, even when they needed it. And those who could treated the rest of their countrymen as dirt.
English is important in this integrated world, we can't live without it. But should we think of committing suicide if we made a few mistakes here and there while using the language? How important is it to speak/write correct, flawless English? Let me quote an authority on the language, David Crystal:
Many people now realize that labels such as ‘sub-standard’ and ‘broken English’ are just as insulting and out of order as any set of racist or sexist names. We have seen a move away from the linguistic subjugation of the prescription era, with people asserting their right to be in control of their language rather than to have it be in control of them. For many, prescriptivism has come to be seen as a bad dream from which we are only now beginning to awake. The operative word, in all these sentences, is ‘many’. We are only half way along the road, and not everyone is persuaded that it is the road that they ought to take. But … it is only a matter of time. A major step has already been taken in schools, where a renaissance in linguistic study has already begun to produce generations of school children who are aware of the importance and relevance of Standard English without seeing any need to dismiss or condemn non-standard English. – The Stories of English, Penguin Books, Page 534