Hinglish – a Biryani of sorts

I am afraid that I can never be as critical as Farrukh Dhondy and Binoo K John as they were in putting their points on Hinglish across in their fine writings, but then they are the established experts and I the novice, so I can perhaps get away with some latitude with this flippant penning of some thoughts. After a long stint abroad, when you go home on vacation you are naturally transported to a new literary world and as you listen to the very special Indian English, you marvel at its adaptation in India while at the same time, you listen to cranky desi judges tell aspiring singers that they must be true to their Hindi, Urdu or Malayalam diction while singing songs. But then we are a land of contradictions anyway.

Nothing like Bangalore or Bombay for Hinglish, for that is where the new ‘wordly’ inventions come up on a regular pace..though these days it is as fast as Yadav’s bowling…each year we hear something new, not to mention the abbreviations used in SMS..Which I have completely given up on. We now have a sizeable Indian group at office and we get together every Friday afternoon and go to eat at some non desi place; I enjoy those outings where we become somewhat uninhibited after a rough week. But the best is to sit back and listen and hear how our English changes to the Desi version, a lit bit of non grammatical pidgin here and there…

It is something like the mixture of spices in a good Biryani, I had written some on those matters a while back, (check here - those interested) and it is said that in one version - Mumtaz, wife of Shah Jahan, not happy with the nutrition level of what was served to the army invented this dish with rice, meat and spices as a "complete meal", a mixture of sorts, to feed them, as a kind of fast food with Persian, Arabic and Indian flavors. But let us not hover on this aspect too long, or the taste buds will protest..
All this talk about biryani reminded me of our visit the other day at Cholanadu, a new restaurant in town, great food and ambience, this hot place in town served us a wicked Madurai mutton biryani. I wanted to give the others a lecture on Mutton there, but the ambience was not right for my rather long winded explanations, so I saved it for today. I was also reminded of Dhondy’s reference to Mutton – Now we all know that Mutton in India means goat meat and Indians generally stay away from sheep and lamb meat. But many do not know that Mutton in reality has nothing to do with goat. The definition goes as follows - meat of a sheep in its first year is lamb; that of a juvenile sheep older than one year is hogget; and the meat of an adult sheep is mutton. For a slightly more gory definition - Mutton is a female (ewe) or castrated male (wether) sheep having more than two permanent incisors in wear.The real word for goat meat is chevon, but how come it was never used in the SE Asia? Well, they never got sheep in India and Brits of course created the make believe world of theirs in India where they called Chevon as mutton. But then I was wondering – Madurai Chevon Biryani?? I am not sure if it would be a hit. So here the word origin can be attributed to the people who used it wrongly, not the hapless desi coolie or desi cook at the bungalow. But then again if in England you hear somebody say ‘that is a ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ ‘ it has nothing to do with sheep, but is all about a woman who tries to make herself look younger by wearing clothes designed for young people..Here it is perhaps what a cougar on the prowl does…

Getting back to those funny words, rubber is king. This ever popular rubber usage still comes often to my lips – ‘hey, pass the rubber man’ and the guys gives you a look and wonders what I am planning in the middle of office hours. A classic case of using the correct usage for eraser but the listener in this case thinks colloquial and feels you are wrong. Well did you know that people used bread chunks to erase or lighten pencil marks till Ed Naime tried out a piece of rubber and shouted ‘eureka’..

How about the classic word ‘flat’ mixed up with the words condominium and apartment – For us it is very simple to understand the difference between the typical Indian dwellings, it is hut, flat and house…of course there are other alternatives like chawl, bungalow, row house and so on, but let us stick to the flat. The definitions are interesting for the uninitiated -you own a condominium which is a flat in a building, whereas you rent an apartment in an apartment complex. An apartment is always rented, never owned. But for the person who lives in one of these multi unit buildings, both are flats, howdya like that? Try asking a realtor in USA (a broker as we say in Hinglish) for a flat and you will see a look akin to an Arab's expression seeing a glacier..

The other day my colleague was telling me about his friend’s daughter “are yaar, pass kiya? Of course, Cent percent mila”. Don’t try saying that to an American, they will not have a clue. Well, the origins are interesting, You see, percent is per 100 and cent means 100th of a pound. So 100/100 became Cent percent. But then, perhaps when you are in US, you should say penny per penny or penny’s percent. Now here is when my fertile brain got thinking and I decided, perhaps not a good idea, the heavy accented desi saying penny would evoke even more problems. Just imagine an Indian in shop saying ‘I want rubber, have 10 pennies’, definitely better to stick to ‘cent percent’.

I met a new engineer during lunch the other Friday, she had passed out in 2002 (what happened? Was she sick?) aha! what a usage! It is so understandable for us, ‘you are which batch? 82 yah, I passed out in 82 from NIT’…the American who strays to the table must be thinking, and how did they revive him? With cold water? Time-pass, time waste, interesting usages I suppose. You know, when I first hit Bombay and had to endure the daily suburban train rides, I would see this little boy – the peanut vendor shouting ‘time pass… time pass …singana….’and I would wonder, what a usage ‘time pass’ for peanuts…but then this is used in many circumstances by us..hey what’s your plan? Have to go for a picture, time pass karna hai…similarly if it is a bad picture or bad party, it is ‘time waste’…explains the situation pretty well in two words, if you ask me.

Sometimes, you come across the term Himalayan blunder on the front pages relating to some decisions by the government. It is not heard so often, and as one can imagine, it is used to explain a colossal error or mistake. Perhaps this became popular after the India China 62 debacle and the story came out in Dalvi’s book ‘Himalayan blunder’, it is typically used in connection with Indian politics and is understood only by Indians. But nothing like Specs – this is indeed tricky for specs are spectacles or eyewear or glasses for Indians, but is also specifications when used in the office. So one has to be careful in its usage today, I suppose. Like pants means trousers in India and trousers could be shorts whereas shorts in Kerala is knickers!!.

You fondly remember the Boss usage from India, typically a form of address for your friend, “Boss what’s up?”…try using that here, it would be a shocker. But then again we come from a place where everybody a decade older to you is your uncle (ungil) or aunty (aandie), though the aunty has different connotations these days (refer cougar previously mentioned).

Every time I have to mention the spare tire of the car, I remember both Stepney & Dickie – not people as we know. Always brings a smile to my face…no, Stepney is not Stephanie misspelled, but the usage for a spare tire, just like Dickie means boot or trunk of the car. So when somebody says Stepney is in the Dickie…don’t start trying to make the wrong sense out of it. But then again did you know that the spare tire got its name Stepney after the English company that started offering spare tires? The company was Stepney iron mongers in Wales!! I better not explain dickey in more detail here.

There are so many of those words and usages signifying bodily acts. Look at the oft mentioned ‘Loose motion’. You will hear it all the time in India and it has nothing to do with the movement that you feel when in vehicles and the such, but it is what you would have after an upset stomach…motion and loose motion…though the former is not so common after the introduction of the very popular sh%*t, further popularized by some film actors. A fast desi group conversation can bring up interesting usages like ‘What is your Good name?’ or ‘Give me a ring yaar’…can your name be bad? And the latter does not have anything to do with Valentines and wedding rings, but deals with keeping in touch over the telephone…remember the term ‘First class’ – yes, the food was first class..Now can there be second class and third class food?

I guess one of the best mediums where Hinglish is used beautifully is in those Amul ad’s. Now not many other than desis would appreciate that lovely little Amul butter girl, the utterly butterly (new word!) girl and her English blurbs that have become so famous in Bombay, I still remember the billboard where they would first come up, on Marine drive in Bombay..For those who would like to see samples, check this site out..

One can come up with so many, like eve teasing, line maroing (flirting), thrice (means third time in India, not usually used but correct archaic English), prepone (logically created opposite of postpone). An interesting Hinglish letter written by a train passenger was presented in one of my earliest blogs, take a look at that if you want a good laugh. But today we have so many non desi usages coming up which are quickly getting assimilated into desi lingo, like -----like…anyways… loser…dude…hep..cool….and so many more…It is a changing world, a changing language…The other day I was watching a movie Quarantine 2, a macabre movie and learn a new word - smother meaning stepmother – did u know that?…

But then Jack Straw did not think or consider the mobility and development of languages when he decided that all Asian women coming to UK should be proficient in British English. Now what is standard British English? How many people speak it in the first place? I still remember, during my time there I found only a rare few Brits in office who could put together a good sentence in proper English without slang usages and using good grammar. I picked this interesting tidbit from the web - Demos, a think-tank that can justly claim to have wielded considerable influence on the early thinking and policy priorities of the 10-year-old Labour government soon after Tony Blair took power in 1997, says that Britain's attitude to English "is better suited to the days of the British Empire than the modern world."

Interesting right? Well, this development in languages is being studied in many universities. Harvard University terms this “code mixing,” a phenomenon in which distinct codes are combined within the sentence itself to create a hybrid languages such as “Spanglish” or “Hinglish.”The phenomenon of “Hinglish” has received a lot of attention lately from the Western media. A college curriculum explains - Media spotlight on “Hinglish” is itself an interesting phenomenon since the media in India has played a crucial role in popularizing this way of talking. Youth culture is also widely understood as a driving force, as is globalization itself in the form of consumerism. These factors converge in Indian print and TV advertising, which often uses Hinglish to construct Indians as youthful, happy consumers.

It is all pukka, actually and people have to learn the new and spicier additions compared to the old and staid versions. That is progression, I suppose. In India the very reason why we add these Indian bits to the English phrase is perhaps like adding tadka (seasoning) to curry, to give it that oomph..Without the tadka, the curry is OK, but not a great curry…

Binoo’s book ‘Entry from Backside only’ - is certainly a good read on Indian English, he introduces it thus

“Backsides have a frontal position in Indian-English. In cluttered, crowded alleys there can be seen the notice “Entry from the backside”, a usage not exactly meant as a come-hither line….’ From the early days of the Raj, the Indian version of English has been on a growth trajectory that has led to the evolution of what is, for all practical purposes, a language of its own. A hybrid form of English stalks the land, flaunting its illegitimacy, brashness and popularity. There can be no social advancement without the glittering sword of English in your hands. The rise of Indian-English runs parallel to tectonic changes in social aspirations. English, says the author, is the Porsche on the porch of the arriviste.

Chalo, OK then , I have hazaar things to do this Sunday, so am off… in conclusion, I am not sure if we can reach Dhondy’s and Cambridge university’s projection that in under 50 years the whole world will speak Indian English ( but there are over 350 million of them already) …but it would be fun to listen, I guess, none the less.. and I will enjoy the Tadka if I am around… But Farukh shares my point on Urdu, he must have also heard Javed Akhtar castigating the hapless singers of the music show, for his slightly ‘off’ Urdu pronunciation.

Other related articles and recommended reading
Urdu and its origins
Entry from backside only - Binoo K John
English and its Indian make over
The Ahmedpur train story
Those with higher literary interests can read a fine article by Bhaya Nair, Language and youth culture.
Apropos to Farrukh Dhondy’s article Cabbages & kings from Deccan Chronicle Nov12th 2011
One of these days I have to read Chutnifying English…


Enjoyed your post. The other day I learnt that Thanjavur was the place where the first English medium school was opened for Indians and that they were instrumental in providing a neautral accent to the language.
windwheel said…
Delightful post. Apparently, in the old days, the zenana (women's quarters) of the haveli had a separate entrance which was forbidden to men. Niradh Choudhri noticed that this entrance was sign=posted as the 'female entrance'. This gives a rationale for 'Entry by backside only'
Kamini said…
What a fun read! Windwheel's comment above made me laugh out aloud!
Happy Kitten said…

and Indians are contributing much to the Oxford dictionary too.. and at the current rate (new words and the population), the projection of 50 years is not far fetched!
Last year Oxford included 80 Indian words in its 11th Edition of the Concise Dictionary, recognizing the fact that the world’s third-largest English speaking community belongs to India.
Among the 80 new words in the lexicon, are words as varied as ‘badmash’(a worthless or a clever person), ‘hawala’(illegal currency exchange), ‘bandh’(curfew), ‘dhaba’(open air highway-side eatery), ‘bhelpuri’(a popular snack made of puffed rice and spices from Western India) and ‘chamcha’ (sweet-talker), that have earned respect due to their inclusion in the dictionary
Maddy said…
thanks PNS..
Another interesting fact is related to the first hindi school opened by the British..
Maddy said…
thanks windwheel.
That is an interesting one, I did study a bit on the Zenana when I was researching the unniyarcha story..am sure the explanation is in there..
Maddy said…
hi kamini..
long time no hear..hope all is well..yeah, when i first read windwheel's note 'like' kind of.. between the lines as they say in todays lingo, i was also laughing..
Maddy said…
thanka HK,
looks like somebody will have to redo the hobson jobson and make a new one covering all these new words...
Gayathri said…
Laughed throughout, great post!
Maddy said…
thanks gayathri..
welcome to my blog..
harimohan said…
well that was a riot
enjoyed it maddy
the rubber and the pennies and the backside entries !
Maddy said…
thanks hari..
glad u enjoyed it

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