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Published on: 07/25/04 7:39 AM

Humour: English as we use her

Over the years, we’ve taken the Queen’s language and turned it into one effective hotchpotch, reports SHEILA KUMAR gleefully.

There is a hoary chestnut of a tale that periodically does the round in India’s ad circles. A doughty veteran wanted the Indian branch of his advertising firm to  retain a catchy slogan he had put to effective use all over the West. The  catchline went ‘Lads and Lasses, go for it.’

“But sir,” bleated one brave Indian soul, “will it work, in India?”

“I will make it work in India,” boomed the creative whiz. So he went ahead and the Indian translation/transliteration ultimately read ‘Ladoos and Lassis,  go for it’.

Amidst gales of ensuing laughter, it was forcibly borne upon the great man that even the great unifying language of English has its pitfalls, especially in what is politely known as the developing nations!

But ladies and gentles, that’s just how we use English in India.

Look around you and the examples not only spring at you, they thwack you hard sometimes.

‘Fine for plucking Flores: Rs 50%’ admonishes a notice board at Doddabetta in the Nilgiris.

Far away from the Blue Mountains of the south,beside a winding road that leads out of Srinagar, a roadside tea shop offers something unique: ‘We answer Nature’s Call for you’ it says, referring, one imagines, to the existence of a bathroom on the premises.

All along the highways of the country, dabhas offer an intriguing mix of the original Punjabi fare mixed with local cuisine: it’s Kongu Panchabi food near Coimbatore, Punjhabi Farsan off Ahmedabad, Panjabhi Biryani on Andhra’s NHs and in one magnificent instance just beyond Kochi, Panjabi payasam, too, was on offer. Do appreciate the different spelling  of the word ‘Punjabi,’ too.

Look at the flourishing literature – with a dash of dashing poetry thrown in on the back of our trucks.

‘Horn OK Tata please`  they cajole and command  simultaneously. ‘Don’t stare badly, Blackface’, I read once, deeply impressed  at this transliteration of the famous ‘Boori nazar wale, tera mooh kala’. 

Get into conversation with a citizen of small town India, west, east, north  or south, and it is a revelation, no less.

Convinced at their dexterity in the use of the language, they will converse only in Inglis. The talk will be  peppered with observations like ‘believe you me’, ‘I will explain him’ and ‘nonsense persons’.

You, with more than a rudimentary knowledge of English acquired  thanks to the strict ministrations of Father Joe or Sister Patricia, may find yourself hiding a smile.

And that’s the key.

In almost all of suburban India and a larger part of urban India than they would like to let on, it’s a particular brand of Indian English that is being spoken, and spoken with great effect.

This Lingua ndica is not quite the sort pioneered by Shobhaa De in Stardust all those
years ago; that was early Hinglish.

Many southerners would read ‘Rocky sure is a cho-chweet mard, no?’ with bemusement, shake their heads and say, “OK, da, let’s go put off one tea.”

To the Hinglish kitty have now been added Kinglish, Tinglish, Malglish, and many more glishes.

While many will have it that the actual progenitor of this working language  is the redoubtable Salman Rushdie, the truth is still, as Chris Carter and  the X- Files  team would have it, out there.

Rushdie certainly revolutionised  literature with his poignant Indian-ness of style and content. Midnight’s  Children opened the door for other literary luminaries like Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Hari Kunzru  to step through, as well as all the pretenders  whocame in their wake.

Suddenly it became cool to read about People who are Excitable and Voluble. And Speak in a Particular Way.

Coming back to the mad ad world, they were quick to jump on the bandwagon even if they weren’t too sure just where it was heading.

And so the merry  hodgepodge of English and regional dialects continued, selling everything from cakes to Cokes to cosmetics and selling them super-successfully.

Deejays and veejays spouted sagacious sayings in a mix of English, Hindi, Bhojpuri, Kannada, Tamil, what have you.

Radio City Bangalore has its delightful Lingo Leela, and frequently has intrepid listeners call in and sing translations ofpopular English songs. Which leads to amalgamations of the following sort: Backstreet Boys’ `Backstreet’s Back, All Right` becomes Pichla galli lauta, theek hai.

Laugh if you must but hey, it works, right? Ditto for all those intrepid films made by indie filmmakers in not-so-Queen’s-English, films like Jhankar Beats and the like.

Out in the so-called sticks, where a pizza is rightly spelt ‘pijja’, they have done away with pretensions altogether.

A look at regional papers will throw up fascinating tid-bits. Here is a headline that reads ‘Sensation prevailed due to kidnap of boy.’ There is a  course for ‘short-heighted’ men; elsewhere, you are advised that to aim for  ‘small goal’ is a crime.

The jury is still out on the print media, though.

Are they following archaic  British traditions of language, being ultra-reader friendly or is it just plain confusion? Or maybe all of the above? Which is probably why we read of train passengers being ‘looted’ or gratitude ‘being paid’ to someone.

Sometimes it’s sheer inability to get a handle on English, of course: ‘After the burglary, he was a sadder and wizened man’ read one unfortunate report;  another talked of being  ‘spell-binded.’

And I cannot end this piece without my all-time favorite, a headline which appearedin one of the country’s leading dailies, quite a few years ago. ‘CM Bangarappa’s mum’ it said.

A dumbfounded perusal of the story made it clear that the CM was upset at Mr Bangarappa’s silence on some issue.

Mum’s the word, of course… and yes, that works, too!

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 25 July 2004.

Related Links:

Humour: Yes, this is English, too!

Humour: Yes, this is English, too!

eccentricities of languageEnglishEnglish in Indialanguage

Sheila Kumar • July 25, 2004

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