Angreji, as we proudly continue to use it!
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 Indica 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 of course, Laloo-glish.
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
who came 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 of popular
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
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 some one.
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 sans my all-time favorite, a headline which appeared
in one of the country’s leading dailies, quite a few years ago. ‘CM sore over
Bangarappa’s mum’ it said. 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!
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Labels: English, Humour, language